SM AIRPORT — People who live and work near the Santa Monica Airport are being exposed to unusually high levels of air pollution, a significant health concern that has been largely associated with major commercial airports such as LAX, according to a new study by UCLA researchers.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that emissions of ultra-fine particles such as black carbon were 10 times higher than background levels about 100 yards downwind of the east end of the airport. The levels were 2.5 times higher at a distance of 660 meters, or roughly six football fields.
The study, one of only a handful to examine airborne pollutants near regional airports, suggests that officials should pay closer attention to these overlooked emissions, which could cause health problems for local residents.
Research has shown that those who are exposed to concentrated amounts of ultra-fine particles are more prone to developing serious health problems, said Dr. Suzanne Paulson, one of the UCLA researches who authored the study.
“If I had family members who are or who have reason to be sensitive to air pollution, that would include asthmatic kids or people with respiratory disorders or people with heart problems, then I might consider relocating or possibly using an air purifier — at least keep the windows closed,” Paulson said.
The airport is located on a plateau with homes resting 300 yards from both ends of the runway. Residents for decades have complained about air pollution coming from idling jets and propeller planes and have pressured City Hall to put restrictions on operations. City Hall in 2008 approved a ban on larger, faster jets, which tend to spew more pollution, according to the study.
However, the FAA was successful in blocking enforcement of the jet ban. City Hall has filed an appeal. The ban was enacted to protect residents from a possible overrun of the runway by faster jets. The airport does not have adequate runway safety areas to protect residents in the event of an overrun.
Many smaller airports in urban areas, the study noted, do not have adequate buffer zones to reduce noise and air pollution in surrounding neighborhoods.
UCLA researchers measured a range of air pollutants near the airport for private planes and corporate jets in the spring and summer of 2008.
Residents welcomed the study, saying it finally documents what they’ve known for years and proves that concrete data can be collected on aircraft emissions.
“This is fantastic news and potentially will bring us a lot closer to getting some standards for ultra-fine particle emissions,” said Ping Ho, a member of the Friends of Sunset Park Airport Committee who has lived near the airport for over 25 years.
Martin Rubin, founder and director of Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, intends to use the study as ammunition in the fight to ban jets.
“It is good to finally have a monitoring study that was designed and intended to look just at Santa Monica Airport’s operational impacts and which concludes what residents to the east of Santa Monica Airport have long been aware of,” he said. “The air pollution from idling jets is extreme, dangerous, and needs immediate attention.”
The FAA, which does not have jurisdiction over aircraft emission standards, has taken measures to try and reduce exposure to residents, said Ian Gregor, spokesman for the federal agency. Pilots are asked to not start their engines until they have a green light for take-off, helping to reduce idling. Pilots who are preparing for takeoff are also asked to turn their aircraft so engines are not pushing exhaust into neighborhoods before heading down the runway.
“We are doing what we can, limited as it may be, to try and limit pollution to neighborhoods surrounding the airport,” Gregor said.