SMO — The four-day closure of the Santa Monica Airport this week for runway maintenance was more than a welcome respite from fly-over noise for neighboring residents — it was also a chance for scientists to take baseline air quality measurements that could result in a better understanding of the airport’s pollution impact.

Officials from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) this week were in the midst of a three-week data gathering period at SMO aimed at gauging ultra-fine particle and black carbon, or soot, levels.

Ultra-fine particles, or particles less than 0.1 micron in diameter, are thought to be a dangerous pollutant for humans because they’re small enough to pass through lung tissue and enter the blood stream.

While the EPA regulates larger particles, no such standards exist for ultra-fines.

The temporary runway closure offered a rare opportunity to record data when takeoffs were not occurring, said Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the SCAQMD, the air pollution control agency for Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The measurements come after the SCAQMD collected seven months worth of data at SMO during 2006 and 2007, part of an EPA-financed study to characterize the ambient levels of several air pollutants in communities adjacent to SMO and Van Nuys Municipal Airport.

“We know when these aircraft are taking off that we definitely get spikes in the amounts of ultra-fine particles,” Atwood said.

The latest measurements will help refine that understanding by establishing a correlation between pollution levels, the types of jets taking off from SMO and the flight paths they’re using, he said.

The hope, he added, is that the new measurements “ultimately might give us some information on what potential mitigation measures could be taken.”

Data collection will continue next week, and the results are expected to be part of a public report the agency will release by early next year, Atwood said.

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