The struggle to reduce the size of aircraft and volume of traffic at Santa Monica airport may have taken a turn last week when UCLA scientists reported that those who live and work near the airport are exposed to high levels of air pollution; levels more commonly associated with larger commercial airports such as LAX.
Specifically, the new study shows that ultrafine particle emissions are 10 times higher than normal at a position 300 feet downwind of the runway’s east end. This is an area where take-offs usually start, and revving engines would account for the pollution. At greater distances (2,000 feet) the levels were still 2.5 times higher. While the results are more dramatic than those obtained in a previous longer term study, they still verify that emissions are part of the growing concern over jet traffic into SMA. An LA Times story on the study reported that ultrafine particles “can travel deep into the lungs, penetrate brain tissue and travel to the brain. Studies show that elevated exposure to the particles presents a health risk for children, older adults, and people with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.”
The City of Santa Monica is currently awaiting a review by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the FAA’s determination that a city ordinance against larger corporate jets (C and D category aircraft) is discriminatory, although there is one view that even if the city succeeds in keeping larger traffic from using SMA that same traffic will simply switch to smaller jets and sustain jet activity at the airport.
Residents living near SMA and hoping for a reduction in noise and dirt probably hailed the UCLA report, although they know what the deal is because they’re inhaling the dirt. The study also caused some to consider just pulling the plug.
A UCLA economics professor writing on a “green economics” blog in response to the study results argued last week not for more hand-wringing over Santa Monica Airport, but simply for a decision to close it. From Professor Matthew E. Kahn: “I know how to conduct a cost/benefit analysis. I gain nothing from the Santa Monica Airport and this UCLA research documents the ambient air pollution costs. I can personally vouch that this airport’s planes are noisy. Add the social costs of noise pollution + social costs of the air pollution and this is greater than any benefits the rich guys who fly into the airport gain. This proves that the airport should be shut down and used for sitting renewables — convert it all into solar panels please. It is nice and sunny there. Some nice big box stores with solar panels on top would be quite nice and green. There is no reason to continue with this status quo. This new research helps to make a convincing case. Science should lead public policy.”
A beautiful vision, but one hardly equitable to aviation into Santa Monica. Still, I cite
Professor Kahn’s comments to highlight that it’s not just the residents near the airport and your humble Mirror columnist who sense that, at some level, our Santa Monica Airport functions as a convenience of, as Kahn cogently states, “rich guys who fly into the airport…”
The city’s FAA-stalled ordinance on larger aircraft pertains to safety issues and runway length. We can find examples of infrastructure strain all over America, from our own crammed freeways spewing exhaust to the more dramatic collapsing I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. It is the business of city governments to correct these things. But often it falls to citizens to bring up the drumbeat on what constitutes tolerable noise and pollution from municipal facilities. It’s at least odd if Santa Monica leads in recycling, cleaning up its beaches, and sporting Prius autos… and then SMA-adjacent residents eat noise and ultrafine dirt because we can’t bureaucratically ‘just say no’ to increases in corporate jet traffic at what the Professor calls the “rich guys” airport.
The LA Times quoted Virginia Ernst, a resident who lives 300 feet from the runway’s east end. “They line the planes up and the fumes just invade your home. Sometimes you have to leave because it is so bad.” As this column has argued previously, if all those aircraft were transporting vitally needed medicines or human organs for immediate transplant that might mitigate the situation. Jet traffic may be only 10% of all flight traffic in and out of SMA. But if even some of that action at SMA is dudes coming in to play golf and drink and dine with business partners, then why are we literally eating their smoke?
The Times article quoted Martin Rubin, a community activist involved in the airport issues as claiming that some idling aircraft are sitting and spewing exhaust for upwards of 30 minutes. Maybe if the passengers on those jets stood downwind of their own aircraft for 30 minutes they’d take a harder look at tele-conferencing and more dramatically worded e-mails; business practices much cleaner than spewing jet dirt into our neighborhoods so often.