Neighbors of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) got a refresher course Monday night in how lead, black carbon and ultrafine particle emissions from planes affect the air they breathe.
At an Airport Commission environmental workshop, the take-away lesson, as with other airport issues, is that relief from the leaded fuel emissions spewed by piston-powered planes, and the carbon and ultrafine particles from jet engines, will not arrive anytime soon.
Dr. Richard Jackson, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA's School of Public Health, suggested to the airport neighbors in attendance, many of whom have called for its shutodwn, that their best course of action would be to "raise hell" wtih federal lawmakers.
He sat on a panel of scientists who summarized several studies that have been discussed at other commission meetings and In Monday's audience: residents from Santa Monica, Venice, Mar Vista and the heavily impacted Los Angeles neighborhood just east of SMO known as North Westdale.
Despite an alphabet's worth of federal and state agencies (such as the EPA and SCAQMD) that deal with air quality, the scientists said it can take years to generate new, tighter, regulations, and that SMO's neighborhoods are within current guidelines.
That's no comfort to residents, particularly in North Westdale, which gets blasts of ultrafine particles from every jet that revs up and takes off. Residents were reminded that, ironically, ultrafines remain unregulated by any agency and are still not well understood.
"They're about the size of viruses,'' said Dr. Susanne Paulson, of UCLA's Dept. of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. "They behave almost like gases rather than like the ([much larger] fine and coarse particles."
The ultrafines eventually clump together into larger particles with more predictable behavior. But before that happens, people can inhale gigantic amounts of the microscopic waste, which goes much deeper into the lungs than their larger cousins.
Dr. Richard Jackson said another irony is that science is moving so fast, the rule-makers can't keep up.
"As new data comes out—new scientific methods, new subtlety in our ability to measure—we realize that what we thought was safe wasn't quite so safe," Jackson said.
Dr. Philip Fine of the South Coast Air Quality Management District agreed. "It's a long process to bring a new pollutant into the regulatory regime," he said.
Jackson acknowledged the dilemma faced by thousands of SMO's neighbors.
"The reality is that you are living with bad land use decisions," he told the audience.
Jackson believes the only solution is a long-range plan with three options: "You buy people out [of their homes]; you prevail on the federal government to get rid of leaded fuel in [piston] aircraft; and [the government] finds more efficient [aircraft] engines.''
One resident suggested that because of SMO's unique setting, some agency should be pressed to do a health study of the neighborhoods.
Jackson urged caution.
"They take forever," he said, "they're very expensive and when you get them, they're often inconclusive."
Instead, he recommended, "raise hell with your congressman. Decide what you want and go through the political and engineering processes to get it," he said, rather than waiting for some agency to declare the airport a health hazard.
It was the commission's ninth annual environmental workshop.
An annual noise review is set for the June meeting.
Updated at 9:20 a.m. March 1 with new informaton about the date of the annual noise review.