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Environment: Jet pollution widespread around LAX

Twilight above Boston from a Jet Blue airliner.

Passenger jets are huge source of air pollution around busy airports, a new study finds.

Dangerous ultrafine particles measured up to 10 miles away from runways

Staff Report

FRISCO —Adverse health effects from jet planes extend much farther from airports than previously thought, according to health researchers with the University of Southern California who carefully measured air pollution around Los Angeles International Airport. The study found that LAX “should be considered one of the most important sources of PN in Los Angeles.”

Their study, published the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology journal, shows that pollution from heavy airplane traffic can affect people as far as 10 miles from busy airports. Most previous studies had only sampled air quality within a couple of miles of airports, finding higher levels of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and small (ultrafine) particles less than 0.1 micron (about one-thousandth of the width of a human hair), that scientists attributed to airplane emissions.

This added pollution is potentially a major public health issue. Ultrafine particles, which form from condensation of hot exhaust vapors, are of particular concern because they deposit deeply into the lungs and can enter the bloodstream. The oxidative stress and resulting inflammation appear to play a role in the development of atherosclerosis (blocked arteries) and can make other health conditions worse, especially for people with existing cardiac or lung conditions including asthma.

The research team suspected that residents near LAX, the sixth busiest airport in the world, were getting exposed to excessive doses of pollution from airplanes even farther from the runways than previous research had considered. During its busiest times, 40 to 60 jets take off and land every hour.

Over a period of 29 days, the scientists drove the area within 10 miles downwind of the airport to measure levels of air pollutants. The area included densely packed residential neighborhoods flanked by three major freeways.

They found that over a 23-square-mile area, particle number concentrations were double the background levels (that is, the PN concentrations without the LAX contribution). Over 9 square miles, levels were five times higher than background. And within nearly 2 miles east of the airport, PN levels were nearly 10 times higher. Based on other researchers’ calculations of PN levels from one of the local freeways, Fruin estimated that this is equivalent to 174 to 491 miles of freeway traffic. For reference, the entire area of Los Angeles County has a total of about 930 miles of freeways.

Based on their calculations, scientists concluded that within the area they found to have elevated pollution from the airport, automobiles contributed less than 5 percent of the PN levels.

 

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