Limiting airport traffic – An opinion

December 13, 2019
By Faith Ross

Each time a new project surfaces as a possible economic opportunity for the airport, the surrounding residential neighborhoods seem to pick up their pitchforks, march to City Hall, and lay siege to any project discussions. Resignedly, adjacent residential neighbors all admit that they knew they were buying homes next to an airport. However, the reason given for pulling out the pitchfork is often given that their properties were purchased when there was little air traffic. And no one is denying that air traffic has increased greatly in the last few years with rising noise levels.

Perhaps there are also some other very good reasons to limit the air traffic at Fernandina’s airport. A new park with a playground for small children, particularly those of special needs, and those bound to a wheelchair is to be constructed on the south side of Simmons Road. According to the latest plans, the ADA accessible nature walk will be located approximately 1,800 feet from an active runway and the playground will only be 2,300 feet away. At times, aircraft will likely be landing and taking off almost directly over the new park at low levels.

It is no secret that airports are major sources of air pollution. And with rising PM 2.5 air pollution levels, the EPA has recently been aggressively encouraging citizens to self-monitor air pollution that is particularly damaging to young children, asthmatics, and the elderly. New studies are now linking PM 2.5’s (very fine particulate matter) to a significant increase in cases of heart attacks, strokes, dementia, autism, and the increased, early onset of asthma in young children. (Since children breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, they receive more exposure and damage from air pollution.) These tiny particles are so fine that they carry with them the chemical pollutants from jet/plane exhaust, car exhaust, and diesel exhaust, among other pollutants, directly into the blood stream through the lungs and nasal passages. This is not to say that our airport causes massive amounts of PM 2.5 to be added to our air. However we have no baseline to measure the amount of pollution generated.

Studies and statistics are growing with new concerns for exposure to polluted air from airports, and particularly for the most penetrating PM 2.5 and smaller fine particles from exhaust which cause the greatest damage to human health. Women who live with higher levels of PM 2.5’s develop dense breasts which increases their chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The most recent Mexico City studies seem to find that even 2 hours of high-level PM 2.5 exposure causes measurable brain damage. And a chemical linked to dementia has been recorded crossing the lung and nasal blood barrier into the body through PM 2.5’s (very fine particle air pollution).

Vulnerable populations such as the wheelchair bound (due to their seated position) over time often find themselves with impaired lung function. Placing an ADA compliant nature path next to an active runway with uninhibited aircraft exhaust will likely exacerbate any existing lung incapacity.

Due to the latest warnings concerning PM 2.5, I took the advice of the EPA citizen’s monitoring page and purchased a personal air quality monitor (a model recommended by the EPA) to put outside my home. The Purpleair unit that I purchased measures only PMs, and shares its real time data on a digital map. Users may choose to share their data on the national map or keep it privately to themselves (mine is private). As a result of shared monitoring, results can be read from monitors located all over the country at Purpleair.com and on Weather Underground. A single glance at the app on my phone allows me to determine my level of outdoor exposure at any time of the day. When the air quality monitor outside my home reaches the orange and red zones, I stay indoors. When it reads green and yellow, I exercise outdoors and work in the yard. (Your car also offers a haven from air pollution if you use the “recirculating” air function.)

With some of the latest PM 2.5 research links displayed below concerning the negative lasting impacts of high PM 2.5 levels on human health, particularly its devastating effect on children, I truly hope that our City government will take the initiative to place air quality monitors in Simmons park to protect its most vulnerable, young citizens. A quick check of a public air quality indicator would let us all know the times or days that it would be safe for our children, health impaired guests, and disabled to use the park.

Further, if the airport’s air traffic is to be increased due to the inclusion of a flight school, it may be in the best interests of the surrounding communities to also request that air monitoring stations be placed in their neighborhoods. A baseline of damaging PM 2.5 emissions needs to be established. Additional airport traffic can be limited to not exceed reasonable levels of PMs and other pollutants. Recently the residents of South Los Angeles prevailed in a court case which allowed their city to impose air quality standards when they petitioned for “adequate health and safety protections”.

Readers may find the links below both useful and thought-provoking as our community anticipates increased air traffic over our neighborhoods and the construction of a park and playground near an active runway.

Important links to be shared with readers:

*Why should anyone care about PM 2.5 levels? From EPA: https://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.pmhilevels
EPA Explains PM’s https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/particulate-matter-pm-basics#PM
*Airport Air Quality and PM 2.5:
American Chemical Society: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2009/acs-presspac-november-18-2009/hidden-threat-elevated-pollution-levels-near-regional-airports.html
Science Direct, Airport Emissions:
USC Environmental Health Centers:
*EPA-Citizen Monitoring Program,
Air Sensor Guidebook for citizen scientists (listing of low cost monitors) https://cfpub.epa.gov/si/si_public_record_report.cfm?Lab=NERL&dirEntryId=277996&simpleSearch=1&searchAll=air+sensor+guidebook
*EPA Community Wide Monitoring Program https://www.epa.gov/air-research/village-green-project
Purpleair.com monitoring devices and international map https://www2.purpleair.com/
*Spinal Cord Injuries and Reduced Lung Function: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319433897_Effects_of_wheelchair_use_on_pulmonary_function_and_muscular_respiratory_strength_in_subjects_with_spinal_cord_injury_a_case_series
*PM 2.5 and Breast Cancer https://ufhealth.org/news/2017/higher-air-pollution-exposure-linked-denser-breast-tissue
*Increased Risk of Asthma in Young Children https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5822480/ (NIH)
*PM 2.5 and Increased Dementia https://www.nber.org/papers/w24970 (National Bureau of Economic Research)
*PM 2.5, Stroke, Dementia, Autism Spectrum Disorder https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30577116 (NIH)

Photo from the Property Appraiser’s website (FB airport and surrounding neighborhoods)

Editor’s Note: Faith Ross is a community activist and is married to Commissioner Chip Ross.

Share this story!