Limiting airport traffic – An opinion

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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 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:
EPA Explains PM’s
*Airport Air Quality and PM 2.5:
American Chemical Society:
Science Direct, Airport Emissions:
USC Environmental Health Centers:

Airport pollution linked to acute health effects among people with asthma in Los Angeles

*EPA-Citizen Monitoring Program,
Air Sensor Guidebook for citizen scientists (listing of low cost monitors)
*EPA Community Wide Monitoring Program monitoring devices and international map
*Spinal Cord Injuries and Reduced Lung Function:
*PM 2.5 and Breast Cancer
*Increased Risk of Asthma in Young Children (NIH)
*PM 2.5 and Increased Dementia (National Bureau of Economic Research)
*PM 2.5, Stroke, Dementia, Autism Spectrum Disorder (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.

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24 Responses to Limiting airport traffic – An opinion

  1. David Olson says:

    Please consider the limited exposure time in the park and areas near the airport. Would time spent at the park be any more or less than walking, jogging, and biking on the Simmons Road bike trail, being at the beach or playing golf on the adjoining golf course. The area of the island adjoining the airport is not Los Angeles or downtown Jacksonville. All gasoline and diesel fueled vehicles emit PM 2.5 as do oil and coal fired power plants and other combustion sources. I offer this information based on my long career as an Environmental Engineer in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection with a Professional Engineer license from the State of NJ, a BS and MS degrees in Chemical Engineering and over 30 years of service and experience in Air Quality protection.

    • Faith Ross says:

      I also thought that limited exposure would be a key to solving the issue. However, children are different than adults. Children breathe more air per pound than adults. According to the National Institute of Health “short-term exposure to PM 2.5 appeared associated with decrements in lung function among urban children”. The US National Bureau of Economic Research is recommending that governments further lower the permitted levels of PM 2.5 in our air. Costs in healthcare, particularly Medicare, are being affected by the permissible PM 2.5 levels presently emitted.

    • Faith Ross says:

      I also thought that short term exposure may a solution to the issue. However, since children breathe more air per pound than adults, the National Institute of Health concluded: “However, short-term exposure to PM 2.5 . . . appeared associated with decrements in lung function among urban children.” Thank you for taking the time to write about your expertise. It is greatly appreciated. Industry such as oil and coal fired power plants are regulated. I hope that we are able to bring the electric airplane online soon. It would solve a number of issues for many people

      • David Olson says:

        A determination of the amount of PM 2.5 emitted by the log trucks which have diesel engines and gasoline fueled cars while on the island vs planes landing and taking off at the airport should be done.

  2. Lou Goldman says:

    This may be a good reason not to build the park on Simmons road. But more important is how do you limit use of the airport when we don’t have a control tower and the airport is controlled by the FAA?

  3. Benjamin Morrison says:

    This would all seem very interesting and eye-opening if Mrs. Ross had any data whatsoever to substantiate her claim that the levels of pollutants in the air at the Simmons Road Park location present a health risk for future users. None has been presented, however, because it does not exist. Using fear to try and sway the opinions of the public so as to align them with her own personal agenda is both disappointing and irresponsible. I can say objectively that there are some legitimate concerns that individuals in the community have brought forward regarding this location, and we are in the process of addressing them as the design is finalized. This, however, is not one of them.

    • Faith Ross says:

      I would love to see this park placed in a more appropriate place. I am very concerned when we place children under a jet plume. I hope we can get some data with an air monitor from this area. Then parents make their own decisions are to whether they would utilize the park. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Frank Quigley says:

    There is an extension of Amelia Park on the south end, behind Publix. In fact overlooking the loading dock and dumpsters. By this Airport logic, once settled, these residents can then ask the city to regulate the noise of the 5:00 am deliveries, the odor of the dumpsters and any vermin that may be there.

    • Frank Quigley says:

      In other words if you don’t want to hear airplanes take off and land, don’t live next to the airport.

      • Cheryl Grant says:

        “Next to” is a relative term. If you live on a 2.5 mile wide Island, you are “next to” the airport. That’s a lot of homes.

      • Vince Cavallo says:

        IOW, I guess by extension you are saying if you are concerned about rising water levels, one should not live on an island.

  5. Aaron Morgan says:

    How genuine can this opinion be when written by someone who has been very outspoken against the build of Simmons Road Park? Additionally, her husband who is a commissioner has been against the build of Simmons Park, but a proponent of an airport playground. I believe that this is a careless and irresponsible attempt by Chip and Faith to throw something against the wall to see what sticks.

    • Faith Ross says:

      For an organization that seems to be very progressive, I find it fascinating that you find that a woman cannot have her own opinion. Keeping women in the kitchen doesn’t become you. I did not ask permission of a man to write this piece. I wish to share information that the EPA seems to find important to public health. Thank you for your comments.

      • Vince Cavallo says:

        Faith one other point to keep in mind is continuous noise, regardless of the decibel level has been found to be as destructive as noise that peaks every once in a while. The FAA registers peak noise levels at certain distances from runways and their extensions. For instance, a peak of 65 decibels may be a safe limit, a constant din of 64 or less is probably more destructive than a once in a while run above 65.

  6. Paul Behan says:

    Disclaimer: I make the following comments in a civic capacity as a resident of the City of Fernandina Beach. These are my opinions based on my career experience and should not be interpreted as being made on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

    The claims that the location of the proposed Simmons Park could unnecessarily expose children to PM 2.5’s is preposterous. I have been an FAA licensed Commercial Pilot for the past 22 years, I am a certified Air Traffic Control Specialist employed by the FAA for the past 14 years, I previously served on the City of Fernandina Beach Airport Advisory Commission for 2 years, I am a city resident who lives in close proximity to the proposed site and the city’s airport, and I am a father to 2 young children.

    The New York Department of Health states: “Outdoor PM2.5 levels are most likely to be elevated on days with little or no wind or air mixing… Outside, fine particles primarily come from car, truck, bus and off-road vehicle (e.g., construction equipment, snowmobile, locomotive) exhausts, other operations that involve the burning of fuels such as wood, heating oil or coal and natural sources such as forest and grass fires. Fine particles also form from the reaction of gases or droplets in the atmosphere from sources such as power plants. These chemical reactions can occur miles from the original source of the emissions. In New York State, some of the fine particles measured in the air are carried by wind from out-of-state sources. Because fine particles can be carried long distances from their source, events such as wildfires or volcanic eruptions can raise fine particle concentrations hundreds of miles from the event. PM2.5 is also produced by common indoor activities. Some indoor sources of fine particles are tobacco smoke, cooking (e.g., frying, sautéing, and broiling), burning candles or oil lamps, and operating fireplaces and fuel-burning space heaters (e.g., kerosene heaters).” Source:

    With that being said, it would seem that we are all at the same risk for PM 2.5 anywhere, any time, any day. To further counter the authors argument, taking into consideration that PM 2.5’s require stagnant air to be more harmful only makes the proposed Simmons Park location more desirable. You see, the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport is what is known as an “uncontrolled airport”, meaning that there are no air traffic controllers directing traffic at and around the airport, and aircraft do not need to ask for permission to taxi, take off, or land. There is no requirement for the aircraft to communicate with air traffic control, nor is there any requirement for aircraft operating at an uncontrolled airport to even be equipped with radios. To say that we “could limit the traffic at Fernandina’s airport” is not only naive, it is impossible. As a basic aviation principle, aircraft will always take off and land on a runway which is most closely aligned with the direction from which the wind blows (when such runways exists). In the case of the Fernandina Municipal Airport, there are three runways which bear the name of the magnetic directions they are aligned with: runway 9/27, runway 4/22, and runway 13/31. Aircraft will generally only land on runway 4/22 or 13/31 when the prevailing wind favors that runway. In a calm or no-wind situation, runway 9/27 is the preferred runway for both noise abatement and population risk exposure reasons. The proposed park site is close to, but not under, the final approach path of runway 22. Seeing as the NY Department of Health states that “PM2.5 levels are most likely to be elevated on days with little or no wind or air mixing” and runway 22 would only be used at times with a prevailing southeasterly wind, this site is in fact even LESS at risk for the alleged PM 2.5 exposure.

    If the authors intends to pursue the argument of limiting the location of a playground due to the possibility of PM 2.5 exposure, I sincerely expect that all other land masses and populations in our community be analyzed for the same risk exposure. This includes 1) all properties/populations from Simmons & Fletcher south to the Ritz Carlton, which underlie the final approach courses of runways 27 and 31, and 2) All properties/populations from Amelia River Golf Course south to the Amelia Island Plantation, which underlie the final approach course of runway 31.

    In conclusion, the authors claims are biased and without merit as every resident of this community and the surrounding areas is at the same risk of exposure to PM 2.5’s as any other community for hundreds and hundreds of miles. If the author were truly concerned for the children and elderly of our community, perhaps she would initiate a grassroots campaign to mitigate PM 2.5’s from our atmosphere by eliminating the use of cars, trucks, busses, off-road vehicles, construction equipment, and locomotives instead of trying to deprive disabled children of a place to play.

    Speaking of locomotives, there are an awful lot of those that service our local paper mills… perhaps they are the source of the PM 2.5’s detected in her personal air quality monitor? Something to consider.

  7. I take offense to your statement of everyone in the surrounding neighborhoods complaining about airport traffic. I have lived for 13 years in the CITY neighborhood at the end of the runway mentioned, prior to that I lived 19 years just as close to the same runway and have never complained about noise, jet fumes or any other issue with the airport. I have never heard any of my neighbors complain either so I’m not sure where you got your info from but, you’re wrong. Being a native, I knew that there was an airport on the island and that planes made noise. What needs to be done if everyone is worried about the sensitive kids (I am also) is move the park somewhere else. Airports bring revenue to the City and island, parks cost revenue forever and brings an increase in crime to the area. I have already seen how the trail has brought more people into our neighborhood on bikes, what is the park going to bring?

    • Dave Lott says:

      Spot on Jeffrey! It will be interesting to see to see if/how the plans for a pilot training facility go forward. My personal belief is that such a business would be beneficial to the airport and the overall community from an economic standpoint. l don’t believe that fears of constant aircraft take-offs and landings are well founded. Those familiar with pilot training recognize that most of the initial training is done on simulators as well as classroom study. Only if the pilot is extending their license to an instrument rating does more actual flight time come into being.
      All the property owners purchasing homes on Crane Island are required to sign an avigation agreement prohibiting them from taking action against the city/airport due to air traffic.

      • Faith Ross says:

        ALL of us will be very happy when there are electric airplanes, no noise, no pollution. It is interesting that the US National Bureau of Economic Research can calculate how much it costs in Medicare costs for dementia care at different levels of PM 2.5 air pollution exposure. To save money they are suggesting lowering PM 2.5 limits further.

  8. Robert Warner says:

    Once more intensive development around the airport starts, it will not stop. Just sayin.

  9. Gerald Decker says:

    So you don’t like the park….decision made. Move on. The kids will be fine. Don’t muddy the water with specious arguments as explained above.. And do not presume to speak for ALL.

  10. Gerald Decker says:

    ” I am very concerned when we place children under a jet plume.” Look, this is scare mongering and completely misleading. Coming from a Parks Advisory Board member, it is just not acceptable. The Board made its recommendation, the commission voted. Let the park be built. Anyway, I haved lived 12 years near the airport and Simmons Rd and have no current signs of dimentia. Please.

  11. Barnes Moore says:

    A number of links from the EPA were provided, but one that was not is one that shows how our air quality has improved dramatically over the last 50 years or so, including reductions in PM 2.5, even as we continue to increase our use of fossil fuels, even coal. See the attached chart prepared by Alex Epstein using data provided by the EPA in his book “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels”. Like climate change, a lot of scare tactics and assertions that are not supported by the data. Yes, PM 2.5 is bad, but the exposure risks, as stated by other posters, is greatly exaggerated.

  12. Mike Collins says:

    The promoters of this goofy flight school told the paper it will add 50 sorties a day — 50 more takeoffs, 50 more landings, every single day. You think that much racket is going to enhance people’s lives on the Island? Think again. We don’t need a flight school on Amelia Island. Take it somewhere else.

    • Vince Cavallo says:

      Mike, you are correct plus I think the 50 “sorties” is a starting point. Unfortunately, the time to have put the stopper on this nonsense was 20 years ago. It was then the City decided to “upgrade” its priority status on the FAA grant listing for airport enhancements. The City, at the request of the yahoos at the then airport advisory board requested to be established as a “reliever” airport. Since then something on the order of about $10 million has been heaped on this field including the $4+ million club house/terminal. There was even a plan concocted to increase runway lengths by about 1000 feet albeit other airports in the vicinity of JAX were already 1000 feet shorter than Fernandina.

      The problem now is once a facility accepts this money, there is a requirement to use the airport for aviation purposes as long as the use is within noise and safety parameters. Someone cutely pointed out because it is within these parameters, it could not be voted down as was the race track proposal made this past summer as that would have required a waiver from the FAA for a non airport use. This does not.

      What to do. Well, the City may have its hands tied regarding a lease but it clearly can state its displeasure over the situation. It can drag its feet in doing anything in support of this nuisance.

      Many of us who have lived here for more than 20 years have become disappointed by the City regarding what “life style” here means. Many of us did not put down roots because we believed it was the community idea to run a carnival like midway here or to be more coddling to absentee owned businesses than to residents. We need a flight school on this island like a moose needs a hat rack.

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