AirInc Holds Airport:Impacts Health Forum

By John Lynds

Longtime community activists Fran Riley and John White talk with AirInc.'s Chris Marchi (center).

Longtime community activists Fran Riley and John White talk with AirInc.’s Chris Marchi (center).

On Saturday, East Boston’s AirInc. brought together some of the leading scientists and researchers in the field of environmental health during a day-long forum to discuss how aviation operations impact quality of life.

The forum was split into two sessions with the morning session talking about aviation noise pollution and the second talking about aviation air pollution.

One  speaker, Dr. Audrey Smargiassi, an associate professor in the Department of Environment and Occupational Health at the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal, conducted a study on how noise pollution around Montreal Airport affects the health of residents.

The scientific study found that levels of noise, or residents complaining about high levels of noise was higher in proximity to transportation sources like airports; measured noise levels near Montreal’s airport surpassed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines; and aircraft noise significantly impacts noise levels but it is unclear if aircraft noise is worse for health than exposure to noise from other transportation sources.

Smargiassi pointed out that a 1999, WHO study concluded that the available evidence suggested a correlation between long-term noise exposure above 67-70 a-weighted decibels or dB(A) and hypertension. Smargiassi found these levels not only near the Montreal airport and under flight paths but also in close proximity to major highways and roadways.

However, Smargiassi said it was interesting to note that the airport dispersed annoyance noise levels to a larger area both close to the airport and under flight paths while highways and raodways’ annoyance noise levels were only a problem directly alongside the highways and roadways. She concluded that while highways and roadways are pose just as much impacts to residents health and well being, the airport seems to affect far more people in Montreal.

Rep. Adrian Madaro asked Smargiassi what Montreal airport has done, if anything, to mitigate the impacts of airport noise and its consequences for residents to which she replied, “nothing at the moment”.

In the afternoon session that dealt with aviation air pollution, researcher Dr. Neelekshi Hudda’s cited her findings of health concerns regarding ultra-fine particulate matter downwind from LAX. Her research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that airport and aircraft pollution worsens air quality more than previously thought.

Hudda’s study found that ultra-fine particulate matter doubled more than 10 miles downwind from LAX. Ultra fine particulate matter (PM) from combustion of fossil fuels has been shown to cause a wide array of adverse health impacts. Ultra-fine particulate matter are not regulated unlike larger particulate matter, which is regulated under the Federal Clean Air Act. However, studies suggest they appear to be toxic.

Hudda said the effects of inhaling particulate matter  may include asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, birth defects, and premature death. The European Union recently began regulating ultra-fine emissions from aircraft but no regulations exist yet in the United States.

The state of the art equipment used took samples every second in neighborhoods around LAX and found a dramatic rise in ultra-fine particulate matter when planes were taking off and then an immediate drop when the plane was out of the area.

The size of the particle is a main determinant of where in the respiratory tract the particle will come to rest when inhaled. Because of their small size, particles on the order of 10 micrometers or less (PM10) or less are lighter and penetrate the deepest part of the lungs such as the bronchioles or alveoli. Larger particles are generally filtered in the nose and throat via cilia and mucus, but particulate matter smaller than about 10 micrometers, PM10, can settle in the bronchi and lungs and cause serious health problems after long term exposure.

Hudda applied her  research in the field in Boston and found a significant relationship between Logan International Airport aviation activities , wind direction and elevated neighborhood pollution levels-similar to the LAX study.

The Airport Impacts 101 Forum was a  community sponsored and organized event.

“The Airport Impacts 101 Health Forum is part of AIR INC.’s Health Initiative, which we began planning in 2013 to compliment the release of the Logan Airport Health Study,” said AirInc. in a statement. “As part of this initiative, AIR INC. commissioned a professional review of the Logan Airport Health Study to confirm study results, incorporate recent research and lay out next steps.Saturday’s Forum was a significant ‘next step’.  As proud Bostonians, we believe that our city and the people of our region deserve nothing but the best processes, most up-to-date information and most helpful political and agency responses. The Airport Impacts 101 Forum was a resounding success. We bought together the world’s finest scientists and convened discussion about the latest research.  The event was totally non-political.  And while we may disagree with Massport about expansion plans and the need for impact reductions as a condition of growth, we should all agree on the need to learn more about airport health impacts.”

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