Mothers, Activists, Elected Officials Want Air Purifiers In Homes, Schools

With several expansion projects in the works at Logan Airport, residents and elected officials are calling for Massport to immediately begin funding a mitigation program that calls for air purifiers (HEPA filters) in East Boston homes and schools to protect children against harmful pollution.

The calls on Massport to fund placing HEPA filters in schools and homes grew louder this past October after environmental activists, residents and elected officials heard Olin College Professor Scott Hersey’s findings from a study he and his students conducted over the summer.

Hersey and Eastie Olin College students, Taylor Sheneman and Christine Dimke, installed instruments that have been measuring a wide array of pollutants caused by fossil fuels emanating from highways and Logan International Airport. The study was collaboration between Olin, East Boston’s AIR Inc., Eastie’s airport mitigation advocacy group and Aerodyne, the manufacturer of the ARISense air quality measuring technology.

At the community meeting in October, Hersey said the equipment he and his Olin students used found a type of air pollution that, “can lead to heart attacks and strokes and is contaminating homes and schools near highways in Eastie.”

Hersey said that it’s not just vehicles that are contaminating Eastie, but planes flying in and out of Logan Airport are releasing harmful air pollution, and it’s impacting surrounding communities and that taxiing aircraft are emitting a lot of gas phase pollutants and ultrafine particles.

This led Sonja Tenglad and Julia Burrell, of the East Boston Chapter of the national Mothers Out Front movement, to take action.

“In East Boston, children who live in heavily polluted areas by major roadways or under jet paths are 3-4 times more likely to experience symptoms of asthma than children in other neighborhoods, and two times more likely to experience symptoms of COPD,” said Tenglad. “East Boston also has one of the highest populations of children in all of Boston. Pollution is linked to not only heart and lung disease but also depression and violent behavior. As a mom, this information makes me want to move. But then I’ll meet yet another mom on the playground who has lived in East Boston all her life whose kids, brothers, grandparents, spouses all have asthma, and I get more motivation to fight and to call them to join me in it. It’s empowering to fight for solutions that can protect our kids and join in the dialogue rather than sit on the sidelines.”

Mothers Out Front encourages mothers across the nation to fight for meaningful environmental mitigation to ensure a livable climate for children so Tenglad and Burrell are calling on Massport to provide HEPA filters for all public schools first and foremost, and then to all homes. “We might not have a lot of control over the outdoors – we will still have to leave the playground early too many times because we can’t breathe well – but let’s at least protect them indoors,” said Tenglad.

The request has received the support from Rep. Adrian Madaro. In a comment letter sent to MEPA about Massport’s Environmental Status and Planning Report (ESPR) for Logan Madaro said negative health impacts of airfield and ground access activity related ultrafine particulate, nitrogen oxides and other emissions pollutants at Logan are a matter of extreme urgency which Massport should move immediately to mitigate in as effective and direct a manner as possible.

“This requirement should not be contingent on any FAA or other agency process,” wrote Madaro. “Massport should immediately engage in partnership at their own expense with community groups in advancing comprehensive new in-school and in-home air pollution filtration projects which are now being developed.  Such expense is a justifiable airfield activity-related expense which can be located in the airfield cost center, supported by airport landing fees.”

Eastie’s AIR, Inc., who has been leading a regional coalition opposing MEPA certification of Massport’s ESPR, said they know the airport is going to continue to exist, but Massport should sit down and listen to demands made by groups like Mothers Out Front and Rep. Madaro before a MEPA certification is granted by the state.

“We want to work with Massport and the state. …We’re not trying to shut down the Airport!” said AIR, Inc.’s Chris Marchi. “We can put air filters into our children’s classrooms and add better Logan Express service without doing that.”

Like cars, jets burn fuel and release harmful ultrafine particles that are so small they are absorbed right into the bloodstream and can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

In 2013 the East Boston Times reported that the neighborhood’s “Godmother of Environmental Justice”, the late Mary Ellen Welch, had for decades tried to force Massport to measure ultrafine particles or PMs.

Welch long argued that the airport’s runway and roadside operations pose too much of an environmental impact on the neighborhood not to be considered when Massport files environmental impact statements or operations reports.

PMs from car exhaust and jet aircraft has been shown to cause a wide array of adverse health impacts.

The large number of deaths and other health problems associated with particulate pollution was first demonstrated in the early 1970s and has been reproduced many times since. PM pollution is estimated to cause 22,000-52,000 deaths per year in the United States and 200,000 deaths per year in Europe.

The effects of inhaling particulate matter that have been widely studied in humans and animals now include asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, birth defects, and premature death. 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) can 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 10 micrometers, PM10, can settle in the bronchi and lungs and cause health problems.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that inhaling PM2.5 leads to high plaque deposits in the arteries causing cardiovascular problems.  Researchers suggest that even short-term exposure at elevated concentrations could significantly contribute to heart disease and concluded that traffic exhaust is the single most serious preventable cause of heart attack in the general public and is the cause of 7.4 percent of all heart attacks in the world.

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