Santa Monica Airport Health Impact Assessment

Authors: UCLA CHAT (Community Health and Advocacy Training) Program, Adrian Castro, Leian Chen, Bianca Edison, John Huang, Kiran Mitha, Melissa Orkin, Zarin Tejani, Diana Tu, Lindsay Wells, Joanna Yeh, Alma Guerrero, Alice Kuo, Shahram Yazdani

Location: Santa Monica, California, United States

Santa Monica Airport
Elevated levels of noise due to plane and jet take offs are above the Federal Aviation Airport thresholds and has been associated with hearing loss and psychological distress.

Completion Date: February 2010

HIA Report: Santa Monica Airport Health Impact Assessment

Summary of the HIA

Proposed Policy or Project

In response to concerns from residents living in the surrounding community of the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) pediatric residents training at the UCLA Medical Center involved in UCLA CHAT (Community Health and Advocacy Training) conducted the Santa Monica Airport Health Impact Assessment in order to organize, analyze, and evaluate existing information and evidence regarding SMO’s health impacts related to air quality, noise and the lack of an airport buffer zone. The report includes an analysis of the impacts on three issue areas: lack of an airport buffer zone, noise, and air quality.

Background and Policy Context

The Santa Monica Airport is located in Santa Monica, CA also bordered by the City of Los Angeles. Built and in operation since 1919, the Santa Monica Airport serves as a “reliever airport” for the much larger Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and is primarily used by private aviators. In service for decades, the airport has steadily increased the number of jet plane operations. This increase in recent decades has resulted in an increase in air and noise pollution, putting the local community at greater risk of exposure to harmful air pollutants and noise. The proximity of Santa Monica Airport (SMO) to schools, daycare centers, parks and residential homes places the nearby community in danger of potential accidents. Recent changes in airport procedures have impacted the surrounding community. In 1990, new takeoff procedures required planes taking off from SMO to await permission from air traffic control at LAX because of the convergence of flight paths from these two airports. Local residents have noted an increase in jet emissions due to the idling of jets awaiting clearance for takeoff, especially since idling jets are located near upwind from residential neighborhoods. Based on complaints and reports of odors, noise and fumes by the local community the pediatricians training at the UCLA Medical Center decided to conduct this health impact assessment to research the link between public policy and health. After the evaluation and analysis of research and consultations, the HIA offers feasible recommendations which can be taken into consideration to mitigate the adverse health impacts the airports operations have on the surrounding communities.

Scope and Methods

This rapid non-participatory Health Impact Assessment was conducted during the month of February 2010. The report included analysis of the impacts of three issue areas: lack of an airport buffer zone, noise and air quality. The research methodology included empirical and scientific literature reviews; review of public standards, regulations and guidance relevant to airport planning and health; the use of expert consultants; review and analysis of public comment and testimony; and participation in community forums and meetings. The primary resources for the literature review were found via the online databases PubMed, Lexus-Nexus, OVID, and CSA Environmental Sciences and Pollution Management. The expert consultants had expertise in the areas of health effects of jet exhaust, air quality, as well as atmospheric and environmental science.

Summary of Findings

  1. Airport operations, particularly jet take-offs and landing, are contributing to elevated levels of black carbon in the area surrounding Santa Monica Airport. Elevated exposure to black carbon is associated with:
    • increased rates of respiratory and cardiovascular disease including asthma, bronchitis, and increased risk for sudden death
    • irreversible decrease lung function in children
    • increased carcinogenic risk
  2. Elevated levels of ultrafine particles (UFP) are associated with aircraft operations and jet takeoffs and are found in the area surrounding Santa Monica Airport. Elevated exposure to UFPs are associated with:
    • increased inflammation and blockage of blood vessels in mice models
    • greater lung inflammation with exposure to UFPs than exposure to larger particulates in rodent models
  3. Elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are found in the area surrounding Santa Monica Airport. Exposure to PAH has been associated with:
    • increased carcinogenic risk
    • disruption of the hormonal balance in adults
    • reproductive abnormalities with exposure during pregnancy
    • lower IQ scores in children.
  4. Levels of noise due to plane and jet take-offs from Santa Monica Airport are above Federal Aviation Airport thresholds. Excessive noise is associated with:
    • hearing loss
    • higher levels of psychological distress
    • impaired reading comprehension and memory among children.
  5. There is no buffer zone between the airport airfield and the surrounding community as observed in many other municipal airport communities.

Project Inputs

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Alice Kuo, MD, PhD

Program Director UCLA Community Health and Advocacy Training Program

10990 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 900
Los Angeles