Toxic Pollution at the Santa Monica Airport

California State Senator Ted Lieu Hearing on Toxic Air Pollution and the Santa Monica Airport

By Miki Barnes, MSW, LCSW
November 12, 2013

On November 11, 2011 California State Senator Ted Lieu, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Air Quality, convened a hearing on toxic air pollution caused by Santa Monica Airport (SMO) aviation activity.

In a July 19, 2011 letter to Debbie Raphael, the Director of the Department of Toxic Substance Control for the California Environmental Protection Agency, Lieu stated:

Multiple studies have shown that residents near SMO – many of whom live in the Senate District I represent – ingest significantly higher levels of suspended particulate lead and ultra-fine particulate matter. I have visited many of these homes and I believe the soil is also contaminated with lead and other toxic particulate matter.

A highly disturbing study, just released on July 13, 2011, showed that children who live within 500 meters of airports have significantly higher levels of lead in their blood. (Attachment 1, A Geospatial Analysis of the Effects of Aviation Gasoline on Childhood Blood Lead Levels). Children within 1000 meters of airports also had increased levels of blood lead. The study, funded in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, found children living near airports in North Carolina had lead in their blood caused by piston aircraft using aviation gasoline. The study concluded: "Our analysis indicates that living within 1000 m of an airport where aviation gasoline is used may have a significant effect on blood lead levels in children. Our results further suggest that the impacts of aviation gasoline are highest among those children living closest to the airport."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated there is no safe level for blood lead in children. Even miniscule amounts of blood lead have been shown to cause learning disabilities, behavior disorders, and substandard academic performance in children. Higher levels will cause premature death.

The blood-lead study builds upon multiple studies conducted at SMO that demonstrate the air, and likely the soil, is contaminated by lead and other particles, such as black carbon. Between April 2006 and March 2007, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) conducted a field study at SMO (Attachment 2). The study found that "Ambient concentrations of total suspended particulate lead (from the leaded fuel used in piston-driven aircraft) and ultrafine particles (UFP; very small particles emitted from aircraft exhaust and other combustion processes) on-site and near SMO were found to be significantly higher than the corresponding levels present further away from the airport." The letter cited above is available at the following link:

Hillsboro Airport Logs Twice as Many Annual Operations as Santa Monica

Santa Monica Airport is a general aviation airport similar to the Port of Portland's Hillsboro Airport in terms of the types of operations, predominantly private and corporate jets, flight training and recreational pilots. One of the primary differences between the two, however is that Santa Monica logs approximately 105,000 operations annually. Hillsboro Airport, by contrast, logs twice that many, typically 212,000 or more each year, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Terminal Area Forecasts reveal that HIO logs more than 3 times as many touch and go training operations. These flights occur below 2,000 feet within a four to five mile radius of the airport often over schools, established neighborhoods, day care centers and other highly populated areas. This type of aircraft uses leaded aviation fuel. HIO also logs more itinerant operations than SMO and roughly the same number of air taxi and commuter jet flights.

UCLA Professor, Suzanne Paulson, on SMO Pollution

Among the presenters at the SMO hearing was Suzanne Paulson, Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at UCLA. Using a mobile electric vehicle equipped with state of the art air quality monitoring equipment, she and her colleagues measured pollutants on the airport and in neighborhoods in the vicinity of SMO. Their findings revealed that a neighborhoods adjacent to SMO and and downwind of the airport take-off area registered significantly higher levels of ultrafine particles, black carbon and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Per Professor Paulson, "In summary, the concentration of freshly emitted pollutants are consistently highly elevated in the neighborhood of Santa Monica Airport."

A video of Professor Paulson's 12 minute report is available at

UCLA Pediatrician, Shahram Yazdani, MD on SMO Pollution and Children's Health

UCLA pediatrician, Shahram Yazdani, also testified at the hearing. He stated that ultrafine particles are associated with an increase in cancer and lower IQ in children. Black carbon is a carcinogen that can lead to irreversible lung problems in children as well as respiratory and cardiovascular disorders. Regarding polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, "Prenatally exposed children were three times more likely to have moderate mental retardation at three years of age." Elevated levels of these carcinogens are associated with lower IQ scores.

The hearing, including Dr. Yazdani's testimony, is available at

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