Citizens Voice Concerns About Sea-Tac Airport Expansion Plans

By Miki Barnes, LCSW
March 4, 2015

The Port of Seattle has scheduled a series of three open houses to discuss expansion plans at the Seatac Airport (See: Port of Seattle Open House to Discuss Sustainable Airport Master Plan.) The first is slated for 3/4/15.

Neighbors of this airport, who are already negatively impacted by Sea-Tac aviation activity, have expressed concerns. The testimony of two of these residents is included below.

The first is by Debi Wagner who points out that "Sea-Tac Airport is a major industrial source of air, noise and water emissions." She further notes that Sea-Tac poses environmental justice issues, "the population surrounding the airport has some of the lowest median income levels in the county as well as a high minority population." Debi is the author of the 2011 publication Over My Head, a book that documents the efforts of community activists in raising public awareness and advocating for a reduction in significant negative environmental impacts and ensuing health risks, including increased cancer deaths, in the vicinity of Sea-Tac.

Debi Wagner's Comments

I am writing as a private citizen and these are my own personal comments and not intended to reflect the views or opinions of the city of Burien where I am a council member.

Regarding the Sustainable Airport Master Plan:

Sea-Tac Airport is a major industrial source of air, noise and water emissions. In fact, by acre, the airport facility produces more unregulated air emissions than any other acre in the county. If this were a factory to be permitted it would never have been allowed to operate because its emissions of dangerous levels of pollution vastly exceeds the allowable limits. But because it is an airport, it is exempted. Why?

Because the population surrounding the airport has some of the lowest median income levels in the county as well as a high minority population, environmental justice dictates protection and relief. Instead, however, victims of third runway generated continual overhead jet traffic have had to wait through a long, tedious seven year process for any kind of relief only to find there is little or no relief in sight. The protection they needed should have occurred before the impacts, not after. While their health and that of their children's health is potentially being damaged, the region is making billions of dollars in economic benefits.

Preliminary modeling, short term sampling and zip code surveys of the past have shown that residents living close to the airport have a much higher cancer and illness rates and risk when compared to people living elsewhere in the county and state. In 1997, children ages 0-17 were found to have a 51% higher hospitalization rate for lung related illnesses. According to recent studies at LAX and Santa Monica airports, ultrafine particles that cause lung disease and illnesses are many times higher in flight paths, mainly under arriving jets than elsewhere. (See: Emissions from an International Airport Increase Particle Number Concentrations 4-fold at 10 km Downwind, Planes' exhaust could be harming communities up to 10 miles from LAX, Air Pollution Found to Pose Greater Danger to Health than Earlier Thought.) At Boston Logan, asthma rates in children were found to be four times higher in similar locations. (See: Logan Airport Health Study) These impacts are universal since it is the same polluting jets flying between all these airports. This risk should be studied before the airport is allowed to double its operations so that some of the profits and benefits the region enjoys can be used to remove people from the defined areas of impact, before they are injured and before their property is further devalued.

To my knowledge, no comprehensive study has ever been done around an airport, probably for fear of what it might reveal. It is time for the county, region and state to recognize that a comprehensive analysis and health study of the effects of these operations on the people exposed to them is way overdue. Residents, cities, elected officials have been asking for this since the early 1970s. While waiting, it seems people have been continually denied their right to know who, what, where, when and how the impacts occur, will affect them and their families and where mitigation is needed. And while some enjoy the profits, economic benefit and convenience of this local airport, others are surely suffering only serious adverse life and health threats. While millions of children in this country may be at terrible risk for long term illnesses like cancer, leukemia, heart disease, lung damage and other injuries, including brain damage from leaded avgas use, there is no data whatsoever to say it is safe to live here. This kind of analysis would be required with any other industry. Why not this one?

Comments Submitted by Dr. Arun Jhavari (Former First Mayor of the New City of Burien)

  1. By definition, SUSTAINABLE or SUSTAINABILITY, represents Long Term Future Effects of Present Public Policy Decisions, based on Factual/Evidence-based Data that are validated by Life Cycle Cost/Benefit Analysis, Active Public Participation & Discourse, and Democratic/Transparent Decision Making Process of the Lead Public Agency.
  2. It is important to know that each of us in King County, in which Port of Seattle has its jurisdiction, will be paying roughly $52/year to the Port of Seattle, as contained in our just received 2015 King County Assessor's Real Estate/Property Tax Invoice/Bill. Considering the current entire King County population of nearly 1.2 million, the Port of Seattle's revenue intake would be over $62 million, a pretty healthy chunk of money. If we consider the estimated conservative population of the neighboring Airport Communities including Burien, Des Moines, Tukwila, Sea Tac, and Normandy Park of approximately 150,000, the Port's citizen tax revenue would be nearly $7.8 million. Thus, it is NOT UNFAIR for us to ask the Port of Seattle to spend part of this collected revenue for the Health, Safety, and Environmental Sustainability of our citizens/residents, such as combating the short & long-term detrimental impacts of Aircraft Noise, Air/Water Pollution, Lead, & Unknown Radiation/Electro-Magnetic fields from the Airport Operations.
  3. Based on the above, it is absolutely critical that we the residents/citizens of the neighboring airport communities, not only demand but also require that the Port of Seattle/Sea Tac Airport, in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), King County, State of Washington, and Highline School District, conduct an Independent, Impartial, and Thorough Study/Analysis (e.g. by the University of Washington or other outside expert consultants) of the potentially harmful Airport Operations Impacts on the neighboring communities, prior to the Approval and/or Implementation of the SAMP. The funding for this comprehensive assessment must therefore come from the millions of dollars of tax revenue that Port of Seattle collects from all of us. The Final Analysis from this study must become an integral part of the Sea Tac Airport/FAA's SAMP EIS, before approval.
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