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Smoke From Recent Fires Poses Challenges for Santa Monica Airport Pollution Study, City Official Says

 
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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 20, 2017 -- The smoke-and-ash plume that settled over Santa Monica two weeks ago from outside fires poses challenges for an ongoing air quality study that must take the unusual conditions into account, a City official said Tuesday.

The smoke arrived one day after analysts at Tufts/USC began to monitor Santa Monica Airport to determine just how much pollution is generated by air traffic on a typical day there, said Suja Lowenthal, senior advisor on airport issues to the City Manager.

“The weather and disruption in airport activity did not interfere with our sampling -- it only affected how representative the conditions were with regard to typical pollution impacts,” Lowenthal told The Lookout.

“Measurements have been going continuously," she said. "The team will look at airport flight records to determine if the airport activity during the study is representative.”

Prodded by SMO neighbors worried about the health impact of traffic in and out of the 227-acre facility, the City Council voted in November to contract with Tufts University to start new monitoring while work to shorten the runway is underway this month ("Tufts University Selected for Air Quality Study at Santa Monica Airport," December 4, 2017).

Monitoring started December 4 -- the day before Santa Monica awakened to a blanket of ash and smoke -- and continues during the current ten-day closure, which ends December 24. The study will conclude after the airports reopens.

The monitoring done before, during and after the temporary closure is meant to help update the baseline for air quality on any given day.

But the huge cloud of smoke and ash that that arrived two weeks ago called into question, for activists, whether Tufts’ findings would set the baseline of acceptable air quality too high ("Santa Monica Warned to Stay Indoors as Blanket of Smoke from Wind-Whipped Sylmar Fire Arrives," December 6, 2017).

Lowenthal said the sampling remains unchanged “since the locations of the monitoring and schedule of the closure are fixed.”

The monitoring team continued its work, as it waited for the weather to return to normal, she said.

The Santa Ana winds, which caused the frenzy of fires throughout Southern California, also changed the “quantity of take-offs and landings as well as the directions of take offs and landings," Lowenthal said.

“Given the unanticipated change in conditions, the comparability of the baseline interval period may be challenging,” she said.

The monitoring team has the baseline measurements from the 2010 and 2011 AQMD (Air Quality Management District) airport air quality study to compare with the new readings, Lowenthal said.

“This comparison will reveal how much the wildfire smoke and Santa Ana winds may have impacted the current pre-closure readings,” she said.

The team also “will look at airport flight records to determine if the airport activity during the study is representative,” Lowenthal said.

Santa Monica's century old municipal airport is targeted for permanent closure at the end of 2028 under a consent decree the council reached with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) almost a year ago ("City, FAA Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport in 2028," January 28, 2017).

It also cleared the way for reducing the length of the runway from almost 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet, which the City hopes will reduce the number of large jets using SMO until the scheduled closure.

Jets responsible for most of the complaints from neighbors about noise, potential accidents and especially toxic pollution.


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