Some Santa Monica leaders and neighbors want to shut down the local airport or at least ban the private jets that have turned a small runway into a bustling, noisy destination for Hollywood millionaires and billionaires.
They might just have new ammunition for their fight in the form of a UCLA study that says the community just downwind of Santa Monica Airport, in the city of Los Angeles, has some of the worst pollution in town:
A research team headed by Suzanne Paulson of UCLA's Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Department compared pollution in Boyle Heights, downtown, West Los Angeles and Mar Vista.
The results of their work appear this month in the journal Atmospheric Environment.
The academics drove around in an electric vehicle, set up like a Google Maps car that captures pollution instead of photos, and measured bad air in those neighborhoods.
Researchers looked at "ultrafine particles" and typical tailpipe pollutants, including oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide.
Surprisingly, the Mar Vista community known as North Westdale, which is usually downwind of the airport (during onshore winds from the ocean), won the contest. According to a UCLA summary:
Noxious particulate concentrations in the North Westdale neighborhood were highest, followed by Boyle Heights and then downtown Los Angeles; neighborhoods in West Los Angeles had the lowest pollutant levels.
While Boyle Heights scored high marks for pollutants because of its proximity to freeways, including the 5 and 10, North Westdale had jet and propeller-plane traffic to deal with. Paulson:
The North Westdale neighborhood is heavily impacted by aircraft activities at Santa Monica Airport. It has exceptionally high levels of ultrafine particles when aircraft are active, possibly among the highest concentrations of any neighborhood in the Los Angeles area.
During the researchers' drive-bys about 1 in 5 takeoffs at the airport involved a jet, according to the final research paper, provided to the Weekly. Two to seven total aircraft were in operation during those times, researchers said.
UCLA academics found that pollutant "concentrations were about a factor of 10 higher" next to the airport compared to even 100 meters away.
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According to the study, the highest concentrations of pollutants ...
... were associated with mid-size jet takeoffs, followed by small jets and smaller reciprocal-engine aircraft.
Private jets started using the airport in the 1980s, and neighbors have been pretty unhappy since then. In October the city filed suit to wrest control of the airport from the federal government and ultimately shut it down.