Heavy airplane traffic potentially a major contributor to pollution in Los Angeles

May 29, 2014
Credit: Wikipedia.

Congested freeways crawling with cars and trucks are notorious for causing smog in Los Angeles, but a new study finds that heavy airplane traffic can contribute even more pollution, and the effect continues for up to 10 miles away from the airport. The report, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, has serious implications for the health of residents near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and other airports around the world.

Scott Fruin, D.Env. P.E., Neelakshi Hudda and colleagues note that past research has measured from air traffic before, but most of these studies only sampled air within a couple of miles, at most, from airports. Not surprisingly, these analyses have found higher levels of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and small (ultrafine) particles less than 0.1 micron (about one-thousandth of the width of a human hair), that scientists attributed to airplane emissions.

This added pollution is potentially a major public health issue. Ultrafine particles, which form from condensation of hot exhaust vapors, are of particular concern because they deposit deeply into the lungs and can enter the bloodstream. The oxidative stress and resulting inflammation appear to play a role in the development of atherosclerosis (blocked arteries) and can make other health conditions worse, especially for people with existing cardiac or lung conditions including asthma.

Fruin's team at the Keck School of Medicine and the University of Southern California suspected that residents near LAX, the sixth busiest in the world, were getting exposed to excessive doses of pollution from airplanes even farther from the runways than previous research had considered. During its busiest times, 40 to 60 jets take off and land every hour.

Over a period of 29 days, the scientists drove the area within 10 miles downwind of the airport to measure levels of air pollutants. The area included densely packed residential neighborhoods flanked by three major freeways.

They found that over a 23-square-mile area, particle number (PN) concentrations were double the background levels (that is, the PN concentrations without the LAX contribution). Over 9 square miles, levels were five times higher than background. And within nearly 2 miles east of the airport, PN levels were nearly 10 times higher. Based on other researchers' calculations of PN levels from one of the local freeways, Fruin estimated that this is equivalent to 174 to 491 miles of freeway traffic. For reference, the entire area of Los Angeles County has a total of about 930 miles of freeways.

Based on their calculations, scientists concluded that within the area they found to have elevated pollution from the airport, automobiles contributed less than 5 percent of the PN levels. "Therefore, the LAX should be considered one of the most important sources of PN in Los Angeles," the scientists state in the journal article.

Explore further: Computer glitch disrupts US flights

More information: Paper: pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es5001566

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Modernmystic
5 / 5 (1) May 29, 2014
Well I haven't done any research, but LAX logs 1500 takeoffs and landings each day. Compare that to 6 million vehicles registered in LA in 2009, not to mention all the industry going on....I'd have to say that...just via common sense...this study is complete bunk.

Either that, or we define "major contributor" MUCH differently.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (2) May 30, 2014
. . . common sense . . .

We've tried "common sense" before. Hasn't worked too well. Flat earth around which the rest of the universe revolves, the four elements earth, fire, water, and air, stuff like that on throughout history. If you want to better your chances of being right, you'd best stick with science, not your gut feelings.
Modernmystic
not rated yet May 30, 2014
. . . common sense . . .

We've tried "common sense" before. Hasn't worked too well. Flat earth around which the rest of the universe revolves, the four elements earth, fire, water, and air, stuff like that on throughout history. If you want to better your chances of being right, you'd best stick with science, not your gut feelings.


OK I'll bite, tell me how 6-8 million cars plus the industry of even more people doesn't completely eclipse 1500 jet take offs and landings...
Modernmystic
not rated yet May 30, 2014
For a quick estimate Jets consume about a gallon of fuel a second (the big ones, this is excluding the little ones), but to be conservative let's use .7 gallons per second. Let's say the average take off takes about 5 minutes to clear the basin's "pollution" envelope, and approaches take an average of 15 minutes. 20 minutes for each plane comes to 2.5 million gallons a day being burned "in" LA by aircraft traffic.

Compare this to the average commute of 50 miles in the US at, let's say an average of 25 mpg (because a lot of this is city travel with low efficiency). That's 400,000,000 miles traveled each day burning 16 million gallons of gas. Now, that's just commuting only. Let's be conservative and add an extra 50% for businesses and industry making their mark between 9-5 and we come up with roughly 32 million gallons. 2.5/32 is about 7%. I'd call that non trivial, but hardly a "major contributor".
chromal
not rated yet May 31, 2014
Most of the criticisms appear to misinterpret the conclusions.

"Based on their calculations, scientists concluded that within the area they found to have elevated pollution from the airport, automobiles contributed less than 5 percent of the PN levels."

They are talking about the area within two miles of the airport.

Also, though all those cars might sound like a lot:

"Planes use the most fuel, and produce the most harmful emissions, during takeoff. On short flights, as much as 25 percent of the total fuel consumed is used at this time. The most fuel-efficient route length for airlines is 2600 miles, roughly a flight from Europe to the U.S. East Coast."
Frank_Lowe
not rated yet Jun 01, 2014
Some of your discoveries is so amazing that when you burn fuel or coal you create energy and as a by product CO2 or what we call polution.For 2014 what a discovery it is amazing .