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“Abundance of Caution” Cited for Santa Monica Airport Warnings
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 29, 2016 -- An “abundance of caution” is being cited as the reason the City has posted signs warnings of possible exposure to toxic chemicals at the observation decks at Santa Monica Airport, according to a new report.

Although not legally required to do so, the City started posting the Proposition 65 warning signs on January 7, an airport spokesperson said.

The postings were based on findings by Tetra Tech, a major environmental consulting firm hired by the City to review the presence at the airport to three chemicals linked to severe health hazards: 1,3-butadiene, benzene and carbon tetrachloride.

“In assessing these concentrations, the City has decided, in an abundance of caution, to post Proposition 65 signage on SMO’s upper and lower observation decks,” Airport Manager Stelios Makrides said in a March 24 update to the City Council.

The chemicals cited are blamed for a variety of health issues, from minor problems such as dizziness at low levels of exposure to life-threatening conditions involving the liver, kidneys and central nervous system, as well as to illnesses leading to death.

Neighbors have complained for decades that the 227-acre airport is too close to homes and poses safety risks and health hazards, and City officials have long cited pollution as one of the reasons for wanting to close the century-old airport and possibly replace it with parkland and other community uses,
( "Airport Neighbors Protest Jet Traffic, April 23,2007.)

But SMO’s proponents say it is a vital, if small, part of the region’s efforts to handle its increasingly busy skies.

The City Council has imposed new anti-pollution rules in an effort to take control of airport leasing and has been engaged in a legal battle with aviators and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees the nation’s airports.

So far, though, few major decisions -- outside of those made at City Hall -- have favored shuttering the airport.

In his report to the Council, Makrides said that Tetra Tech found SMO’s air emissions are “similar to and often lower than those measured elsewhere in the South Coast Air Basin,” when compared to government studies from 2006 and 2010.

But Tetra Tech also found that emissions are still high enough to warrant concern, and would have triggered Prop. 65 warning signs if the City had been legally required to do so, Makrides said.

Prop. 65, formally the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, was passed to “protect California citizens and the State’s drinking water sources from chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm, and to inform citizens about exposures to such chemicals.”

However, the Act exempts federal, state and local agencies. That would include SMO, since it is owned and operated by the City, the report said.

The Tetra Tech review looked at the concentration and chemical composition of the air emissions previously measured at the airport and compared them to how Prop. 65 would rate them now.

The consultants found the concentrations of 1,3-butadiene and carbon tetrachloride were above Prop. 65’s most minor category of concern, or the “No Significant Risk Level.”

Concentrations of Benzene were also higher than the “NSRL,” but did not reach the Act’s “Maximum Allowable Dose Level,” the report said.

Previous tests were not conducted on the observation decks, the report said. But, based on previous testing elsewhere at the airport, the Prop. 65 warning signs would be appropriate for the observation decks if they were tested now, Tetra Tech said.

SMO has two outdoor observation decks -- the Runway View Deck and Public Sky-Deck -- both at the administration building at 3223 Donald Douglas Loop South. Both are open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The report said flight operations records show that from 2006 to 2014 all but three percent of the flights to and from SMO involved jet and piston-powered aircraft.

In 2006, there were 133,308 jet/piston takeoffs or landings at the SMO, the report noted. By 2014, the number dropped by nearly 40 percent, to about 79,605 takeoffs and landings. Last year, that total rose to 86,976, the report said.

The general decline in jet/piston flights at SMO over the last nine years “may have contributed to a decrease in the previously identified levels of chemicals of concern in air at the SMO,” the report added.

It recommends a new health-risk assessment be conducted to determine if that is the case.

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