NEWPORT BEACH — Planes flying out of John Wayne Airport emit potentially harmful particles, but at levels lower than federal clean-air standards, according to a study released Monday.
Commissioned by the city, the $60,000 study looked at air quality in six locations and identified certain emissions that come from aircraft.
City officials hoped the report would provide some evidence of the airport's impacts on Newport Beach residents. They are gearing up for negotiations over the airport's operations; an agreement will expire in 2015 that limits when planes can fly and how many can depart, among other controls.
"It seems things are within standards for now," Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said after the presentation to the Citizens Aviation Committee. "Our concern is that an airport expansion would exceed the standards."
The state and federal government set the limits for fine particulate matter, the most harmful type of matter to human health, at 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The study found that the highest concentration was at 20 micrograms, and that was to the north of the airport — downwind of the runway and next to the San Diego (405) Freeway, which is also a source of these pollutants.
The highest levels found south of the runway were at the Santa Ana Heights Fire Station, which saw 16 micrograms. However, while the study distinguished auto emissions from aircraft emissions, it did not draw a distinction between emissions from commercial aviation and general aviation flights.
Federal guidelines assess the average of material collected over 24 hours and do not take into account the peak times of takeoffs, when a heavy load of material may be spread over a neighborhood. This limitation was pointed out by some audience members.
Indeed, the scientist who conducted the study, Karleen A. Boyle, said it's important to look at factors like peak emissions when assessing residents' exposure to toxic chemicals, but this study had a more limited scope.
"We know what's out there," she said after the presentation. "But we don't have enough data to figure out exposure to residents."
The study found three chemical elements that it attributed to airport uses — antimony, palladium and potassium — at statistically significant levels in the city. None are on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list of hazardous air pollutants.
It also found chemicals that it attributed to the freeway, including terbium and titanium at statistically-significant levels.
The presence of antimony, a silvery-white metal sometimes used for bearings, caught the ear of some audience members who live in the Bluffs. It was found at its highest levels at the Boys & Girl's Club in Eastbluff.
"It's frightening," said Jennifer Cannon, an 11-year resident of the Bluffs. Her two children attend Eastbluff Elementary School, which is adjacent to the Boys & Girls Club.
Cannon and other Bluffs residents complained that the samples, which were taken in 2009, didn't account for a new flight path that was implemented earlier this year.
That path has brought more planes over the Bluffs, and FAA officials are working to adjust the flight procedure, called DUUKE 2. The city's airport consultant, Thomas Edwards, said the revised procedure should be ready by the beginning of the year.