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Health Study Will Analyze LAX's Effects on Inglewood

Airport: The EPA and FAA will meet with city officials Wednesday. Residents report various medical problems.

December 06, 1999|RICHARD FAUSSET | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Federal officials will convene a multi-agency meeting Wednesday to plan a health study of how Inglewood residents are affected by their proximity to Los Angeles International Airport.

Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn has lobbied hard for a sweeping review of the health of residents, many of whom suspect that emissions from aircraft and motorists en route to the airport are responsible for a variety of medical problems in the city.

The study could be the first in the nation to determine the health effects of an airport on a nearby community if its scope is defined as broadly as Dorn wishes, Environmental Protection Agency officials said.

Representatives from the EPA, the Federal Aviation Administration, Los Angeles World Airports and other groups will meet with city officials Wednesday.

The EPA has already recommended that the findings be presented as part of the federal government's environmental review of the controversial proposal to expand LAX, the nation's fourth-busiest airport.

Because the FAA is expected to draft its environmental impact report on the expansion proposal by next summer, the timing of the EPA study will be an issue at Wednesday's meeting.

A thorough study, which would track the health of hundreds of Inglewood residents, could take two to four years, according to EPA specialist David Tomsovic. Given the timeline on expansion, Tomsovic said, a less rigorous study based on existing research may be considered.

"It's essential that they move on this," Dorn said last week.

Lydia Kennard, the interim executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, estimates that the agency will complete its draft master plan for the proposed expansion in about a year. That plan is expected to allow for an increase in yearly passenger capacity from 61 million today to more than 90 million by 2015.

Any expansion plan must be approved by the Los Angeles City Council and the federal government.

The Los Angeles airport authority will take responsibility for any adverse impact it has on neighboring communities, Kennard said. But she added that the study should determine whether potential health problems are caused by planes, auto emissions from the Century and San Diego freeways, or nearby oil refineries.

"Clearly, the airport is an emissions generator, but we're not the sole generator," she said.

Tomsovic said the effects of airplane noise--another major source of concern for Inglewood residents--might also be part of the study. More than 1,000 planes per day fly over Inglewood, city officials say.

Airport expansion, noise and health questions have been the biggest topics of public debate in Inglewood, often taking center stage at City Council meetings. Dorn has lobbied officials in the Clinton administration for the health study.

Opposition to airport expansion has been heating up in recent weeks. El Segundo filed a lawsuit in November charging that the airport is expanding in a piecemeal fashion in violation of California environmental law. Inglewood has filed a similar suit of narrower scope.

The EPA study will compile an inventory of existing studies conducted in the area. Last summer, for example, the South Coast Air Quality Management District conducted limited air quality testing in and around Inglewood.

At a test site one block south of the city, levels of elemental carbon--a reliable indicator of diesel pollution--were found to be more than 50% higher than the areawide average.

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