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State lawmakers want study on air pollution effects on residents around Sea-Tac Airport

BURIEN, Wash. - When Jim Powell moved into his Burien home 18 years ago, airplanes leaving and departing Sea-Tac Airport weren't a bother. They were 1,000 feet away and the frequency was tolerable.

But, since the airport's controversial third runway opened for business eight years ago, his home has rumbled.

"During the summer it's non-stop between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m." said Powell. His home on 6th Ave. S. is at the closest point to planes approaching from the north on the third runway, the airport's most westerly runway.

"Here that?" said Powell. "That's the vortex of the wind coming off the wings. I've seen branches off the trees break because of it."

He estimates the planes sometimes are just 250 feet above his home.

"There's this gunk, this oily film that I have to clean off my house, my car and boat," said Powell. "It's coming from the planes."

Powell also wonders about the safety of planes flying so close to his home and the oily residue he says it leaves behind.

"It can't be good," said Powell.

Now, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would fund a study about the health effects that ultrafine particulate emissions from aircraft may have on the population that lives under the flight path of Sea-Tac Airport.

Only two studies of its kind have been done, one in Norway and the other done by scientists at the University of Washington and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Representative Tina Orwall ( D-Des Moines ) is sponsoring the House version HB 1171. She said it's time for the state to take advantage of what local researchers found out with LAX.

"They did find that there’s a very strong correlation between streams of ultra-fine particles and airplane emissions," said Orwall. "Those go all the way down in a stream line to the community level where people are exposed."

The university's research, the first of its kind in the U.S., found takeoff and landings at LAX were a major source of ultrafine particles, a measurement the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't use in its air quality monitoring.

The particles were found in a larger area than previously thought, up to 10 miles away from the airport and in concentrations equal to standing on a busy freeway.


A fiscal analysis of the bill estimates the cost of the study to be $1.5 million. But ,Orwall believes the state should move forward because the scientists that did the study are already employees of a state funded university.

At an House Environmental Committee hearing on Tuesday, there was no opposition to the bill and lots of support from the cities of SeaTac, Burien and Des Moines, the closest cities to Sea-Tac Airport.

A toxicologist with Seattle-King County Public Health testified that the study could provide valuable answers.

"Some of the highest asthma rates in King County are along the I-5 corridor and around Sea-Tac Airport," said Shirlee Tan.

Jim Powell is retired and said he couldn't afford to move, even if the airport were to buy his home - which there are no plans to do so.

"They really don't care about us one way or the other," said Powell. "It's all about money."

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