Hanscom Panel to Pursue Study of Jet Emissions’ Impact

October 19, 2023

An expert on the impact of aviation emissions on ground-level air quality told the Hanscom Field Advisory Commission on Tuesday that adverse impact can extend as far as 10 miles from an airport.

Dr. Neelakshi Hudda, a research assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Tufts University, said studies have shown that jet traffic can generate indoor concentrations of pollutants resembling those on a busy highway. 

Hudda, a Lexington resident, presented findings from studies in Los Angeles and Boston. Christopher Eliot, commission chair, said he plans to look into scheduling and financing similar research focusing on the towns surrounding Hanscom Field.

According to her biography on the Tufts website, “Dr. Hudda’s main area of research is urban air pollution with a particular focus on transportation emissions. She has been investigating ambient air pollution, indoor intrusion in various microenvironments, and mitigation strategies for over 12 years.”

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She received her doctorate in environmental engineering from the University of Southern California. Before joining the Tufts faculty in 2017, she conducted research on the impacts of aviation emissions on ground-level air quality.

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hanscomafb-29mar95.jpg

Hudda explained to the commission that the metric for indicating the concentration of emissions is called “ultrafine particles,” smaller than 100 nanometers, which she called “an excellent proxy for airplane exhaust.” That exhaust comprises “a complex mixture of pollutants,” she said.

Ultrafine particles, not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, are “a physical form of pollution that is abundantly present near airports,” she said.

Hudda cited a 2012 study at the airport in Los Angeles conducted during a period when a nearby major highway was closed. Ground-level concentrations close to the airport were measured at twice the ambient level, and there was evidence of concentrations in the air up to 10 miles away. She said the highest levels were aligned with jet trajectory combined with prevailing winds.

The speaker also referenced a similar study near Logan International Airport correlating particle concentration with flight activity. She noted that measurements taken at sites in Chelsea showed a 50 percent drop in concentration during the months when COVID-19 reduced air traffic by as much as three-quarters. 

Her report also highlighted studies showing adverse health conditions prevalent at higher particulate incidence rates near airport communities, including preterm births and brain cancer. 

The only mitigation response Hudda mentioned was indoor air filtration, which she said has a significant impact.

In answer to a question from Barbara Katzenberg, Lexington’s commission representative, Hudda said when the smell of jet fuel dissipates, ultrafine particles remain.

When asked by resident Jennifer Boles if she would conduct a similar study in the Hanscom area, Hudda agreed. “Consider yourself asked,” Eliot chimed in. Hudda said she will leave it up to the commission to determine what is necessary to make arrangements. “I don’t know about a request for proposals for this kind of a study but I will look into it,” said Select Board member Emily Mitchell.

A representative of the Federal Aviation Administration at the virtual meeting, Michael Dukes, said he will share the commission’s concerns with “our environmental team.”

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