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Report: T.F. Green Airport Pollution Worse East of Facility

[CREDIT: RIDOH] A map of current and proposed air quality monitoring sites around T.F. Green Airport.
[CREDIT: RIDOH] A map of current and proposed air quality monitoring sites around T.F. Green Airport.
[CREDIT: RIDOH] A map of current and proposed air quality monitoring sites around T.F. Green Airport.

WARWICK, RI — While RI Department of Health’s T.F. Green Airport air quality monitoring needs improvement, it shows people east of the site are getting the brunt of pollution from the facility, a Brown University School of Public Health epidemiologist says.

Tonight, 7 p.m., at Pilgrim Senior Center, Warwick residents will discuss the report during a public hearing hosted by  Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) and Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick).

“It’s definitely worse for people living east of the airport,” said Gregory Wellenius, associate professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health.

According to the report, “Because wind directions are more commonly from the west, PC (levels of hazardous ultra-fine particles) data at the Pembroke site, which is east of the airport, are generally affected more by airport activities than the Field View site, despite being slightly further from the nearest runway.”

According to the report, western winds at the Pembroke site resulted in particle count levels of up to 20,000 during westerly winds. The Lydick site, also to the east, experienced particle counts of nearly 20,000 during south westerly winds. By comparison, westerly winds resulted in particle counts of near 6,000 for the Field View monitoring site, to the west.

In 2015, a study by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)demonstrated an association between long-term exposure to ultra-fine particle air pollution and death from heart disease. 

“There’s ample evidence that these particles have negative health effects,” Wellenius said, including increased incidence of heart attacks and strokes.

Wellenius said the monitoring could be improved to study whether air quality at the site is getting better or worse, which the available data doesn’t show. There’s good reason to be curious about that, he said, since there is both increased activity at the airport due to the facility’s recent expansion, which could be increasing pollution, and an increase in the efficiency of aircraft and engines, which may be decreasing pollution, both of which would be useful for people living near the airport to know.

Wellenius said he agrees with the report’s assessment that black carbon monitoring also needs to be improved in future reports.

“…BC (black carbon) monitors are very sensitive, so operational factors like the cycling on and off of air conditioners in monitoring shelters, can influence the accuracy of the results. Due to the “noise” created by these operational factors, the BC monitors operated by the RIAC contractor are not currently collecting useful data,” the report notes.

Regarging ultra-fine particle pollution from the airport, Wellenius said individuals don’t have much control over their exposure if they’re living nearby. Winter weather, when people are more likely to stay indoors and close their windows to outside air, is likely to be less risky for breathing in the pollutants, he said.

Aside for avoiding the air itself, Wellenius said limiting pollution from the airport lies in the hands of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, and the ability of the state legislature to enforce better air quality controls, perhaps by encouraging the use of more efficient aircraft.

On a personal level, Wellenius said people’s best defense against such pollution is staying as healthy as possible. Exercise, monitoring your blood pressure, and keeping an eye on your diabetes for those dealing with the disease, for instance, are smart moves.

“Really, the healthier you are the less vulnerable you are to these types of exposure,” he said.

Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of Contact him at [email protected] with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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