The Smart Way to Reduce Health-threatening Air Pollution From MSP Overflights

The smart way to reduce air pollution impacts around MSP is to limit operations per hour to allow ascents and descents using less fuel and reduce hours per day that neighborhoods are overflown below 5000 feet.  Hourly operation limits are a smarter move to decrease noise impacts and the air traffic control and facilities costs at MSP. 

Life and Breath: How air pollution affects public health in the Twin Cities, a 2015 Report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), found ozone and fine particulates air pollution here increased mortality and health issues.

The Study does not differentiate the compounds or elements forming fine particulate matter, but a map shows the highest particulate concentrations center on MSP and extend south and southeast to the Minnesota River, as would expected from prevailing winds with MSP runway operations as the source.  Fine particulates (2.5 micron or less) are implicated as a cause of more mortality and health risks/health care costs by relative concentrations.


Last year, SMAAC testified during the 2014 MSP environmental hearing that a study links specific sub-micron particulates created by low-altitude commercial-jet overflights. These  particulates dominate high particulate levels found under flight paths near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX0 in a study by University of Southern Califonia (USC) researchers. In our informed opinion, this links specific sub-micron particulate concentrations to MSP operations by location and height.

Overuse of MSP runways, operations per hour, compared to needed airport use or capacity, requires lower overflights.  Lower overflights increase the concentration of the particulate emissions in the lower atmosphere and on the ground where they may be reintroduced by wind and distrubances.

The Life and Breath report, by Metro Zip Codes, confirmed the July 2010. World Health Organization (WHO) warning that living or working near busy airports increases health risks.

In 2010, neither the MPCA, nor the MDH nor the Metropolitan Council nor the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) took any notice of the WHO Warning,  So, in testimony during environmental assessments and direct correspondence with the MAC, the South Metro Airport Action Council (SMAAC) asked that the WHO warning be considered. We suggested analyzing deaths and health outcomes near MSP and along flight paths to the MPCA, MAC, MDH, the State Demographer and the State Epidemiologist.

It must be noise?   

Noise from overflights, often called "airport noise," has been a thorn in the side of airports and airlines since the first jets came on line.  You can't hide noise; but airports and airlines have developed a pseudo-science, public-relations campaigns and well-paid lobbies to deal with noise complaints.  The WHO and FICAN each noted that DNL 65 was no predictor of health risks. 

Noise complaints had endured for years.  Millions of Federal dollars had been spent for noise mitigation (the Sound Insulation Program at MSP included) based on annual average noise intensity or DNL, as modeled using the Integrated Noise Model (INM). The modeling was limited and the insulation benefits, if any, were not easily determined. 

Si, in 2010, Federal agencies already knew, from various US epidemiological studies, that overflights increased health risks . So the MAC Chair’s response was to reject SMAAC’s recommendation in a Staff letter --suggesting that the WMO had used “European data” as the basis of its warning. The Noise Oversight Committee was asked to ‘monitor” the US studies under review by the Federal Inter-Agency Committee on Airport Noise. 

The MAC has usually omitted aircraft emissions and resulting air and  water pollution from  Annual Assessments of Environmental Effects —and from 3 EA/EAW reviews. 

It is remarkable that the MPCA, the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) and the Legislature accepted these reviews! It is unbelievable that any responsible official would cling to the INM/65 DNL as meaningful for forecasting noise, much less air pollution. 


The long-term plan for MSP flight capacity per hour, as a hub, should reasonably consider environmental impacts and health risks in an EIS.  As a transportation resource nationally and locally, MSP has been, and is, important economically.  However, financing the proposed facilities and systems under current conditions will make origin and destination air travel unaffordable as well as unacceptably hazardous to the public.


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