NEW HAVEN – Looking to challenge the results of the Federal Aviation Administration’s environmental study of the planned Tweed New Haven Airport expansion, local activists will begin their own air quality monitoring around the airport this weekend.
Through a $10,000 grant from the Greater New Haven Green Fund and in partnership with a research assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Tufts University, the neighborhood group 10,000 Hawks plans to examine the air quality using a car equipped with particulate matter measuring devices.
The Tweed expansion would extend the airport further into East Haven – an “environmental justice” community – by way of a new terminal, additional surface parking and a parking garage. Gretl Gallicchio, a 10,000 Hawks member and project leader, said the group hopes to challenge the results of an FAA environmental assessment, which predicted little impact on air quality.
“It confirmed for us that they weren’t taking the issue of air pollution seriously,” Gallicchio said.
The March environmental assessment used computer modeling to predict emission levels from construction and airport operations until 2031. But on Friday, Gallicchio told CT Examiner that the levels were calculated using a misleading characterization of future airport operations by stopping the analysis at 2031.
“They were able to kind of disingenuously narrow their environmental assessment to only the next handful of years, when their business model and their operational plan actually forecasts much greater numbers of operations in the period beyond that,” she argued.
With the help of Dr. Neelakshi Hudda of Tufts University and her graduate students, 10,000 Hawks will instead use an electric Chevy Bolt – the Tufts Air Pollution Lab – to drive around the airfield and surrounding neighborhoods and collect air quality, ambient noise and meteorological data during Tweed operations, before parking it nearby overnight.
The data collected this weekend by Hudda, and again by the graduate students the following week, will help to inform additional monitoring efforts, Gallicchio explained.
“It will also then help the Hawks, on more of the citizen science end, design our campaign for some more localized, long-term stationary monitoring throughout the summer,” she said
10,000 Hawks began as a group of southern Connecticut residents opposing the proposed Tweed expansion, but last month the group officially filed to become a nonprofit organization with the goal of researching environmental justice issues. Gallicchio said the group will use the majority of its $10,000 grant to purchase fence line air quality monitors, as Hudda was offering the vehicle at no cost.
“What we’re expecting is that through the generosity of Dr. Hudda here, she’s going to make it possible for us to get a lot more data out of less expenditure,” Gallicchio said.
Specializing in transportation emissions and urban air pollution, Hudda has conducted similar air quality modeling around the Los Angeles International Airport and the Logan International Airport in Boston, and found that airport emissions were a key source of ultrafine particles in surrounding areas.
Gallicchio said 10,000 Hawks and Hudda plan to use the “actual conditions” around the airport captured by the vehicle, including wind speeds and humidity levels, to analyze the reach and impact of Tweed operations on the surrounding communities like New Haven, East Haven and West Haven.
Gallicchio said the group has not received responses from Tweed officials or nearby municipalities since announcing the upcoming testing.
About a year ago, 10,000 Hawks members reached out to then-Tweed Executive Director Sean Scanlon and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker with a proposal for fence line air quality monitoring around the airport perimeter.
“No interest whatsoever. Zero interest. Not even a reply,” Gallicchio said.
In September, Scanlon confirmed to CT Examiner that he had received requests for fence line monitoring, but questioned the worth of such testing given Tweed’s close proximity to Interstate 95 and the Port of New Haven.
Elicker also said in September that he supported the air quality monitors, but acknowledged it was difficult to understand where the pollutants were coming from.
But Gallicchio argued that the many potential pollution sources are the key reason to install the monitors.
“The fact that all of these officials acknowledged that there’s already a dense soup of air pollution right here in New Haven is the reason to figure out what exactly Tweed is now going to contribute to that,” she said.
By factoring in meteorological conditions like wind speeds and landing and take-off times at the airport, Gallicchio said, fence line monitors around the perimeter of Tweed would allow officials to examine emission levels stemming from the airport.
The ultimate goal of 10,000 Hawks, she said, is to garner interest from Tweed officials, city officials and the FAA, and produce a report for the agencies.
Current Tweed Executive Director Tom Rafter did not respond to a request for comment Friday, and Elicker was unavailable for comment.