Tufts Researcher Records Spikes in Air Pollution One-Half Mile From Tweed Airport

Lianne Audette, a member of 10,000 Hawks, and Lorena Venegas watch a plane take off over Audette's house near Tweed Airport (CT Examiner).


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A new air quality study found spikes of pollution from Tweed New Haven Airport both inside and outside surrounding houses in New Haven and East Haven, prompting questions from neighbors and officials about the planned expansion.

On Wednesday, Tufts University researcher Dr. Neelakshi Hudda shared three significant results from her $10,000 study conducted around Tweed last summer. Hudda concluded that residents in the vicinity of the airport may experience the effects of plane exhaust within their homes, even if located over half a mile away from Tweed, during both takeoff and landing. 

The research funded through a grant from the New Haven Green Fund, and was sponsored by 10,000 Hawks, a neighborhood group opposing the expansion.

Hudda’s results triggered a slew of questions from the nearly 100 attendees at a virtual meeting of the New Haven Environmental Advisory Council, including officials from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the city of New Haven, and from Tweed — Is it unsafe to walk in the area around Tweed? How does this affect pulmonary issues inside our homes? Would you ever live near Tweed airport?

While Hudda advocated for precautionary measures such as installing air filters in homes and walking downwind from the airport, she emphasized that the response to the findings ultimately rests with the individuals. She shared her own experience of residing near Hanscom Field in Massachusetts, but advised neighbors to avoid prolonged exposure.

“Knowing what I know, I would try not to walk next to an airport,” she said. “But not everybody has that luxury.”

The findings

After being contacted by local activists opposing the federally-approved expansion of Tweed, Hudda and several of her research students used 12 air quality monitors and a car equipped with particulate matter measuring devices from Tufts University to measure the levels of ultrafine particles emitted from Tweed planes in June and July 2023.

The pollution levels in New Haven and East Haven pale in comparison to studies at larger airports in Los Angeles and Boston, Hudda said, but she reported significant spikes in ultrafine particles — small markers of fuel combustion — both inside and outside the surrounding neighborhoods, compared to baseline levels.

Hudda said the baseline for ultrafine particles was established from when there is no airport activity. But during takeoffs and landings, she found the particle levels often increased by at least 188 percent half a mile from the airport and by about 200 percent when directly next to Tweed.

Although the pollution from Tweed is in line with federal air quality standards which do not regulate these ultrafine particles, she said, the airport activity creates pollution.

“[They] are probably not polluting enough to cross the threshold, which doesn’t mean that they’re not polluting,” Hudda said.

Hudda clarified that this does not mean neighbors are continuously inhaling jet exhaust during the day. Instead, she said that pollution spikes can occur for approximately a minute and a half, depending on factors such as the size of the plane, whether it is taking off or landing, and the distance from the airport.

The research revealed elevated levels of ultrafine particle concentration for larger jets at Tweed, with heightened exposure noted for houses in closer proximity to the airport. Hudda explained that homes situated farther from the airport experienced more significant impacts when the wind directed the exhaust toward them, but felt minimal increases otherwise.

Impact on expansion

Andrew King, a spokesperson for Avports, Tweed’s airport management company,  asked Hudda what she recommended airports do to combat air pollution. In response, Hudda suggested providing surrounding houses with the latest soundproofing and air-proofing technologies.

On Thursday, King told CT Examiner said Hudda’s answer “perfectly aligned” with current airport efforts, as both the Federal Aviation Administration has set aside about $19 million to fund soundproofing for the nearby neighborhoods. Under the expansion, he said, those efforts will continue.

“There’ll be more FAA-funded soundproofing with the extension of the runway,” he said. “And then there will be yet another noise study once the traffic pattern normalizes to understand if anybody else needs soundproofing or qualifies under the FAA programs.”

Under the airport’s current $5 million Residential Sound Insulation Program, Tweed is required to upgrade local windows and doors, increase insulation, modify venting and add air conditioning systems.

But King questioned the relevance of Hudda’s findings in relation to the planned expansion — which includes a new terminal and parking in East Haven and an expanded runway — and the results of an environmental assessment the airport completed last year.

“There’s a difference between the question that she’s asking and the question that the EA asks,” King said. “The question she asks is, ‘What is happening right now?’ And the question that the EA asks is, ‘What happens if we do nothing?’”

In its environmental study, which was approved by the FAA in December, Tweed compared the current air quality surrounding the airport to projected levels under the $165 million expansion, and concluded there would be no significant impact.

King argued that Hudda’s results actually demonstrate the need for the expansion, as it seeks to reduce fossil fuel usage with upgraded technology.

“That starts with modernizing the terminal, and having a carbon-neutral terminal with electrified operations. That allows us to use sustainable energy rather than drawing energy off the main grid,” he said.

While King argued that Hudda’s findings back the federal environmental study, East Haven Mayor Joseph Carfora and Save the Sound have called that assessment “flawed.” This week, Carfora and the environmental nonprofit announced they would be appealing the FAA’s approval in federal court.

Hudda’s final study has not yet been published online. Members of the Environmental Advisory Council said a recording of her presentation will be uploaded to their website over the next week.