Term Paper: Airports and Their Effects

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[. . .] The primary concern is for sulphur dioxide emissions and particulate matter. Sulphur dioxide is a key factor in the production on of acid rain, a key environmental concern. The EPA determined that sulphur dioxide emissions near an airport cannot rise above a certain percentage over an established baseline for the area. The concentration is measured over a twenty-four hour period. Carbon dioxide levels have a similar standard of measure. The Clean Air Act regulates other materials, however, these are the ones of primary concern to airports (USEPA, Clean Air Act, Title II, Part B).

Wildlife Issues

Wildlife is always a concern for airports, both as an environmental issue and a safety issue. This is an area of great discussion and debate between two opposing sides. Environmentalists claim that airports and airport construction projects must have as little impact on wildlife habitat as possible. However, wildlife and airports do not mix. Birds on the runway get caught in the engines of airplanes and cause severe safety issues. An increase in environmental protection ultimately leads to an increase in local wildlife, this in turn increases the rate of wildlife accidents involving aircraft (Robert, p.14).

The Air Line Pilot Association compares this to the situation 20 years ago with icicles. They believe that nothing will be done until a major crash occurs (Robert, p.14). Measures to solve this problem have so far gotten mixed reviews. One of these measures involves using border collies to keep airport runways free of birds. Birds cost approximately $380 million dollars a year in the United States due to downtime and repair of aircraft. In addition, birds caused 40% of foreign object stalls in 1999 (Robert, p.14). The two sides of this issue have equally compelling arguments and at this time there is no clear answer which would be satisfactory. This issue will continue to be a growing area of concern for years to come.

Noise Pollution

In FAA publication AEE-100 noise is defined as unwanted or bothersome sound. The measurement of sound is recorded in A- weighted decibels (dB or dBa). A decibel is a logarithmic measure of the magnitude of sound compared to the sounds that the average human being can hear. Humans do not hear extremely high frequencies or extremely low frequencies. We hear middle frequencies. "A-weighted" means that it only measures sounds that an average human being could hear. Most of the time, background noise levels are at 50 dB or less. Most aircraft generate a noise level of about 68 dB, while local noises can be much higher, such as a passing motorcycle. It would seem by this measure that the aircraft would be less bothersome than the motorcycle (73 dB). However, the aircraft noise lasts longer. The noise is measured both in loudness and duration (FAA, AEE-100).

Another way of expressing sound is to compress all of the energy of a sound as if it all occurred within a one-second time period. This is called the sound exposure level (SEL). When this is done the motorcycle is now at 77dB and the aircraft is now at 81dB (FAA, AEE-100).

Another factor in sound measurement is the equivalent sound level. This is a time-weighted average of all of the sound levels in a given time period. This is called the equivalent sound level. The day/night sound average takes into account that sounds that occur at night are more disturbing than sounds that occur during the day. In this measurement, a 10 dB penalty is added to sounds that occur between 10:00 PM and 7:00 AM. When averaging the noise level over a 24-hour period, the 10 dB penalty is added to all nighttime sounds. This means that one sound occurring at night would be equivalent to 10-1 dB daytime sounds. Noise experts use these to aid them in assessing the impact that an airport has on a community. They also conduct community annoyance surveys to determine how many people are annoyed by a sound (FAA, AEE-100).

As a part of their guidelines concerning land use, the FAA has initiated its Airport Noise Compatibility Program. In general, most land uses are acceptable if the noise levels do not exceed 68 dB. However, the FAA has declared that "acceptable sound levels should be subject to local conditions and community decisions. "Although people near the small airport experience only 50 aircraft operations in a day, the average SEL of each of these is about 97 dB. On the other hand, the community near the large airport is impacted by 500 daily operations, but each of these has an average SEL of about 87 dB." (FAA, AEE-100)

Storm Runoff

De-icing agents sprayed on airplanes are necessary for the safety of passengers and pilots, however the ingredients contained in these products are highly toxic. When sprayed on the airplanes, it makes its way into the local watershed by way of runoff from melting snows and storms. Glycol, a highly regulated substance, is a major component of de-icers. This is in addition to a very long list of other heavily regulated chemicals. Toxic levels of chemicals found in de-icers have been found in waters surrounding airports. To consider not de-icing planes is not an acceptable alternative. However, perhaps more studies need to be conducted to determine how much is necessary to effectively de-ice an airplane, without creating excessive run-off (NRDC, 1996).

In determining the impact that an environmental issue has on a community, in general government agencies consider several things. First, they consider the severity of the issue. For example, does the issue cause skin irritation, or immediate death upon exposure. Second, they consider how many people are affected by the exposure. Does the effect occur in every person who comes in contact with the substance, or does it affect one in one million who are exposed. Third, what is the likelihood that a person will be exposed? Is the hazard located in the main airport terminal, or a remote portion of the runway? In this cause, not only those affected by direct exposure must be considered, but those exposed by indirect exposure, such as seeping into the local water table. They must also consider the length of the exposure over a period of time in relation to its toxicity. All of these things are considered when deciding what measures to take in reducing environmental hazards at airports, or any public place (ATSDR, 2001).


Prevention measures for environmental hazards are often costly.

However, the long-term-effects on the environment, health and safety can often be more costly when all of additional costs, which may be incurred, are added. For example, one remediation technique to reduce the possibility of Storm runoff entering the water supply, is to install an artificial wetland to process the chemicals in the storm water. This would initially have a high cost, however, the cost could not effectively be measured if the toxic chemicals entered the water supply and health problems occurred. The medical costs, lost wages and effects on people's lives would be staggering, not to mention the lawsuits and legal costs when the source of the contamination was discovered.

This is the logic behind the entire Environmental Impact Study. It goes with the old cliche about an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure. If we can have the foresight to predict where the problems will be likely to occur, then we can prevent them from happening in the first place. Some environmental solutions may be simple and inexpensive, or may actually be an overall cost-effective strategy such as finding out how much de-icer is actually needed to effectively de-ice an airplane. This not only reduces pollutants to soils and water around the runway, but also saves money in reducing waste. Many solutions could be devised in this manner, which would be beneficial to both environmentalists and accountants alike. This is the goal of the many government agencies that are constantly working to improve environmental issues at airports.

Works Cited

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2001 CERCLA Priority List of Hazardous Substances. Division of Toxicology. Atlanta, GA. Updated on January 25, 2002. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/clist.html#info Accessed February, 2002.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (2000). Airports, AIRCRAFT NOISE: How We Measure It and Assess its Impact Community and Environmental Needs Division, Office of Environment and Energy. Publication AEE-100. 2000.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) (1985). Airport Environmental Handbook. Chapter 8. Environmental Impact Statement Contents. Order 5050.4A October 8, 1985 Initiated by: APP-600

Natural Resources Defense Council (NADC) (1996). Flying Off Course: Environmental Impacts of America's Airports, October 1996 report. last revised 10.17.96 http://www.nrdc.org/air/transportation/qairport.asp. Accessed February 2002.

United States Environment Protection Agency (2002). Clean Air Act, 1990 version. Title II, Part B. Aircraft Emission standards. http://www.epa.gov/

United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) (2001). Drinking Water Standards Program. Agency Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.. http://www.epa.gov/safewater/standards.html Accessed February 22, 2002. Accessed February, 2002.

Van, Capt. Robert (2001). Wildlife Hazard… [END OF PREVIEW]

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