How to prevent early deaths from airport-related emissions

In the U.K., demand for air travel will more than double by 2030. an expanded Heathrow would add 100 premature deaths from air pollution annually, MIT researchers show.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

In the U.K., demand for air travel will more than double by 2030 – from 127 million to 300 million passengers a year. The two main proposals for accommodating this rising demand are to add a third runway to London’s Heathrow Airport, or replace Heathrow with a new airport in the Thames Estuary.

A new study evaluating the health impacts of the proposals finds that a new hub on the Thames Estuary may be the better option. MIT News reports.

“Heathrow is almost in the worst possible place because it’s in the middle of this populated area, and upwind of it,” says study coauthor Steven Barrett at MIT. Pollution from an airport in the Thames would blow over the North Sea.

  • They found the airport-related emissions cause 50 premature deaths throughout the U.K.
  • If Heathrow undergoes no expansion, the number of early deaths would increase to 110 by the year 2030, possibly as a result of other airports expanding to meet growing demand.
  • If officials decide to expand Heathrow, the resulting air pollution would cause 150 early deaths annually.
  • A new replacement airport on the Thames Estuary would drop that number to 50, since the emissions it’ll create would be carried away from population centers.

The findings are part of a wider assessment conducted on the health impacts of the U.K.’s 20 busiest airports. To determine the number of premature deaths from airport-related emissions, the team:

  1. Tracked the number of flights coming in and out of each airport, and obtained projections of the number of flights expected in 2030.
  2. Estimated emissions from aircrafts and ground support vehicles, and simulated wind patterns and other atmospheric conditions.
  3. Plugged aircraft emissions data into the model to see where the winds carried the pollution, and simulated chemical reactions in the atmosphere to understand conversion of emissions into fine particles.
  4. Superimposed the fine-particulate data over population density maps.
  5. Applied previous health-risk data to their fine-particulate map to determine the number of premature deaths caused by a given airport scenario.

They also found that the number of early deaths in all scenarios would decrease if airports removed sulfur from jet fuel, used one engine instead of two to taxi, converted ground transportation to electric power, or used preconditioned air from the airport terminal to cool aircraft cabins when their engines are off.

The work [pdf] was published in Atmospheric Environment this week.

[Via MIT News]

Image by .curt. via Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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