Study Shows Logan Airport Impacts Health of Residents

Fourteen years and $2 million in the making the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) finally released it long awaited Logan Health Study last Wednesday night.

The study, first ordered by Senator Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston) in 2000 through legislation he filed while still in the House of Representatives, has found that as you get closer to Logan International Airport the incidents of childhood asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is higher.

In the days following the release of the study elected officials, community groups and state agencies are weighing in on the findings.

“When I first directed the Department of Public Health to conduct this study, the objective was to get a baseline of the health impacts associated with the operations at Logan Airport so that we could work as a community to create public health and environmental programs that would make a positive impact,” said Petruccelli. “Now that the study is complete, we have an idea of what our targets need to be and I look forward to working with the appropriate state and municipal agencies and community organizations on the creation of the programs that are needed.”

Charlestown State Representative Dan Ryan said the study backs up certain health issue concerns residents here have long feared.

“Thanks to the release of DPH study we now have data to back-up long held beliefs on certain heath issues in the neighborhoods surrounding Logan Airport,” said Ryan. “I’m encouraged by some of the action steps put forward to address heart disease, childhood asthma and other respiratory diseases. Having Massport and the DOT work with our local health centers to address community health issues is great way to complement existing efforts. My hope is that these efforts will not only mitigate the environmental impacts of Logan Airport but the Tobin Bridge and other regional transportation infrastructure that also run through these communities.”

AirInc., a neighborhood watchdog group that oversees mitigation for Logan impacts on the community, reacted to the study’s findings Tuesday.

“The recently released Massachusetts Department of Public Health study regarding health impacts of Logan Airport’s operations raises serious health concerns for residents living in close proximity to the airport,” AirInc. said in a statement. “The study, which found increases in chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases in nearby residents and increased rates of asthma in children, calls for a broad reassessment of Logan’s operations. Protecting human health must now be the highest priority of the State DoT, Massport and Mayor Walsh. Residents in impacted communities expect to see change; both in short term day to day operations at Logan as well as in the long term strategic planning now underway.”

AirInc. invited the Harvard School of Public Health, the State Department of Public Health, the City of Boston’s Department of Environment, Energy and Open Space, Massport, the State Department and Transportation and the local air quality scientific community to participate in the technical review process.

“AirInc. is actively inviting residents and community groups in and around East Boston to participate in a Study Review Forum Panel discussion which will include airport and transportation industry experts to be announced upon completion of the technical review,” read the statement. “The panel discussion will be held bilingually to be as inclusive of as many of the neighborhood’s diverse residents as possible.”

The DPH released the findings at a town meeting in Winthrop last Wednesday and is considered the first comprehensive study on the environmental health impacts of Logan among residents of the 17 communities that are within a five-mile radius of the airport.

The study, conducted by DPH’s Bureau of Environmental Health was based on personal interview data for over 6,000 adults and more than 2,000 children in the study area. The health data were linked with state-of-the-art air modeling data to estimate possible exposures to airport-related emissions.

While Logan Airport provides only a small contribution to overall air pollution in the 17 communities, the study revealed some elevation in respiratory health outcomes in the high exposure area near the perimeter of Logan Airport.

The study found that in adults, COPD was statistically significantly higher for residents who have lived three or more years in the high exposure area. The study also found that children in the high exposure area were three-to-four times more likely to report asthma-related symptoms compared with children in the low exposure area.

However, the study did not find a statistically significant increase in other respiratory, cardiovascular, and noise-related effects on health.

At last week’s meeting, the DPH’s Associate Commissioner Susan Condon pointed out that while residents self reported symptoms to the DPH the study was conducted a year before Universal Health Care came to Massachusetts.

Whether many of those interviewed were officially diagnosed by a doctor to have asthma or COPD at a later time remains to be seen.

“These findings should provide a road map for community and agency actions that can be taken to further reduce impacts of air pollution on the health of residents in these communities,” said Condon.

DPH has initiated a series of action steps to address and reduce any potential impacts by the airport on public health.

DPH will work with relevant local municipalities to conduct additional indoor air quality assessments in schools and public buildings to further asses potential impacts. DPH will also continue to support the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s efforts to reduce motor vehicle emissions, including implementation of the Low Emissions Vehicle program and diesel engine retrofit initiatives.

In a statement after the meeting Massport said it will work with the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and other health centers and the state Department of Public Health to support respiratory health in neighborhoods.

“While Logan contributes a modest amount of emissions into the neighboring urban environment, we want to be part of the solution, not the problem,’’ said Massport CEO Thomas Glynn. “We appreciate the work done by DPH and we will work with the agency and local health organizations such as the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, and other neighborhood health centers to make sure residents are screened, educated and have tools to reduce respiratory irritants in their homes.’’

In the coming days, Massport, which owns and operates Boston Logan, will work with officials and health groups to formalize the outreach and prevention efforts now that the study findings are public.

Massport said will work with the Health Center to conduct a needs assessment survey to determine cases of adult COPD and cases of pediatric asthma. Based on the needs assessments Massport will develop a targeted strategies that could include health care provision by nurse practitioners, home visits and education by case managers and community health workers, healthy home kit distribution, tracking of care and referrals as needed.

The Massachusetts Legislature directed DPH to conduct an environmental risk assessment of the health impacts within a 5-mile radius of Logan Airport. The 17 communities within the study area were Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Hull, Lynn, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Nahant, Quincy, Revere, Saugus, Somerville, and Winthrop.

The study was conducted in response to a Legislative mandate and began in 2002. It is the first of its kind in the country. DPH worked closely with Massport and utilized all available airport operations data from 2005 for the study.

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