LAX Expansion Will Raise Cancer Risk, Study Finds

Times Staff Writer

Moving the southernmost runway at Los Angeles International Airport 55 feet for safety reasons will expose nearby residents to increased cancer risk and noise over an eight-month period during construction, according to an environmental impact report to be released today.

Closing the runway during the work will force officials to redistribute flights among LAX’s three other runways, requiring aircraft to taxi greater distances and idle longer -- increasing harmful emissions, according to the 1,370-page study.

Changing landing and takeoff patterns will also subject residents in Los Angeles, Inglewood and Westchester to more noise, classroom disturbances and sleep disruptions, concluded the report, completed by an architectural and engineering firm for the city’s airport agency.


Traffic generated by construction isn’t expected to markedly affect communities, the study said, because trucks will operate during off-peak hours and be directed away from residential streets to freeways.

The study, required under state law, provides an early look at problems to be faced by communities that surround LAX. Shifting the runway south -- scheduled to start next year and take 26 months -- is the first in a series of major projects planned to update the aging facility in the next decade.

Repositioning the 11,096-foot runway and building a new taxiway is a massive undertaking that will require workers to remove the old runway and install 600,000 square yards of 19-inch thick concrete -- enough to build more than 40 miles of two-lane road.

It will also require contractors to haul 225 million tons of dirt from the site.

Airport officials have argued for years that they must move the runway closer to tiny El Segundo and install a taxiway in between the two runways on the airport’s south side to reduce the possibility of collisions between aircraft.

About 80% of runway safety violations at LAX occur on those runways, because pilots who land on the southernmost one must traverse a series of taxiways and cross another runway before they reach the terminal.

“This project is about increasing the margin of safety for everyone using the airport, as well as the airport’s neighbors,” Paul Haney, a spokesman for Los Angeles World Airports, the city’s airport agency, said Sunday.


“There is no way to gain the needed increase in the margin of safety without construction activity. We’re committed to do everything feasible to compress the length of the construction project and to mitigate its impacts.”

The amount of increased noise and air pollution that will result from moving the runway could come as a surprise to many living in the area.

“I don’t think people have really considered this, and it’s kind of tough to conceptualize from our point of view,” Kelly McDowell, mayor of El Segundo, said Sunday.

The city of El Segundo is one of several airport-area municipalities that have challenged Los Angeles’ $11-billion LAX modernization plan in court, claiming environmental studies for the entire proposal understate the effects of noise, pollution and traffic.

It’s unclear if construction on the south runway could begin before the lawsuit is resolved. The next hearing is scheduled on Oct. 14 in Riverside County Superior Court.

The entire modernization plan would dramatically rework LAX. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said he approves of the most popular projects in the plan, including moving the south runway, but wants to eliminate its most controversial elements, including a passenger check-in center near the 405 Freeway.


Most residents and legislators interviewed about the environmental impact study, completed by Kansas City, Mo.-based architecture and engineering company HNTB, said they hadn’t received the report and couldn’t comment on its contents. But they did express concern about the short-term effects of construction on the south runway on their quality of life.

“I know there will be some very upset people,” said Denny Schneider, who sits on the board of the Westchester Neighbors Assn. “I, at least, have soundproofing. I put it in -- I can afford it. I have neighbors that can’t.”

Construction on LAX’s south runway is likely to expose several thousand residents to more noise, the study found. Six schools will experience higher noise levels during the eight-month period, it concluded.

Quantifying health risks is more complicated. If residents were exposed to air pollution that will result from construction for a period of 70 years, there could be a risk of 19 additional cancer cases per million people, according to the report.

Airport officials said it’s important to note that air pollution and noise effects shown in the study result not only from construction but also from recent increases in operations at LAX.

The effects are greater because, to determine how the project would affect surrounding communities, consultants compared aircraft operations in 2005 with the number of operations the airport served in 2003.


That year, air traffic was down markedly after carriers pulled flights following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Iraq war and an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. This year, operations are rebounding and are expected to hit record levels in 2006.