Toxic Trails

Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

Post By: Molly Hover, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

Imagine you’re four years old and looking wide-eyed at the contrails of the planes speeding above you. For a few moments they leave their mark on the sky–a white dusting like chalk on a board. Just as quickly, they disappear and your attention moves elsewhere.

Contrails may be a sight to behold, but they quite literally leave their mark with their release of chemicals. An article from the Star Tribune in 2008 used a Question/Answer format to the question: “Is life under a flight path more toxic?”

The answer the Tribune gave was inconclusive, citing a study conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that tested air in four neighborhoods underneath airplanes’ flight paths. The results showed the “amount of toxics found was below the maximum accepted health benchmarks for those compounds” such as benzene and formaldehyde and was further complicated by the pollution-emitting cars nearby.

The follow-up question to this study may be: What are the “maximum accepted health benchmarks” for compounds such as benzene?

A paper by the U.S. Energy Information Administration outlines the path to biofuels in aircrafts and says that “jet fuel is a 22-billion gallon per year market in the United Sates” with biofuels only now starting to trickle into the market. “Biojet” or biofuel is made from renewable and biologically derived materials, but is up against the larger market of jet fuels before it is the norm.

In fact, a paper through the World Wildlife Fund this year reported that a week prior to the article’s publishing on October 10, 2016, the “United Nations’ civil aviation body agreed…to put a cap on the emissions for an international sector rather than a country.” And, as one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, “this is the starting block.”

However, although these two sources outline jet fuel’s role in greenhouse emissions, they do not delve deeper into the flight path of their toxic trails. It seems related that the need to change from jet fuels to bio fuels not only affects our climate but also our health.

An article from the LA Times does, though. The 2014 piece measured exhaust particles released in neighborhoods below the Los Angeles International Airport and "found that takeoffs and landings at LAX are a major source of ultrafine particles...equal in magnitude to those from a large portion of the country's freeways." In contrast to the Tribune article that could not decipher between the roadway pollution and the toxic trails of the planes, the LA Times article reports a "'novel and alarming set of results.'" The results of breathing in such particles can be asthma, blocked arteries, and an aggravation of lung and heart conditions. 

With pollutants such as benzene hazing out skies, it is important to take our observance of those pretty contrails one step further and demand to know what’s in the air we breathe.


All sources linked. 


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