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Is the jet engine smoke dangerous?

January 28, 2012|Imperial Valley Press

I like watching the Blue Angels flight demonstration team and support them every year. My question is, with the team’s six planes flying two times a day for two months, how much does the team’s planes’ “smoke” affect the local air quality? — Pain the Neck (From Looking at the Sky), El Centro

This is a really good question, and one we had a hard time answering initially, as we were going through the incorrect channels to get the info.

The “smoke” does not affect air quality at all, if by smoke the letter writer is referring to the intentional jet trails the Blues give off during shows and practice.

We would think the jet-engine exhaust from not just the Blues but all of the aircraft that train at Naval Air Facility El Centro would be a bigger trouble spot. 

As for the “smoke,” NAF El Centro spokeswoman Michelle Dee directed us to the Blue Angels’ own Web site, where it says the Blues’ smoky trails are biodegradable, paraffin-based oil pumped directly into the exhaust nozzles of the aircraft where the oil is instantly vaporized into smoke. She said the smoke poses no hazard to the environment.

Although the smoke trails look pretty cool, they also serve a practical purpose for the fliers in that they provide a traceable path for the spectators of air shows to follow and so the pilots can see each other during opposing maneuvers in low-visibility situations.

To find out about emissions, we got all turned around. We started with Imperial County Air Pollution Control District Director Brad Poiriez, who sent us to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

He said his department has jurisdiction over stationary pollution sources, and that the EPA oversees pollution sources from planes, trains and ships.

Poiriez went one further and told us the Department of Defense puts out an annual analysis predicting how much pollution it’ll put into the U.S. air shed, which the EPA should have.

We tried for four days to get that info out of the EPA, from Washington, D.C., to Region 9 in San Francisco, to the Southern California office. They were as unhelpful as they were unresponsive.

We eventually went to Dee, who gave us what she could. She told us the California EPA’s Air Resources Board breaks out stats for all types of pollution in Imperial County, including military aircraft operations.

According to the information provided, military aircraft contribute less than 1 percent of the total emissions in the county. Dee added that most of those emissions occur at altitudes above 3,000 feet, which allows for dissipation into the atmosphere.

Also, Dee said the Navy is in the process of completing an environmental impact statement, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act to allow NAF El Centro consideration for the West Coast home-basing for the Navy’s joint strike fighter squadron.

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