A peoples environmental impact report on El Toro International Airport

But when El Toro is finished in 2020 and John Wayne is handling considerably fewer flights, the on-site cancer risk for John Wayne climbs to 8,003 in 1 million while the risk associated with El Toro climbs to a relatively paltry 317 in 1 million. This brings a total cancer risk for both airports to 8,320 in 1 million.

Data for health risks at residential and occupational sites is similarly inscrutable. And this isn't even taking into account the fact that the tables in the county's original December 1999 EIR bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Supplemental Analysis. For example, the original EIR said the on-site El Toro cancer risk in 2020 would be 150 in 1 million—far smaller than the Supplemental figure. The existing on-site cancer risk for John Wayne was even more striking: just 230 in 1 million compared with the Supplemental Analysis figure of 7,686 in 1 million. And no reason was given for the disparity in the figures.

"Health risk is a huge issue," said Yorke. "But you get the sense that what's here can't be right."


For a long time, county officials insisted that noise from this massive airport would not bother the tens of thousands of South County residents who live near the base. These days, they're not even pretending to believe that fiction. Materials put out by the county's outside public-relations firm Amies Communication say "regular night operations" will make "significant" noise.

But county officials still insist no homes are close enough to the base to warrant soundproofing. Are they right?

Only if you accept the county's meaningless way of defining and measuring noise with reference to what academics call the Community Noise Equivalent Level (CNEL). The CNEL analysis is a meaningless academic number that doesn't tell people a thing about how much noise they'll hear in their homes. It is the average of noise a person would hear over a 24-hour period. As such, it's powerfully misleading: take the 11-second, high-pitch, 90-decibel (dB), scream of a 747 flying over your house at 1:08 a.m., average that out over the 3.5 minutes of near silence on either side of that, and you emerge with a flatter noise pattern.

Even the county's own noise consultants understand this is crap. "CNEL is an inadequate descriptor of sleep disturbance," wrote chief county noise consultant Vince Mestre in a June 21, 1999, memo to then-El Toro program head Courtney Wiercioch.

But never mind the experts: county officials continue to use the CNEL measure because it helps them skirt a state law that would require them to soundproof any home exposed to an average daily noise level of 65 dB. And as the EIR and Amies Communication brochures make perfectly clear, "there would be no residential structures inside a commercial airport 65 CNEL line."

The June 21 Mestre memo is an astonishingly frank description of just how bad El Toro will be for the thousands of residents who live around the base. It ends forever the myth that residents who have lived next to an airport for many years will face nothing new when El Toro becomes operational. It is so revealing that the county went to extraordinary efforts to keep it under wraps.

For over a year, the county insisted it was exempt from public disclosure. The reason: "attorney-client privilege," a completely bogus rationalization achieved when someone crossed out the name Wiercioch—the individual Mestre normally reported to—at the top of the memo and wrote next to it "Mike Gatzke." Gatzke was then the county's outside counsel. The tactic failed to hold up on appeal, and the memo finally fell into airport opponents' hands on Aug. 3, 2000.

It's the fact that El Toro will be a round-the-clock airport with large numbers of night flights that will make the noise so bad. According to Mestre's once-secret memo, the Single Event Noise Level (SENEL) metric —which measures the actual noise produced by a single event, like a plane flying over your house—"is a better indicator of sleep disturbance [than CNEL]." Mestre added that SENEL levels of just 70 dB would be enough to wake up as much as 7 percent of the surrounding population.

Houses with the windows closed will screen out 20 dB, but a house with the windows open will screen out only 12 dB. Because of the local climate, Mestre recommended in the memo that the county should assume residents would keep their windows open at night and draw up an 82 dB SENEL contour to show true sleep-disturbance impacts.

"The mild climate of the area and the lack of historical military night operations may indicate widespread use of open windows at night," wrote Mestre. "Closing windows may not be an option in these areas, since they are not required by the county to have been constructed with mechanical ventilation."

All MD-80s, DC-10s, 727s and 747s produce at least 82 dB in flight. Mestre pulled no punches about what this would mean for county propaganda. Using this new contour, Mestre warned, "would impact homes that have been exempt from the county noise standards and may have not been constructed with sound-control treatments."

Such a "sound-print" would, according to Mestre's memo, suggest nearly 5,000 homes hit by at least 82 dB of noise. But there was worse news, Mestre warned: "The above analysis does not consider departures [to the south], which have SENEL contours significantly larger than those of Runway 34 arrivals."

« Previous Page
Next Page »