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ARCO Flight Tracks

April, 1997
Vol. 4, Issue 3

Your source for information concerning events and issues involving O'Hare Airport


Your Voice Is Heard

Airports, Aircraft and the Clean Air Act

by Paula Cowan, MD, ARCO Medical Director

"Living near a major airport is like having an oil refinery as a neighbor...except that refineries are subject to stronger pollution controls and disclosure requirements." That was the conclusion of the Natural Resources Defense Council in their 1996 report "Flying Off Course". Airports, from both ground and airplane operations, pump thousands of tons of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) into the air over the airports. These are by-products of burning fuel that are the leading components of smog. They pump hundreds of tons of hazardous and toxic emissions like benzene, formaldehyde, and butadienes into the air. Benzene is proven to cause leukemia and birth defects. Formaldehyde causes lung and eye irritation, skin, and brain cancer. Butadiene is an identified carcinogen and causes cancer as well.

Factories and most other businesses are severely restricted in the amounts of these toxic chemicals that they may discharge into the air. Emission standards, established under the provisions of the 1990 Clean Air Act, set deadlines for decreasing chemical air pollution regionally. Each region must measure its air for specific chemicals, including VOC’s, nitrogen oxides and ground-level ozone. When a region does not achieve the goals, it is called a "non-attainment area". The degree of exceeding the standards is ranked from marginal to extreme.

A non-attainment area must develop a State Implementation Plan (SIP). It must include measures to reduce all sources of specific air pollutants over the region as a whole.

However, when Congress enacted the Clean Air Act, airlines and airports were not included as industries that must comply. States tried to target airport emissions in their SIP’s. A most notable attempt was in southern California. The US EPA tried to set target rates for airplane emissions. Thus the airlines were allowed to meet the targets in a safe manner. Unfortunately, the Air Transport Association, convinced the EPA that severe cutbacks in air travel were the only possible way to meet the proposed targets. The end result was that emissions’ targets for fixed ground facilities like hangars were set. But the much greater problem of airplane emissions went unaddressed.

The FAA is the only government organization that has jurisdiction over airplane emissions matters. They set the standards for individual aircraft engines, making them more efficient than previous models. The airlines allege that reducing their emissions will hurt their business greatly and compromise safety. The FAA has not set any emissions standards for an airport as a whole. The end product of this skirmish is that any efficiency gained in engine design is outweighed by the increase in the number of airplanes taking off and landing every year.

Only the aggregate of emissions determines the air quality of the persons living under "the bubble" around a major airport. While OSHA developed standards for workers exposed to toxics like benzene, formaldehyde, and butadiene, the health standards are expressed in concentrations. For benzene, one part benzene for million parts of air over an 8-hour period is the maximum exposure for workers. Residents living under the bubble of Newark, NJ’s airport were exposed to up to 914 tons of VOC’s in 1993. But they cannot determine whether they are exposed to more than 1 ppm of benzene in their homes, because the FAA has not measured the concentrations. Chicago’s O’Hare Airport neighbors have more than three times as many landings and takeoffs as their Newark NJ counterparts. But there is no data to compare the resulting chemicals emissions (in tons/year) with health standards (in parts per million per day).

There are many things airlines could do, without compromising their profits or public safety. At the head of the list must be reducing the number of flights without reducing the number of passengers, simply by sending more planes up full instead of 40-65% full. If airport operators (usually cities and counties) cut back 20% of every airline’s flights, there would be little chance of competing airlines stealing their revenue. One full plane is less expensive to fly than two half-full planes. Europe already uses techniques to decrease fuel consumption and pollution without compromising safety. For example, aircraft use only one engine when a plane is idling. Curfews and environmental limits on airports are other safeguards that Europeans use to protect their high standard of living.

The US EPA, or state and regional EPA’s must be given authority to set and enforce standards for reducing aggregate airport emissions. Since most severe non-attainment areas for ground level ozone contain one or more airports, all the other businesses in that area have to severely curtail their emissions while allowing airplanes to pump out all the VOC’s. This is totally unfair. It’s unacceptable for the millions of residents living within 25-50 miles of major airports to breathe in unknown amounts of toxic chemicals every day, when techniques to measure the actual health risk are not being utilized. Public health concerns should outweigh all other concerns. Isn’t that the reason for the Clean Air Act in the first place?

© 1997 ARCO



-ACTION ALERT! Contact your lawmaker

HR 536 (Quiet Community Act of 1997), is a Bill introduced by US-Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York. It re-establishes the Office of Noise Abatement and Control in the US EPA.

Bill HR 536 calls for re-funding the office to protect public health and combat noise pollution. Once passed, it calls for conducting an airport noise study to be completed within 18 months.

Noise affected residents are in a unique position with this Bill. On one hand, it calls for the study because nearly 20 million Americans are exposed to noise levels that can lead to psychological and physiological damage. Another 40 million are exposed to noise levels that cause work or sleep disruption. On the other hand, fiscally conservative House Members state that no monies are needed for the study. There is enough information already and immediate action should be taken to protect us.

The best action at this time is to contact your Congressman and tell him to support HR 536. Let them work it out. For us, so far, it seems like a win-win situation.

(ed. Don’t know your lawmaker’s number? Give us a call: 630/415-3370)



Bits and Pieces...

-Alarming news

National Aeronautics & Space Administration’s (NASA) chief Dan Goldin, confirmed the FAA’s prediction that flights will double within the 12 years.

More alarming, he predicted that flights will triple in 20 years.

Considering the amount of opposition nationwide to airport expansion, it is now time that the DOT implement High-Speed Rail in our country. Optimally, it would reduce flights at O’Hare by 50%.


-22 second operations: Doubling flights, without another runway

ARCO is calling for a halt to flights using the same runway with only a 22 second interval between them. It is dangerous, doubles the amount of flights and pollution. (As of Jan. 1, the FAA’s charge is supposed to be safety only.)

It leaves no time for a pilot or the Air Traffic Controller to react to an error. It is also incredible because this tactic comes in the wake of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s assertion of “The Federal Aviation Administration has failed to staff O’Hare International Airport’s new high-tech air traffic control tower adequately, robbing the airport of safety and efficiency enhancements and raising questions why the government spent more than $20 million to build the facility in the first place...”

You may recall that ARCO had tried to stop the Tower from opening until a cap on operations had been adapted. ARCO has filed another complaint with US-Congressman Philip Crane (IL-8th Dist.) that follows up on previous complaints. We will keep you updated.

(source: Chicago Tribune)


 -ARCO called it...again--when will they listen?

In an earlier edition of Flight Tracks, and in several presentations to local communities and school districts concerning reasons why communities should not join Chicago’s O’Hare Noise group, ARCO stated that among other things, the federal government would reduce the budget for noise abatement programs. By joining Chicago, the local communities and schools were not only signing away the legal rights of their citizens, they were also limiting the liability of Chicago-O’Hare, FAA and the airlines, and as a result assuming the airport’s liability that could be in the billions.

We established that one of the reasons the O’Hare group wanted these communities to join them was to limit their liability and shift the burden to the local communities, because of shortfalls in upcoming funding. Some communities took it “hook, line and sinker” from Chicago.

Now from President’s Clinton transportation budget address: “It would reduce grants to airports in larger cities where other money is thought to be more readily available.”


-Another record for O’Hare - still “the busiest”, “most dangerous”, “most polluted”...

Another year of a dubious distinction, O’Hare is still the world’s busiest with 909,593 flights in 1996, an all-time high.

This flight total again exceeded Illinois DOT limit of the airport’s “practical” capacity of 868,000 flights. In Chicago’s Master Plan, even Chicago admitted that maximum capacity was 800,000 operations. O’Hare has more than exceeded its environmental capacity.


-The “must balance both sides” fallacy (editorial)

What we keep hearing is that we must balance the rights of both sides of the issue, industry as well as residents, when it comes to the O’Hare issue.

At first it sounds fair. However, that is if one assumes that you are on an even footing to begin with. O’Hare has been living on borrowed time since 1974. O’Hare officials have done anything that they wanted and business has prospered, accordingly.

...But they have known that a time would come when they had to “pay the piper”. The residents have sacrificed more than enough and are at a loss. What legislators must now do is to protect the rights of the residents and get them back on to an even playing field. Then we can talk of balancing rights.


Support ARCO!

Whenever possible, DON'T FLY!


Upcoming Events

  • April 3, ARCO Meeting, Heritage Park 7:30 PM
  • May 1, ARCO Meeting, Heritage Park 7:30 PM

(ARCO meetings -- Heritage Park is located at Fernandez and Victoria in Arlington Heights, IL)


24 Hour Noise Hotline

Whenever noise affects your quality of life, call this Hotline:

Governor's Office..........800/642-3112


Note: ARCO Flight Tracks is published by the Alliance of Residents Concerning O'Hare, Inc. If you would like to become a member, or recieve our newsletter, call, or write to the address below. Annual membership is only $10.00 per household. Comments and questions should be sent to:

ARCO, Inc.
PO Box 1702
Arlington Heights, IL 60006-1702 

Phone: 630/415-3370