ARCO Flight Tracks

March, 1997
Vol. 4, Issue 2

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

Your Voice Is Heard


by Paula Cowan, MD, ARCO Medical Director

In December, ARCO director Jack Saporito and medical director Paula Cowan, MD, spoke at an Illinois EPA hearing to renew American Airlines’ permit to release air pollutants at a ground facility at O’Hare. American’s officers spoke of their heaters and boilers making small amounts of pollution, just like normal cars. What they did not mention is that the facility was actually an airplane hangar.

We already know that O’Hare Airport generates hundreds of tons of toxins that are known to cause cancer, birth defects, respiratory and many other health problems. O’Hare releases nearly a million gallons of glycol, a poison known to cause several illnesses including death, from deicing airplanes, into the waterways in the area. Direct recapture of glycols is practiced at other airports, but not at the "World’s Busiest". Due to peculiarities of the Clean Air Act of 1990, airlines and airports are not required to report their toxic pollution emissions, the way most other industries are. States not meeting pollution standards in some regions are required to develop plans to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, the FAA retains sole jurisdiction over aircraft engines. Thus the game begins. The Illinois EPA says they cannot directly control airport pollution because the Clean Air Act does not cover airports. The US EPA says that improvement plans are made by states, and that regional issues are not under their jurisdiction. O’Hare Airports’ owner/operator, the City of Chicago, claims it only leases the land, and therefore has no control over what the airlines do with their airplanes. They conveniently ignore the fact that the City provides space to operate almost a million flights a year. If the City leased two runways only, the pollution and noise problems would be one third of what they are now. Of course the airlines claim that regulating airplane pollution is up to the FAA. The rub is that the FAA has only seen fit to mandate cleaner airplane engines. As flight numbers increase massively, the gains made by a few cleaner engines are wiped out.

The US EPA has measured output of several pollutants across the Chicago area. Compared to the total of all the cars and trucks, airplanes are smaller sources of benzene, butadiene, and formaldehyde. This makes airplane pollution look like a small problem, but blatantly neglects the obvious: Airplane emissions are concentrated over a small area, the toxic "air bubble" below an airport. They are not spread over the entire region, as car and truck emissions are. Also inclusion of all O’Hare’s emissions, stationary as well as ground and air transportation sources, would show the true picture of the immense pollution generator O’Hare is.

The only real way to find out the health risks posed by the tons of benzene, formaldehyde, and butadiene released yearly by Chicago’s airports, is to do two things. First, actual air concentrations of toxic pollutants must be measured near the airport during regular and peak operations. This is the only way human exposures can be compared to safety limits. Second, health studies must be done to determine the illness rates which airports’ workers and residents have.

The best way to reduce these pollutants is for the US EPA to lower acceptable concentrations of particulates, ground-level ozone, and toxic pollutants. The EPA is currently accepting opinions from citizens as well as experts to determine whether to set lower, safer allowable amounts of pollutants as their air quality standard. The US EPA should include aircraft and airports among the industries that must report toxic emissions to the Toxic Release Inventory. The next step is for states, who are charged with meeting the newer standards, to set limits on local airports’ emissions as a whole.

At the December meeting the Illinois EPA reps stated that they weren’t sure they had the legal power to set and enforce tougher local standards for pollutants. Joe Karaganis, Suburban O’Hare Commission’s (SOC) lawyer, revealed that he had worked for IEPA for many years, and that such local, independent standards were well within the law. Since the laws have not been changed, it should still be within IEPA’s powers to set more rigorous standards for the total pollution O’Hare and Midway can release, as part of the regional plan to improve air quality for us all.

"Permanent Meaningful Relief" - Governor Edgar You Promised Us! (editorial)

Governor Edgar seemingly fought Chicago’s Mayor Daley hard to keep Meigs Field open. Meigs is an airport that the Governor and rich business people use.

We have heard that Edgar gave up much to keep his airport open. Some say he even had to give up concessions on gambling to get the needed votes for the state takeover of Meigs.

The final result of the deal - the governor was able to keep the airport open for another five years, after that it reverts back to Chicago’s control. Funny, the length of the agreement correlates to the term of the office.

What was so unique about this hard fought battle that cost taxpayers enormous sums of money over this seemingly minor airport? First you might remember that this was a initially a pawn in the O’Hare Airport battle. But Meigs was too important to the "deep pocketed" members of the Chicago Civic Club. (Those are the people who are fighting against us, for another runway at O’Hare.) The well-orchestrated battle between Edgar and Daley was a way to take Meigs out of the equation. Remember, two years ago? The only issue that dominated Chicago and Springfield politics was O’Hare. But what have you heard of the issue lately? The people who pay the contributions to our legislators and others wanted that "hot potato" taken off the playing field. They also separated other industry perks like a new Bears Stadium or Chicago lakefront gambling from the O’Hare issue.

That brings us back to the "deep pocketed" campaign contributions that buy favors from politicians. The Chicago Civic Club is an off-shoot of the Chicago Commerce Club, an elite group of the largest corporations in Chicago, where both United and American Airlines are major players.

This brings us back to the governor, who can no longer wash his hands of the O’Hare issue. He suggests he is helping us by proposing another airport and that he hasn’t yet OK-ed the new runway. But so far, he hasn’t taken a proactive stance to protect us with the "permanent, meaningful relief" he has promised. You might remember his campaign promises to us: "As Governor, I will use the full force of my office to block any new runways or runway expansion." In the address Edgar went on to state, "The residents of this community and others near O’Hare have had it with air and noise pollution. Enough is enough."

It is no secret that the governor and other legislators have been under a lot of pressure to expand O’Hare. They have been wined and dined. Their campaign coffers have been filled. They have been misinformed and threatened.

And then there is the Governor’s airport, Meigs, and the Civic Club. The question that must be asked of Governor Edgar is, if he can pull out all the stops for his rich friends, why can’t he help the well over one million people who are suffering from the pollution he acknowledges to be from O’Hare overcrowding? Our children and we suffer much because of the noise, air, water and ground pollution.

Governor Edgar what will you do to help us? What will you do to give us the "permanent meaningful relief" you promised?

Bits and Pieces...

-Media Quips and Quotes...

"As for additional runways at O’Hare, that’s all but out of the question considering the unresolved noise, pollution and safety issues that would be exacerbated by new runways." Jan. 29, 1997, Daily Herald Editorial.

Speaking of the communities that joined Chicago’s Noise Group, "SOC members have dealt for 20 years with disinformation, stonewalling and outright lies from airport authorities, experience that these new Chicago allies may pay dearly for." Jan. 30, 1997, Des Plaines Pioneer Press Editorial.


Speaking out of Both Sides.

Major airlines are always promising officials that they will reduce operations, noise and pollution by having bigger planes and filling them. But where they are putting their money? They are buying smaller, medium range planes. In fact Boeing just announced cancellation of plans for "Super" Jumbos and they will make no further capacity changes to the 747 model.

This fact was again confirmed when American Airlines’ pilots struck, citing regional or commuter aircraft as one of the major reasons.


Want to Know More?

How airport noise affects you and your children’s health & learning if you live within 25-30 miles of an airport? League of the Hard of Hearing has a WEB page -

The Noise Pollution Clearing House informs on airport noise/health related issues including pending legislation and court rulings. Their WEB is -

Regarding health and environmental issues, the Natural Resources Defense Council can be reached at -


Just Another.

Remember when Congress promised that there would be no waivers for airlines obtaining Stage III noise objectives? That was their promise to us in 1990, when we said that the law they wrote wouldn’t work for us.

Well guess what? Word has it that Northwest and TWA didn’t reach the required objective of 65% of all their aircraft being Stage III. Money isn’t even an issue for one airline. Northwest reported earnings of over $536 million. Just what is Congress doing to protect us now?


The Closer they Are...

Mary Rose Loney, Chicago’s Dept. Aviation Chief, was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying, "O’Hare’s capacity can be increased over time by such things as more efficient use of gates and technological improvements to the air traffic control system."

How right she was. An ARCO friendly pilot recently clocked aircraft take-offs every 22 seconds. What ever happen to minimum safety separation?


Did You Know?

It takes nearly one-million cars to equal 300 daily idling jets’ carbon dioxide output. -CASE, Seattle-Tacoma, WA.

The FAA predicts that the number of passengers will rise more than 60% by 2007.



Because the administration and legislators haven’t as yet helped us (first thing they promised after they got into office), it was resolved at the last meeting that we would pursue other action including legal, to resolve the issue.


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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


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