ARCO Flight Tracks

May, 1997
Vol. 4, Issue 4

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

Your Voice Is Heard

O'Hare Found to be Major Water Polluter

NBC Network and Mutual Radio featured O’Hare Airport surface water and ground water pollution on Earth Day. For two months, NBC has been investigating this story and has aired a series of newscasts and a documentary.

NBC Radio correspondent Ross Simpson, in interviews with ARCO officials and area residents, has confirmed that O’Hare Airport officials, with the knowledge of the FAA, who has been responsible for the environment around the airport, have been polluting our water with unknown amounts of hazardous chemicals, likely jeopardizing residents’ health and our water supply.

As a result of O’Hare Airport’s pollution, the Illinois EPA has found chemicals in the water that are a serious potential health hazard to humans, pets and wildlife.

It appears that possibly for decades, O’Hare has been polluting residents’ drinking water and our waterways with millions of gallons of deicing fluids sprayed on the planes annually. Some of these dangerous deicing chemicals and other airport pollutants are also known carcinogens.

The pollutants are found in nearby creeks which empty into the Des Planes River. Residents from nearby communities confirm that they see unnaturally colored water, smell strong and unusual odors, that the fumes make them sick and the water kills the wildlife. This is consistent with the discharging of airport deicing and anti-icing fluid pollution. It is also suspected that the pollution has seeped into the underground water table and that contaminants could be found in area wells.

Even though internal Chicago reports dating back to at least 1990 acknowledge the problem, it was not until November 1996, when Chicago finally bowed to pressure from environmental groups that anything was done. To date little has been done.

What is occurring here is also similar to problems reported at other airports. Debbi DesMaris, president of CASE, a citizen’s organization based in Seattle Washington, states "It is high time this issue is brought to the forefront. Hopefully, our officials will react in an immediate, proper and adequate manner to protect public health." CASE has previously filed a Clean Water Act lawsuit in conjunction with Waste Action Project against Port of Seattle’s SEA-TAC International Airport. Another airport activist is Stephen F. Debreceny, who lives in a community located near Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). He states "Saw Mill Creek, which once supported a thriving fish habitat and is now the subject of the Governor’s restoration program, is used by BWI for disposal of hazardous and toxic pollutants and is effectively an open-air chemical sewer."

ARCO director Jack Saporito stated "O’Hare is an entity, it is the source polluting our water. It could be considered a toxic waste site, suitable for Superfund cleanup. All that is necessary to know is that deicing chemicals from O’Hare’s major contaminants are in our water supply...and, How long will it take to clean it up?"

In drawing a comparison between airplane deicing fluids and automotive antifreeze, John Kieca, a certified master mechanic, expressed his frustration by stating that "Everyone knows you don’t throw this stuff down the sewer. If I did it, it would be a $10,000 fine and up to two years in jail. How can a government agency, who is supposed to be protecting us, allow millions of gallons of glycols to be thrown down the sewer?"

The IEPA and US-EPA have been responsive to ARCO’s concerns, but acknowledge that the FAA is the agency that is responsible for the environment around airports. It is now time for the FAA to step aside and let the EPA do their job to protect our health and environment. We need immediate action from government officials and the Environmental Protection Agency.

O'Hare Toxins in your water? What Next?

Deicing fluids from O’Hare airport are making their way into local waterways. The fluids, at least 3.1 million gallons of them, are mainly composed of ethylene glycol (antifreeze), propylene glycol, and additives known to cause cancer. ARCO’s officers were interviewed for an NBC Network Radio report that was aired nationwide on April 22 regarding this issue. NBC became interested in the topic after large amounts of plane deicing fluids were found in Baltimore waterways near the airport, in a WILDLIFE preservation area. Upon investigating the discharge of deicing fluids in the Chicago area, ARCO discovered that glycols were present in Bensenville Ditch, Willow Creek, Crystal Creek. The Illinois EPA provided us with data which indicated that there is indeed deicing fluid present in local waterways. They say the amount of glycols in the water is minimal, but their own data shows it could be much higher on days the water wasn’t sampled. Ross Simpson, an NBC reporter, ARCO director Jack Saporito and ARCO member Charles Miller personally observed the polluted water.

While the EPA has pushed Chicago, the owner-operator of O’Hare airport, to solve this problem, it is far from solved. Residents living on the southeast side of the airport note neon-colored water, persistent foam on the surface, noxious smells near the creek and, large numbers of dead fish and birds. Since there is no clear alternative source, and we know that at least some deicing fluid is present in the water, we conclude that glycols are the likely source of the residents’ complaints. Plans have been proposed to contain the deicing fluids, but we don’t think they go far enough.

At present, much of the deicing fluid, which runs off the planes for at least 210 days per year, flows into Lake O’Hare after it rains. The trouble is, Lake O’Hare is an expanded natural lake. That means it has no cap and has no bottom other than clay soil. Our concern is that while glycols break down naturally, they only do this when large amounts of air and sunlight are present. We want to know how much ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, and cancer-causing additives are present in the clay and in the ground water. It is likely that people with wells who live near O’Hare are drinking deicing chemicals. There is a distinct possibility that these hazardous substances have accumulated in the soil for at least 40 years. The problem is, nobody knows the amounts and the effects on people’s health which result from these chemicals, because nobody has investigated.

(ed. note: ARCO is calling for studies of the ground water, soil, and health of the residents who live near O’Hare. The problem is, unlike other similar environmental groups in other areas, we have no money to study this issue ourselves. In the name of your own health, can you contribute technical expertise or test water samples? If you have well water, you may be at significant risk if you live near the airport. Have you had your water tested? Call 630/415-3370

Help us protect the public health by insisting that these studies be performed. Insist that the plans are completed as quickly as possible and are done RIGHT.)

Bits and Pieces...

April 30 is International Noise Awareness Day.

Do you realize that noise from airplanes and other implements of modern life are a major cause of hearing loss in this country? Did you know that noise pollution causes high blood pressure, mental illnesses, stress, miscarriage and other serious health problems, even in people who don’t think that noise bothers them? Most people think that noise can simply be ignored, so people who find noise distressing are often judged to be "oversensitive". The truth is that EVERYONE’s health is impacted by the increasing noise of modern life. People need peace and quiet.

What can be done about noise pollution? What about noise from planes? Since the individual has no control over this noise, the solutions must come from the only environmental agency which used to have jurisdiction over vehicular noise. The Office of Noise Abatement and Control, part of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), started investigating the control of noise under the Quiet Communities Act of 1978. Unfortunately, funding for noise abatement was discontinued just as progress was being made through laws requiring quieter airplane engines and before studies for noise’s effects on health could be completed.

You can help to get noise abatement restored. Write your congressional representative and ask him or her to support HR 536, the Quiet Communities Act of 1997, which would reinstitute this important mission of the EPA. Nobody but Congress has the power to develop ways to protect our health from excessive noise. If you think this bill is unnecessary, you are likely to become one of over 20 million Americans with noise-induced hearing loss. Even if you are hard of hearing, excessive noise can still ruin your health. It’s your choice. Act now.

To further support this issue, on April 30, give your ears a rest and take the 60 seconds silence test from 2:15 - 2:16 p.m. This one-minute period will highlight the impact noise has on hearing and health. -Paula Cowan, MD ARCO Medical Director.


Airport Expansion - Opposition Worldwide

In Manchester England, the Coalition Against Runway 2, an ARCO sister group, are protesting a new runway by risking life and limb. Camping out in woods, they are ready to jump into 30 ft. deep tunnels in order to stop the bulldozers.

They have been arrested and harassed. The good news is that they have won their most recent legal round in court. Their next court date is May 15. We will keep you updated. In Japan on April 8, two explosions were reported at the home of a Transport Ministry official in charge of aviation. It appeared to be a time bomb attack against expansion of Narita airport, police said. No one was injured. A group opposing expansion are now calling for the airport to be closed.


Upcoming Events

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


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


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