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January 8, 2018

An important study in Environmental Science & Technology (2014, 48, 6628-6635) was published in 2014 that shed new light on the impact on how concentrations of jet pollution can have harmful health effects on populations surrounding major airports. The study demonstrated that there are high levels of harmful exhaust particles from jets using Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) detected in broad swaths of densely populated communities up to 10 miles from the runways. LAX is the country’s third busiest airport and has a runway configuration with four very long parallel runways running east and west. This configuration is very similar to O’Hare (the country’s second busiest airport) which upon completion will have six very long parallel runways running east and west. Because of O’Hare’s similar location in a densely populated area, but bordering communities on all sides of the airport (east, west, north and south), the results of the LAX study can be rationally applied to the potential health impacts of those residents in proximity to O’Hare. In 2014, FAiR commented on the relevance of this study, but now, in early 2018 it is truly remarkable that not one media outlet in Chicago has reported on its significance (The LA Times was quick to inform its readers in May 29, 2014 right after the study was published).

According to the research, concentrations of wind-driven particles were found from jet exhaust over a 23-square-mile area surrounding LAX. The researchers noted that ultrafine particles, black carbon, and nitrogen oxides emitted from jet exhaust can aggravate heart and lung conditions including asthma and the development of blocked arteries. Ultrafine particulates are less than the one-thousandth of the width of a human hair and can go deep into the lungs, making their way into the bloodstream and spread to the brain, heart and critical organs.

Researchers discovered the highest concentration of ultrafine particulates, black carbon, and nitrogen oxides (roughly 6 to 8 times above normal) within a few miles of LAX. In pockets closest to the airport, concentration levels were 10 times above normal; and levels twice the normal concentration were found up to ten miles from the airport. Applying these findings to O’Hare, (which has a much larger runway footprint), the health implications for residents are staggering. Schools and homes within ten miles of O’Hare are being inundated with toxic levels of emissions on a round-the-clock basis. Importantly, this confirms the accounts by residents in the suburbs and north and northwest side neighborhoods and also validates their complaints that O’Hare is an overwhelming source of air pollution where jet exhaust has covered their homes, schools, cars, and outdoor furniture with soot and film.

In 2016, FAiR leadership reached out to the principal investigator for the study Dr. Scott Fruin (professor of Preventative Medicine at the USC School of Medicine) with questions regarding his findings and their applicability to O’Hare and its newly constrained parallel runway configuration. Dr. Fruin emphasized that with six parallel runways (2 sets of three runways with each set confined by less than three miles), the long-term impact on resident health could be catastrophic, particularly for schools within 5 miles of the airport. In addition, Dr. Fruin noted that he was frankly shocked that the runways were allowed to be built in their new configuration given the population density and the high frequency, high volume, and low altitude at which flights were arriving and departing on a daily and nightly basis.

Since the study, FAiR has repeatedly contacted our elected state and federal representatives to study and act on the public health effects that these toxins pose. Other than words of concern and an understanding of the threat that these pollutants can have on residents, no action has been forthcoming on their part. Results from an Illinois EPA study have never materialized after several requests by FAiR.

FAiR NFP is dedicated to assembling homeowners, renters, commercial interests, small businesses, public and private institutions, and community organizations to fight against the powerful interests that have normalized the jet noise, air pollution, and infrastructure damage over the last four years. FAiR NFP is a cross-section of people across metropolitan Chicago who have become activists due to the altered runway patterns and increased plane traffic at O’Hare and Midway. These changes, made without resident input or informed consent has negatively affected our daily lives, our sleep, and property values. We will use LEGAL and POLITICAL means to reach our objectives.

FAiR NFP will work to 1) Support and champion immediate and long-term solutions to mitigate and abate noise and air pollution generated by current and future airport operations; 2) Educate community members, elected and appointed officials and business interests that increasing the utilization of regional airports is necessary to safely meet the future airport capacity needs of the entire region; 3) Coordinate interested parties into strong, influential support groups to influence the outcome of future elections while proposing community-sensitive, regionalized aviation policy; and 4) Litigate, if necessary, to compel our elected and appointed political representatives to enforce existing municipal, state, and federal laws on behalf of the public interest.


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