How Environmental Issues Shape O'Hare Debate

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Comerford Daily Herald Business Writer

The early stages of the fight over O'Hare International Airport expansion have focused on economics.

But what good is money, Jack Saporito asks, if the airport is killing you?

The outspoken expansion opponent not only dismisses Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's plan but wants to shrink the airport as it is today.

"This is a horrific health problem for people living within a 20-mile radius," said Saporito, president of U.S.-Citizens Aviation Watch and executive director of the Alliance of Residents Concerning O'Hare, non-profit groups concerned about the environmental fallout from airports.

"We need a gradual reduction at O'Hare until we can deal with the damage it does to humans," said the Arlington Heights resident. "That could be three decades."

Airport officials have disputed that view, weighing in with their own studies indicating cars and trucks cause more air pollution than O'Hare. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration are conducting their own studies.

Unflinching, Saporito cites what he characterizes as a growing list of studies linking airport pollutants and noise to ailments including cancers, strokes and organ failures.

The cost of that pollution when it comes to taking care of people who get sick should be factored into any financial analysis of the impact on the local economy, he said.

Yet supporters of the plan to expand O'Hare say it would actually minimize pollution. Providing more runways would reduce the amount of time jets are idling on the tarmac and thereby reduce pollutants.

What's more, they say, newer airplanes will run cleaner, and the new runway configuration would cause a change in flight patterns that would have less of a noise impact on residents.

In effect, supporters of the expansion say the number of flights could increase by more than 70 percent while both noise and air pollution is reduced.

"We haven't started that analysis yet, but we're confident (the numbers) will back us up," said Kitty Freidheim, managing deputy commissioner at the Chicago Department of Aviation.

Bigger buffer zone

Yet those with concerns about the environment argue that a third airport in South suburban Peotone would do far less environmental damage because it would be on 23,000 acres, creating a buffer zone between flight operations and the general population.

They point to Denver International Airport, on 30,000 acres, as an example of a more environmentally modern airport, allowing for nearby businesses but no high-density neighborhoods. O'Hare is on 7,780 acres and is surrounded by neighborhoods and businesses.

"Peotone was originally selected because it would have the least environmental impact of any site we looked at," said Dick Adorjan, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The agency's position on O'Hare expansion is that "no matter what you do at O'Hare, there's going to be a need to build Peotone," Adorjan said.

Though studies on O'Hare's affect on health have differed in the past, many area residents are starting to figure environmental concerns into their thinking about living near O'Hare.

Mothers Against Airport Pollution, formed eight months ago, opposes O'Hare expansion and a third airport. The group favors high-speed rails, peak-hour travel taxes and night curfews. …