City to test air in ‘window worries’ homes
About-face announced at stormy public hearing
weeks of turning down Southwest Side homeowner requests to test the air quality
in their homes, the Chicago Department of Aviation did an about-face last week.
CDA Deputy Commissioner Aaron Frame announced that his
agency will conduct the tests for local homeowners concerned about possibly
toxic fumes emitted by windows supplied through a Department of Aviation
Frame, substituting for CDA Commissioner Ginger S. Evans,
made the announcement in a public comment session held immediately after the
quarterly public meeting of the Midway Noise Compatibility Commission (MNCC), a
policy-making group created in 1996 to oversee noise management efforts around
The session was held in a packed room at Mayfield Banquets.
All of the 100 or so audience seats were filled, and a number of people stood
in the back and along walls at the sides of the room.
Frame did not appear to indicate exactly why his agency
changed course, but reiterated CDA’s stance that it is as concerned for
homeowners’ safety as they are.
He also was not entirely clear on when and how the tests
would be done, saying that CDA is still negotiating details with an
environmental health firm.
The news appeared to be welcome by homeownersÑsome of whom
have been profiled in a story reported exclusively by the Southwest News-Herald
on June 9 and in four subsequent SWNH front-page stories.
A sticking point that could derail the tests remains,
The Department of Aviation will not move forward in any of
the homes until homeowners sign a 10-page legal document in which they pledge
never to sue CDA or seek any kind of compensation, even if the windows are
found to be a health hazard.
A number of homeowners, including Chrysler Village resident
Pam Zidarich, called the document “insulting” and said they have no plans to
sign. One quoted 14thWard Ald. Edward M. Burke, who reportedly
said he would not sign such an agreement.
Commission Chairman Thomas S. Baliga, an Archer Heights
homeowner, said thatÑspeaking as an individual homeownerÑhe, too, would not
sign a document in which he relinquished his rights to seek compensation.
At a number of points in the session, homeowner frustrations
boiled over, with people talking out of turn and even hollering. After one
outburst, Baliga threatened to clear the room.
Frustration turned to anger when a homeowner chided the
Department of Aviation for “knowing about this problem for years, but doing
nothing, sweeping it under the rug,” and Baliga responded that the Commission
members (excluding, presumably, Department of Aviation representatives) knew
nothing about the window worries until the story was reported in the Southwest
In response to the outburst, Commission member Stanley
Lihosit, also an Archer Heights homeowner, seconded what Baliga said about
being unaware of the situation.
“Well shame on the Department of Aviation for keeping you in
the dark,” one man said out loud to the commissioners, who include suburban
mayors and elected officials from the Southwest Side.
No Southwest Side politicians were themselves in attendance,
but a congressional chief of staff and other key players in powerful ward
organizations were in the audience, taking note of the mood of the crowd and
the response of CDA.
The windows in were supplied to local homeowners through the
Chicago Department of Aviation’s Residential Sound Insulation Program, which
provides new windows and doors to qualifying homeowners living near Midway
Airport. A similar program exists near O’Hare.
In response to the Southwest News-Herald’s coverage of the
ongoing story, a number of homeowners in Clearing and Garfield Ridge have
stepped forward to say that, they also have smelled a “burning plastic” smell
coming from their RSIP windows, especially on sunny days from those windows
that get a lot of sunlight.
At the meeting, their ranks swelled, as homeowners living
east of the airport, in West Lawn and West Elsdon, reported similar concerns
with their RSIP windows.
Chrysler Village homeowner Pam Zidarich, profiled in the
June 9 story, has stated that she thinks that sunlight is breaking down
polyvinyl chloride (PVC) she believes was used in the manufacture of the window
At the very least, Zidarich sees the situation as the
release of a harmless but annoying odor. At worst, she sees it as a health
hazard that may already have poisoned people in her home and others.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
“long-term exposure to vinyl chloride through inhalation and oral exposure in
humans has resulted in liver damage.Cancer is a major concern from
exposure to vinyl chloride via inhalation, as vinyl chloride exposure has been
shown to increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer in humans. EPA
has classified vinyl chloride as a Group A, human carcinogen.”
At least three of the Southwest Side homeowners contacted by
the Southwest News-Herald have had cancer diagnoses within the last year.
The common thread among those reporting the odor is
windowsÑwhich came with a 10-year-warranty–were supplied by a Southwest Side
company that went out of business.
The next step for homeowners may be a joint meeting of the
City Council’s Committee on Finance and Committee on Aviation, chaired by 14thWard
Ald. Edward M. Burke and 23rdWard Ald. Michael R. Zalewski,
Those committees have ordered CDA Commissioner Evans to
appear before them to answer questions about Aviation’s response to the
According to the CDA website, homeowners with questions
about the sound-insulation windows and doors they had installed through the
program should call (773) 838-5632.
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