8-6-2017-9-14-36-PM-7982689

City to test air in ‘window worries’ homes

About-face announced at stormy public hearing

After

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

program.

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

Midway.

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,

however.

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

News-Herald.

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.

Background

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

frames.

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,

respectively.

Those committees have ordered CDA Commissioner Evans to

appear before them to answer questions about Aviation’s response to the

situation.

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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