Rep. Quigley: O’Hare flight paths pose ‘public health problem’ by disrupting sleep

SHARE Rep. Quigley: O’Hare flight paths pose ‘public health problem’ by disrupting sleep

Complaints about O’Hare International Airport jet noise keeping Chicagoans awake all the way to Sheridan Road indicate the airport’s new flight paths have become “a public health problem,” U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley said Tuesday.

The Chicago Democrat pointed to an exclusive report in the Chicago Sun-Times that plotted the beefs of 532 people who reported to the citizen website that O’Hare jet noise had affected their sleep in March nearly 52,500 times.

Among the complainants were 377 Chicagoans who indicated their sleep was disturbed nearly 29,000 times in March. More than 8,000 other complaints could not be plotted because they could not be linked to addresses.

The complaints occurred nearly 1 1/2 years after O’Hare dramatically changed its flight paths as part of an ongoing $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program.

Five years before the big October 2013 switch in air traffic patterns, the number of people who called to complain about night noise from O’Hare jets during the entire first quarter of 2008 totaled 20, records showed.

The locations of those complaints were plotted on maps in regular Fly Quiet reports presented to the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission until 2009. At the time, O’Hare heavily relied on diagonal runways that took jet traffic over less populated suburban areas mostly north and south of O’Hare.

But after the switch to mostly parallel runways that now take traffic east and west of O’Hare, jet noise complaints have skyrocketed to record levels.

The Sun-Times Tuesday plotted just one slice of those beefs — March complaints about sleep disruptions — and found some that stretched as far east as Sheridan Road in the 48th Ward.

In addition, 93 percent of all March complainants with sleep disruptions lived outside an area eligible for free sound insulation, the Chicago Sun-Times found.

They resided beyond the limits of a “noise contour” federal officials had predicted would shoulder the worst jet noise by the end of the O’Hare runway overhaul.

The 2008 complaints were based on callers to a hotline. Today, online formsalso are used, making it easier for some jet noise victims to complain.

On Tuesday, Quigley pointed to one study indicating older people exposed to aircraft noise, especially at high levels, may face increased risk of being hospitalized for cardiovascular disease.

The Sun-Times reported Tuesday that experts warned that repeated sleep disruptions and lack of sleep also can increase the chances of high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity and even death.

The widespread extent of O’Hare sleep complaints is just “one indication of the public health problem” that O’Hare’s new flight paths are causing, Quigley said.

“Something needs to get done,” he said.

Quigley and Jac Charlier, a leader of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, urged Illinois lawmakers Tuesday to pass a bill that would prevent O’Hare officials from shutting down two diagonal runways as they add more east-west parallel ones.

Keeping the diagonal runways in the mix would allow flights to be distributed more equitably and would preserve one of only a handful of “Fly Quiet” runways that take air traffic over less populated areas, Charlier said.

Charlier also urged the Noise Commission to resume plotting jet noise complaints on a map in its Fly Quiet reports instead of “hiding” such information.

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