Airport Pollution Poses Cancer Risk

By Carroll Colette J. Yorgey

If you live within a 6-mile radius of an airport, you are at a higher risk of dying of cancer, according to Ruth Skolvick in her article “Exposing Airports’ Poison Circles” (Earth Island Journal, Winter 2000-2001).

The airport-related pollution comes from CO2 emissions from jet aircraft, ground vehicles and airport maintenance operations. This pollution not only puts people at risk of cancer, but also other illnesses such as asthma, liver damage, lung disease, lymphoma, depression, myeloid leukemia and tumors.

This pollution can actually affect people living 30 miles from an airport. Around Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, 219 volatile compounds were detected. People living in this highly polluted area are at 5 times higher risk of cancer than the national average. At O’Hare, “Dioxins from spilled jet fuel, di-ethelyne glycol from de-icing fluids, leaked engine oil and dissolved jet exhaust particulates commonly flood the tarmac and seep into the ground, streams, and creeks bordering O’Hare. The run-off ultimately flows into the Des Planes River, endangering the health of downstream communities.”

Airplanes and aviation are responsible for emissions of nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide, naphthalene, benzene, formaldehyde, and dust particles. Benzene is a carcinogen and formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen. All these chemicals contribute to poor health and global warming.

The biggest emissions for aircraft occur when the plane is idling or taxiing. This is when 90% of aircraft hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emissions occur. Older aircraft are more polluting than newer aircraft.

Here we can see that there are a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and other health and environmental concerns. The CO2 emissions of aircraft are much higher than those of cars. The amount of energy used to power airplanes is also extensive.

Therefore it is important for older aircraft to be replaced with newer ones, and for alternative fuel and energy to implemented in aviation as well as ground transport. Steps need to be taken at airports to ensure the health of their passengers and people living in the surrounding communities.

Airports or the offices governing airports need to devise a plan whereby less energy is consumed, less CO2 and other harmful chemical emissions occur, new fuel-efficient aircraft are designed, and older aircraft are recycled so that the parts do not become hazardous waste and landfill contaminants. This is necessary for the health and safety of people living close to an airport, as well as the environmental impact on the entire planet.


Copyright © 2018 Carroll Colette J. Yorgey. Edited and used with her permission.