Settlement Reached on Deicing Fluid Dispute

JUNE 17, 1999

Several public organizations announced today that they have settled claims against the City of Chicago over damages from the use of deicing fluid at the city's O'Hare Airport.

The organizations include the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), United States Citizens Aviation Watch (US-CAW), the Alliance of Residents Concerning O'Hare (AReCO), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

These organizations had claimed that the City was in violation of the reporting requirements of the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), and the Clean Water Act (CWA) with regard to deicing operations at O'Hare International Airport. The City of Chicago had denied the allegations and disagreed with the organizations' interpretations of the reporting requirements of these acts. Under terms of the settlement agreement, the City will report the use of ethylene glycol-based deicing fluids at O'Hare.

The main concern of NRDC, which had given legal notice of intent to file suit against the City and one other airport last year (see Lawsuit Filed Against Baltimore-Washington Airport Over Water Pollution -- June 18, 1998), involved the reporting of ethylene glycol. NRDC and the other organizations claim that ethylene glycol can be harmful, and even deadly, when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. The threat of a suit was necessary, the groups maintain, because O'Hare was allegedly not satisfactorily reporting the use of ethylene glycol to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The suit was not filed because of the City's willingness to report and to explore using other deicing chemicals that the groups consider less toxic.

The City is already in the process of constructing infrastructure improvements to collect stormwater runoff, which contains deicing fluids, and to prevent the release of the fluids to the environment. The City estimates the cost of the improvements to be in excess of $80 million.

"While this agreement is a step in the right direction, we hope it leads to an actual reduction in the amounts of deicing chemicals used at the airport. The City now has the opportunity to be an example to airports nationwide by exploring the use of alternative deicing fluids and opportunities for recycling deicing fluids," said Nancy Marks, NRDC senior attorney.

Aviation Commissioner Mary Rose Loney was pleased with the agreement. "The use of deicing fluids is of paramount importance for the safety of the traveling public. We are hopeful that this agreement will help in finding effective ways of limiting any environmental impacts that could result from the use of deicing fluids," said Loney. "While we disagreed with NRDC's interpretation of the Clean Water Act, CERCLA, and EPCRA, we agree with them that the community should be better informed about environmental progress at O'Hare."

The recycling of deicing fluids used at airports and limiting their release to the environment is a nationwide concern of the citizen groups: "Cumulative exposures to deicing fluids and their chemical components present a major concern to human health, animal welfare and the environment," asserts Jack Saporito, president of US-CAW and AReCO. "Eventually, we hope to find ways to totally eliminate all releases of these toxic chemicals to our environment."

Patricia Lane, an attorney at HSUS, added that, "Ethylene glycol is known to be lethal to animals when ingested. Animals are naturally attracted to this sweet-tasting chemical. The fact that the City is now investigating possible ways to limit use of this toxic chemical is a tremendous step in safeguarding animal welfare."

As part of the agreement, the steps being taken by the City include:

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, not-for-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. More information on NRDC is available through its website, at

United States Citizens Aviation Watch is an association made up of municipalities and civic and grassroots organizations concerned about the health and welfare of residents. US-CAW represents over 1 million residents with the goal of protecting the public and the environment. It is based in the Chicago area.

The Alliance of Residents Concerning O'Hare is an organization of about 1200 Chicago-area residents concerned about the effects of O'Hare Airport noise, pollution, and safety on millions of area residents. Its goal is to achieve a balance between public health and the economy.

The Humane Society of the United States is the largest animal protection organization in the United States, with over 6.7 million members and constituents. The HSUS is committed to the goal of protecting, conserving, and enhancing the nation's wildlife and wildlife habitats and fostering the humane treatment of all animals.


La-Verne Parris, NRDC (212.727.4408)
Nancy Marks, NRDC (212.727.4414)
Jack Saporito, US-CAW, AReCO (847.506.0670)
Patricia Lane, Humane Society of the United States (301.258.3153)
Dennis Culloton, City of Chicago (773.686.3700)