Dark, lumpy substance falling from sky irritates Chicago-area residents

December 15, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- When meteorologists predicted a severe winter for the Chicago area, Barry Rankin pictured cold and white.

But the temperature was downright balmy yesterday for a day in mid-December, and the stuff covering Mr. Rankin's Lincolnwood home, his car and his patio wasn't white. Nor was it as pure as the driven snow.

It was dark and lumpy, and it was, unfortunately, Lincolnwood's turn.

Mr. Rankin and his neighbors in the north suburb apparently have become the latest victims of a rather irritating phenomenon over the past several weeks afflicting communities under O'Hare International Airport's flight paths. And concerns about a possible threat to public health are beginning to mount.

Dozens of complaints about sewage leaking from airplanes have come from Du Page County, the south suburbs, the lakefront area and the Wisconsin border. Authorities in Indian Head Park in western Cook County said their village was hit Saturday.

Splatterings of black and brown, with hues of green and purple thrown in, rained down Sunday on North Trumbull Avenue in Lincolnwood.

Lincolnwood Police Cmdr. Karl Starpins said that officers collected samples of the debris and that the department would have them analyzed.

Officials in the Du Page County Health Department said the greenish substances found on the ground there early this month did contain fecal matter and a disinfectant used in airplane toilets. An Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokesman said the material poses no serious health threat.

Those assurances did little yesterday to placate Lincolnwood residents, who said it was as if a giant bird had gotten sick to its stomach directly over their neighborhood.

"The FAA needs to clean up its act and do a better job regulating the airlines," said Mr. Rankin. "Maybe the planes are getting up there in years and, like old people, can't control their bowels."

Mort Edelstein, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the agency is investigating the problem and taking it seriously. But with 2,300 planes taking off and landing in Chicago every day, it will take some time to find the offending aircraft, he said.

"I live in Lincolnwood, just four blocks away from where it happened," Mr. Edelstein said.

Lydia Cohen, a village trustee, accused the FAA of having taken a "so what?" attitude.

When contacted by phone, "They just said to file a claim with your insurance company," Ms. Cohen said.

To Kristina Sadur, the mother of two young children, there are unanswered health questions.

"They told us, 'Don't let your children outside if you don't believe us that this stuff' -- they call it 'lavatory disinfected debris' -- 'is non-toxic or if you can't make sure that your kids won't put their hands in their mouths,' " Ms. Sadur said. "Does this mean that our kids can't make snowmen in their own back yards or that they can't use the playground at their school?

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