The airport’s presence creates environmental challenges and health risks for the county. While these challenges can be addressed and controlled, the price for having the convenience of an airport in our backyard is eternal vigilance against the environmental hazards it can present.

Air Pollution

More aircraft and helicopter traffic will increase air pollution, which poses health hazards to residents in the community.

  • Aircraft emit hazardous air pollutants, including ultrafine particles.
  • A highly regarded 2014 scientific study published in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology showed four times the levels of ultrafine particles 6 miles downwind from the Los Angeles International Airport. Ten miles downwind of LAX, ultrafine particles were two-fold.
  • Ultrafine particles are associated with death from cardiovascular disease, increased complications from asthma, hypertension, neurological disease, and others.

A thorough environmental or public health impact study is not included in the privatization and airport master plan proposals.

Water Pollution

The Kensico Reservoir, which is located next to the airport, is the source of tap water for 90% of New York City and 85% of Westchester County. Over 9 million people get their water from the Kensico, which is not filtered before it is disinfected and delivered to taps. Pollution of the reservoir would be catastrophic, both for the impact on public health and for the cost to clean up the pollution.

Airport drainage map, from the airport’s 2015 Environmental Assessment. Basins A & B temporarily hold & slow stormwater flowing into Blind Brook.

The county has a stormwater management program to minimize and monitor stormwater at the airport. Most stormwater ultimately flows to Blind Brook and the Long Island Sound, which is itself a serious concern. Stormwater from the northern end of the airport drains into the Kensico, which we ultimately drink. Existing facilities in this area include:

  • Holding areas and taxiways by the end of runway 16
  • The end of runway 16
  • Areas by the NetJets hangar
  • An aircraft parts company
  • An aircraft maintenance hangar
  • Numerous parking lots

Shockingly, the airport master plan calls for heavy development in this area by building three new corporate jet hangars, parking lots for aircraft & cars, and maintenance facilities.

Starting in 2001, the county began testing groundwater on and around the airport. However, this monitoring program was ended in 2011, despite the last publicly available report from June 2009 showing volatile organic compounds and heavy metals, including lead, above state guidelines in the soil.

Because it is currently clean enough, water from the Kensico is not filtered before it is disinfected and delivered to taps. If the reservoir is polluted and filtration is required, the county could be on the hook for billions of dollars. The Croton watershed, which supplies 10% of New York City’s water, was contaminated by runoff from increased development. This forced the city to build a filtration plant which cost $3.5 billion, plus ongoing operating costs. According to New York’s Environmental Protection Bureau, a similar plant for the Kensico “would entail capital expenditures of over $10 billion and annual operation and maintenance costs exceeding $100 million.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued guidance regarding protecting waterways from airport pollutants in their Airports Desk Reference:

  • “Many of the nation’s airports are located near waterways. This is because years ago when many airports were built, the cheapest, flattest, and most desirable lands suitable for airports were located near waterways. As a consequence, today’s airport activities may cause water quality impacts due to their proximity to waterways. In particular, construction activities or seasonal airport anti-icing/deicing activities are major concerns.”
  • “Non-point sources. These include stormwater runoff from runways, taxiways, aprons, outdoor storage areas, or construction areas that do not flow through conveyance systems. Federal permits are not necessary for non-point source discharges. d. Runoff pollutants. Point source and non-point source runoff may contain pollutants such as metals, oils, greases, hazardous materials, solids, hydrocarbons, pesticides, and herbicides.”
  • “Determining Impacts. Determine if building, operating, or maintaining the proposed airport development action would affect project area surface water, groundwater, or drinking water sources.”

Contamination of the Kensico Reservoir with pollutants from the airport may lead to wide-ranging harmful health effects for NYC and Westchester residents.

ISO 14001

The county often touts the airport’s ISO 14001 environmental certification. However, the standard only specifies a way to keep track of environmental targets and whether you are meeting them, not what those targets should be. The environmental targets the airport describes publicly today are vague – things like “monitor former Texaco hangar” or “reduce the potential impact of aircraft deicing.” Additionally, while the standard requires an annual independent audit, the county has not released any of these audits to the public.

We have serious questions as to how and whether the airport is working on its existing environmental goals. For example, reinstating the groundwater monitoring program that was ended in 2011 has been one of the airport’s environmental goals since at least 2014. To date, the airport still has not put this program back in place.

Noise Pollution

Noise pollution caused by the airport is a problem for citizens throughout the county. While those of us living near the airport are most affected, noise caused by traffic to and from the airport is felt from Eastchester to North Salem.

The only practical way the county can reduce noise from the airport is to discourage traffic. The 1990 Airport Noise & Capacity Act gave the FAA control over local regulations on flights, including restrictions based on time, weight, or noise. The county has programs to ask pilots to minimize their noise. However, the only consequence to ignoring these programs is receiving a polite letter. In fact, as of June 2017, 6 airline flights are scheduled each day in violation of the county’s voluntary midnight to 6:30 AM curfew.

That said, the county has taken muscular steps in the past to encourage aircraft to obey the curfew. For example, in 2001, County Executive Andrew Spano advocated for and passed a law to close the airport parking garage from 12:30 AM to 5:50 AM.

The county could take a similar approach with businesses that serve private aviation at the airport. Many of these businesses are open 24 hours or advertise their 24 hour availability. Because the county owns the airport and its buildings and leases space to these businesses, it could require that they close during the voluntary curfew, potentially subject to FAA approval.