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Noise-Reducing Windows Near Midway Emit Foul, 'Worrisome' Gas: Residents

By Joe Ward | July 28, 2017 6:28am
 Midway residents are concerned about new noise-buffering windows that seem to be emitting a foul odor during period of direct sunlight.
Midway residents are concerned about new noise-buffering windows that seem to be emitting a foul odor during period of direct sunlight.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

GARFIELD RIDGE — Windows installed in homes near Midway to reduce airplane noise are instead emitting unpleasant fumes, concerning neighbors and prompting city officials to seek a solution.

The windows have been installed as part of the city's efforts to soundproof homes near Midway Airport. Neighbors said the windows were installed in homes as early as 2008, and the city is trying to get another 1,600 households to allow the new windows, according to the Tribune.

But the windows have been emitting an overpowering odor, one that has puzzled and seriously concerned homeowners. They are especially concerned about the city's response to the problem.

The Chicago Aviation Department has received 30 complaints about the smell and has so far done 16 inspections and found that 11 of the inspected homes do have odors coming from the windows, said Aaron Frame, deputy commissioner for noise abatement and environment for the department.

The department "is working quickly to replace windows in a small number of homes where odor-emitting windows have been confirmed," department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said.

"In looking into this issue, our inspectors have responded quickly and have engaged homeowners with a plan to replace windows as quickly as possible. We are committed to an ongoing dialog with homeowners on this issue to both identify its cause and to ensure the program continues to deliver a better indoor sound quality for participants."

More than 100 residents attended a meeting of the Midway Noise Compatibility Commission Thursday to vent their frustrations with the city.

Pam Zidarich had her sound-canceling windows installed in 2011, but like many residents, has only started to experience the odor phenomenon recently. Last year, she started to smell an odor that smelled like gas, or an electrical issue, she said.

"I would say to my husband, 'Do you smell that? Something's burning,'" Zidarich said. "It takes your breath away. It's a worrisome smell."

Many residents have self-diagnosed the problem as "off-gassing," a phenomenon in which household objects give off odors through use. They say the windows, made of a vinyl material, give off an extremely strong odor when they are exposed to direct sunlight.

Zidarich said her windows were diagnosed by an environmental hygenist as gas-emitting in May, but like nearly all other residents living near the airport, she doesn't know if the gases are harmful. Neither does the city.

"I have no idea what this will do to my health," she told the commission. "We're very upset and scared."

The city could not say if the odor is harmful, but it's hiring a consultant to test the odors, Frame said.

Complicating matters is the fact that the company that installed many of the windows has gone out of business, city officials and neighbors said.

Neighbors said the city has sent them letters that state an intent to solve the problem, but they are disturbed by the legal requirement to get that done.

Residents were asked to sign away their right to sue the city for the window foul-up, according to several residents who spoke at the meeting and to DNAinfo. After numerous people objected to the legal agreement, the chairman of the noise commission said that he understood why residents would be hesitant to sign. 

"My personal comment: I wouldn't sign anything until everybody's satisfied," Thomas Baliga, the chairman of the commission, said at the meeting.

The legal waiver is a standard agreement when city workers must complete work in a resident's home, and many of the residents signed similar agreements when they OK'd the installation of the new windows, a city source said.

Meanwhile, residents continue to fret over what the odor will mean for their families.

"I keep telling myself, it's just an annoying odor," resident Annette Blaylock said.