Despite the fact that it was held for the May 21 meeting, a resolution to the General Assembly to commission a health study using data that was compiled from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation’s (RIAC) air quality monitoring program stole the show at Monday night’s council meeting at City Hall.
Sponsored by Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, the resolution requests the General Assembly to fund a 2013 health study that will include an analysis of accumulated data from each of the four air quality monitors near the airport.
Also, it states that the study should include research on airborne coarse and fine particulate matter to analyze the chemical makeup of particulates, where they specifically come from and how they impact the health of residents within a specified radius of the airport and its flight paths.
Moreover, the council asks for the study to include a risk assessment based upon national air quality guidelines and a plan for risk management, including an estimate of the costs and benefits of interventions and abatement measures that could reduce air pollution.
Vella-Wilkinson suggested holding the resolution to the May 21 meeting because that evening allows for 15 minutes of open microphone at the end of the gathering, providing citizens time to share their sentiments on the issue.
“I’d like them to have an opportunity to be heard before the council vote,” she said.
But, Michael Zarum, a resident who has been involved with the air quality issue for more than eight years, voiced his opinions Monday night. He said he is concerned with the legislation because he feels it steps on the General Assembly’s toes.
“By passing something like this, you’re basically holding this in front of RIAC and saying, ‘the City Council feels you shouldn’t pay for [air quality testing],’” he said at the meeting, holding up a copy of the legislation. “I don’t think that’s right because the General Assembly feels they should pay for it and we’ve researched this extensively. We already have a law that’s one of the best in the country.”
In 2003, former councilwoman Helen Taylor, as well as Zarum and resident Michelle Komar, along with other members, served on a committee that researched the occurrences of lung cancer in people who lived near the airport.
Through testing executed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), they learned that there are higher incidents of cancer in those who live around the airport, in particular, those who resided south east of the facility, which is downwind.
With the research, Taylor’s legislation lists hazardous pollutants that should be tested for, including ultra-fine particles less than .1 microns, which are omitted from jet exhausts. Again, it calls on RIAC to fund the testing and was approved at state level.
“In the legislation, it says RIAC should pay for it so that’s all said and done,” Taylor said at the meeting. “They have to pay for it. That’s a state law. We just need to tweak a few of the things.”
Zarum agreed and said the only real changes that should be made to the law are figuring out a fiscal cost of the study, forming a committee that will conduct the research and change sunset provisions.
“That’s all that’s needed,” he said. “It’s a state issue and whatever is done in a city resolution ought to support what’s being done at the state level. I think that people on the committee need to thoroughly understand the history of the air quality, where is it today, how it got there, and what’s needed in the future. People really want to know what’s in the air.”
While Zarum said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has reported that more research needs to be done, they refuse to fund it.
“The FAA won’t fund it, in my opinion, because they don’t really want people to know the truth about what’s going on,” he said. “I met with people at Air Resources and DEM, as well as the Health Department, and a lot of people are frustrated because they haven’t seen any reports.”
Komar, who also attended the meeting, agreed and noted that she doesn’t think the legislation is necessary unless it’s intention is to “plod” the General Assembly along to update the state law.
RIAC CEO and President Kevin Dillon was contacted for a comment but did not return the call in time for press.
In other business, a resolution to the General Assembly for a legislative package for development of gateway and intermodal zones next to T.F. Green Airport for economic development was unanimously approved. It was sponsored by Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla.
The resolution states that the City Council believes that amending the criteria to designate the gateway and intermodal zones near the airport on Post Road would foster and promote economic development in the area.
“People are interested in developing that now with the train station, but we need legislative approval to offer incentives to develop in that area if we choose to,” Merolla said at the meeting.
Resident Richard Langseth was at the meeting and said he favors the resolution.
“We need all the economic development we can get,” Langseth said. “We’re talking about a very important issue here and we have to do more than just pass resolutions. The city has to spend more time with economic development and less time with tourism.”
Moreover, an ordinance regarding traffic control measures for Lippitt Elementary School sponsored by Vella-Wilkinson reached second passage. The ordinance moves to improve parking problems around the school.
“It was something the principal had an issue with,” Vella-Wilkinson said.