By Nik Kovac
When political activists and lawyers with political
aspirations get together, government agencies better be
"We have been trying to do this for years," recalled Dr.
Frans Verhagen, founding chairperson of the Queens Green
Party, "and we think Mr. Baldeo has the right temperament
and experience and community standing to do it."
The Mr. Baldeo in question is Albert Baldeo, Esquire,
Ozone Park resident and former City Council candidate in
southeast Queens. What he, Verhagen, and several other
local community activists are threatening to do is file a
class action lawsuit against the city, state, and federal
governments in order to clean up air travel - not for the
skyward passengers, but for the residents they fly over.
"Scientists have raised concerns about the health effects
of aircraft noise and exhaust," announced Baldeo in a
recent press release, "for many expanding reasons. There
are studies that link excess noise and toxic exposure to
increased stress levels and other illnesses, such as
asthma, pneumonia, respiratory problems, tuberculosis,
pregnancy complications and mental deficiencies."
That release came from a new community group called the
Alliance Against Air Pollution (AAAP). As part of that new
alliance, Baldeo joined another group Verhagen helped
start several years ago, Sane Aviation For Everyone
(SAFE). "We decided to take aviation as one of our main
concerns," explained Verhagen, who describes himself as an
environmental/sustainable sociologist. He teaches courses
at several local colleges about sustainable aviation.
"It's unbelievable," decried Verhagen, "how short-term all
the planners and politicians are. The FAA wants to triple
what they are calling airport 'efficiency,' but they are
giving no thought to the social and economic impacts on
the region. They should be looking to other forms of
intermodal transportation, like high-speed trains."
"These people are dedicated solely to aviation," added Dr.
Allan Greene, a Howard Beach resident who is also a
founding member of AAAP. "There's no concern about who
they're bothering or disturbing. All they're concerned
about is getting these planes up in the air, as many as
Verhagen and his colleagues at SAFE and inside the Green
Party have been trying for years to get various bills
passed in the state legislature. Even though some of their
efforts are finally getting some political juice - State
Senator John Sabini and Borough President Helen Marshall
recently held a press conference calling for more air
quality testing near airports – the group says it's still
"We complement both of them on that," commented Baldeo by
phone, "as a step in the right direction, but more needs
to be done. This issue has been pending for years and
generations have been affected. Unless we all step up to
the plate, the cancer, the asthma, the pneumonia, and the
respiratory illnesses are only going to get worse." As
Sabini announced at that press conference, every airplane
that takes off releases toxic particulates equivalent to
"A class action lawsuit to alleviate our problems may
become necessary," warned Baldeo, "if our rights and
welfare continue to be ignored. These planes fly so low
that we can feel the condensation and vibrations on our
heads." Baldeo knows from class action lawsuits. A few
months ago he filed one on behalf of residents of Rochdale
Village, the second largest group of
cooperators/shareholders in the world.
In this case, however, Baldeo isn't yet certain who he
will end up suing. "Probably the FAA," he predicted, but
the bureaucracy here is such a game. The state pushes you
to the Feds who push you to the city. We'll have to sit
down and sort through this nonsense."
Verhagen, meanwhile, had other targets in mind. "We'll
have to sue the [state-run] Port Authority and the city,"
he said. "It's true that to a great extent aviation has
become a federal responsibility, so much so that the local
and state governments have abdicated a lot of their
responsibility. Right now there's a lot of gray areas."
When the Star contacted Sabini, he declined to comment on
the specifics of any pending litigation, but was happy to
discuss his overall approach to making the neighborhoods
airports more liveable. "My goal," said the Senator, "is
that we have cleaner air to breathe in and around the
airports. We have to force the regulators to recognize
that car traffic, truck traffic, and air traffic all
contribute to the problem."
It is a high priority for the senator, but before a
lawsuit is filed, he'd like to see his bill for more air
quality testing pass. "First we have to have the empirical
data," he argued, "and then we can discuss mitigation
There is at least one mitigation strategy strongly
endorsed by AAAP that Sabini is also on board with. It
turns out that majority leader Joe Bruno has appointed him
to sit on the high-speed train committee. According to
Sabini, they are looking into new, faster rail links to
Albany and Buffalo, but he doesn't want to see too much
reduction in local air traffic. "Those airports," he said,
"are economic engines of Queens."
For Howard Beach resident Nancy Di Croce, the airport she
lives next to is a nightmare. "I only have one lung and
I'm marooned in my house," she told the Star by phone. She
has already spent over $60 thousand of her own money to
better soundproof her home.
Licensed sound engineer Jerry Goodman argues that the
government should reimburse her for at least that. "I have
done testing near LaGuardia," he said, "and the decibel
count is so high there that if the Port Authority was
doing it's job it would buy all that property. It's not
inhabitable, and it's even worse at Kennedy. The windows
shake and the car alarms go off every time one of those
jets go by."
PHOTO CAPTION: The founding members of AARP are, left to
right, Dr. AllanGreene, Dr. Frans Verhagen, Albert Baldeo,
Mary Ann Carey, and Nancy Di Croce.