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Residents band together to study air quality around Tweed New Haven Airport

 Tweed New Haven Airport
Fred Beckham

Since Avelo began offering flights out of New Haven in November 2021, Gretl Gallicchio has become something of an expert on air quality.

“I don't have a background in this,” Gallicchio said. “But I now have three years of living next to an airport that has changed life so radically for me and my children. And that has woken me up.”

Gallicchio lives in the once-quiet neighborhood that Tweed is located in; a neighborhood that is now used to constant plane takeoffs and landings.

Gallicchio and her neighbors couldn’t find answers to their questions about how the commercial airline has changed the air quality in her neighborhood, so they are conducting a study on their own.

They call the group 10,000 Hawks, named for the number of hawks that fly over Tweed airspace and surrounding areas annually.

“We started it because we realized that we didn't know what this means or what it's going to do,” Gallicchio said. “How will this affect us? And neither, unfortunately, did the people in authority that we felt we could turn to for answers to those questions. And when we found that those answers were not forthcoming, we just dived in and learned as much as we can as fast as we can.”

Now, with the help of researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts, at least a dozen areas around the airport have hosted sensors the size of miniature refrigerators that measure air pollution as planes take off.

The goal is to use the data in conversations with local leaders.

“There are really strong arguments that can be made with scientifically defensible facts, why such expansions should be looked at and considered far more deeply and carefully than this one has been if the aim is to improve a community and benefit a community at large, rather than just some deep-pocketed investors,” Gallicchio said.

Gallicchio said elected officials have historically downplayed the impact of the planes in neighborhoods that have already been impacted by pollution.

“The city was also saying, ‘Well, I'm sure of course there will be some increase to emissions, but New Haven is basically a soup of air pollution — we've got the highways, and we've got the harbor, we've got the water pollution, we've got all these other things.' So essentially, they're saying, 'How could we ever tell what's coming from Tweed?’ And I, of course, heard that and thought, ‘Well, isn't that an argument for not adding another source?’”

Preliminary results from the 10,000 Hawks and Tufts study are expected as early as next week.

A recent federally mandated study released by Tweed New Haven Airport and a national aviation consultant revealed that a longer runway and larger terminal would reduce noise and air pollution when airport traffic increases.

“Air quality is a regional concern, which is why our ongoing work to improve HVN will reduce pollutants by removing hundreds of cars from our congested freeways every day,” Tweed New Haven Airport Authority Executive Director Tom Rafter said. "Improving the airport means marching toward a more sustainable future, including new energy options, the use of hydrogen cars, a self-sustaining micro-grid to replace current fossil fuel operations and more.

“The draft Environmental Assessment is the NEPA-prescribed process for this project, and it is therefore our guiding document for environmental impact at the airport. This thorough assessment is over 1,400 pages long — it is scientific and peer-reviewed by experts at the FAA, the EPA, Army Corp of Engineers and CT DEEP, making it the gold standard for understanding and projecting the environmental impact of the airport, including air quality. We will continue to take part in this ongoing and federally regulated process.”

This story was updated on July 14 to include a federally mandated environmental report issued by Tweed New Haven Airport.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.