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North Neighborhoods
The sky is falling? Uh, not exactly

Old blue ice drops in at Armstrong County home

Thursday, November 21, 2002

By Mark Belko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The clumps came in purple, blue, black and gray. They covered the back of Nina Cadamore's Armstrong County house, the sidewalk, the brickwork, the basketball hoop, the swimming pool cover, the swing set, even her mother-in-law's car.

She first noticed them when she and her mother-in-law walked outside of the house on the morning of Nov 13.

"It was just disgusting," she said.

Cadamore believes the mess came from an airplane. In the airline industry, it's euphemistically known as blue ice. Most people have far less judicious names for it. Such waste apparently is caused by leaks in airplane lavatories.

Even worse, Cadamore is having a hard time getting rid of it. Her insurance company says her homeowner's policy doesn't cover things that fall from the sky. And neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor any of the airlines is stepping up to claim responsibility, even though the home is situated on a flight path.

But on Monday, five days after the apparent fly-by splattering, a US Airways crew arrived at the Cadamores' South Buffalo Township home to clean up the mess, though a spokesman insists that its planes were not responsible for the damage.

"We had to wait until Monday with all of this stuff clumped on the house," she said. "Thank God it rained on Friday and Saturday."

While the US Airways crew got rid of the worst of the damage, some purple and blue stains still remain. Cadamore also is upset that some of the material slid into the swimming pool water when the crew removed the cover. Some also seeped into the air-conditioning unit.

She is worried about the types of chemicals contained in the blue and purple stuff that plastered her lawn and house. She has been told it contains a mix of deodorizer and anti-freeze, but she knows little else and she said authorities have not been more forthcoming.

"I want to know if anything's a risk to my kids," she said.

Cadamore lives in the house with her husband, Bill, and three children, Billy, 16, Brittni, 12, and Brandi, 10.

Airlines are not permitted to dump lavatory waste while in flight. FAA spokeswoman Holly Baker said that if blue ice hit the Cadamores' house, a leak most likely occurred in a jet lavatory. At higher attitudes the leak forms ice on the aircraft. As the jet descends, the ice warms and starts to fall off the plane.

Baker said the FAA's Allegheny County flight standards office is investigating to determine if the material is in fact blue ice and whether it can trace a leak to a single plane. If it is able to do so, the owner of the plane would be responsible for the damage caused to Cadamore's property.

"It's difficult to prove, but we're working diligently on it," Baker said.

US Airways spokesman David Castelveter said the airline decided to help because it is the region's largest and most prominent carrier. He said the airline has "nothing to indicate that what is on the house is blue ice or anything from our aircraft."

"We were unable to determine that any of our aircraft did discharge waste," he said. "However, we felt an obligation to work with the individual to have the house cleaned."

Castelveter said he was not aware that the cleaning was not completed to Cadamore's satisfaction. He said that if a US Airways aircraft is determined to be responsible for the incident, "certainly we will fulfill our obligation."

As traumatic as the splattering was, Cadamore has been able to maintain her sense of humor. She noted that the material managed to gravitate to her 7-year-old house rather than land on any of the 20 acres of land that surrounds it.

"We're sitting right in the middle of 20 acres and it hit us. That's what's funny about it," she said. "I probably would have had a better chance of hitting the lottery."

Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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