Our air pollution may be 20 times worse than we think. And that’s BEFORE the city cuts down 1,000 trees!
The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance has published an important new report on a two-year study of hyperlocal air quality in three “Environmental Justice” neighborhoods in New York City (CAMP-EJ). The coalition of EJ groups used mobile monitors that showed much higher levels of pollution than the government’s stationary monitors just blocks away.
The report has serious implications for the Lower East Side and East Village especially if the East Side Coastal Resiliency plan succeeds in razing East River Park.
“Air quality in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods like Hunts Point and the south side of Williamsburg is much worse than previously thought,” reported Danielle Muoio in Politico, writing about the report. “The concentration of fine particulate matter in environmental justice neighborhoods is up to 20 times higher than previously captured by air quality monitors set up by state officials. The new data, collected over a two-year time period, is raising alarms about the health risks posed by poor air quality in primarily Black and brown neighborhoods — particularly as residents with preexisting respiratory conditions are more vulnerable to adverse outcomes from Covid-19.”
“Even before Covid-19, Black and Latinx communities were suffering and dying because of the disproportionate amount of polluting facilities,” Jalisa Gilmore told Politico. She’s a research analyst at the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, one of the groups that worked on the study.
Called “The CAMP-EJ Report: The Community Air Mapping Project for Environmental Justice,” the study was carried out by an alliance of community groups in neighborhoods deemed “EJ areas” including South Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Hunts Point in the Bronx. NYC-EJA.org
These are “communities that are disproportionately exposed to PM2.5 pollution” (fine particulate matter), says the report, “and as a result, suffer from higher rates of respiratory illness, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, negative birth outcomes, and other life-threatening conditions associated with breathing dirty air on a daily basis in NYC.”
Where the dirty air comes from
Major findings include that local facilities (such as, in our neighborhood, the ConEd plant at 14th St. and the East River) and expressways (for us, the FDR Drive) are big polluters. Traffic congestion fouls the air twice a day.
The EJ Alliance teams used Airbeam monitors to measure PM2.5 in the air in hyperlocal areas. They were able to collect more data and show fluctuations much greater than the state sensors. Airbean sensors showed dramatically higher Particle Matter readings–as much as 20 times higher than state-run fixed monitors. Our LES Breathe team is experimenting with these types of Airbeam sensors
In both the South Bronx and Southside Williamsburg, data collection for the study indicated that air pollution varies throughout the day, spiking in the morning and evening in correspondence with higher traffic volumes. CAMP-EJ data highlights how vehicular traffic congestion and poorly planned and sited transportation infrastructure is a significant contributor to air pollution in environmental justice neighborhoods. That resonates for us.
What the high readings mean for our Lower East Side and East Village
This report bolsters LES-Breathe’s concerns regarding ESCR’s entirely predictable health impacts on our local air and our health. Our Lower East Side and East Village are considered EJ neighborhoods. EJ neighborhoods that were studied and included in the report already suffer disproportionately from elevated PM2.5 levels that contribute to asthma, and other pollution-related illnesses, like Covid-19.
While it is well known that planting trees in cities is ever more important to mitigate Covid and climate change, ESCR will instead decimate groves of 80-year-old trees that keep our air cleaner than it would otherwise be. Without those thousand trees (as well as the hundreds already cut down on neighboring NYCHA campuses for FEMA’s Sandy repair and resiliency work), our local air pollution will be worse than ever. Dumping, distributing and leveling eight feet of fill evenly over this 45-acre park with approximately one million tons of fill will further increase harmful particulate matter in our air in a project that will take years.
The CAMP-EJ report is highly relevant to the city’s plans to bulldoze East River Park for ESCR, underlining that the concerns of the surrounding Environmental Justice community regarding worsening air pollution and loss of green space are real and valid. At a time when the city’s own agencies promote increasing our tree canopy to improve our air and health, a plan to deliberately eradicate almost 1,000 mature trees in an area with high air pollution is irresponsible and will actively hurt our most vulnerable. We call for our elected officials and city agencies to read the full CAMP-EJ report, and implement its call for ADDED green infrastructure and green space.
There are options that will give us flood control without spending a fortune killing our trees, burying East River Park, and adding particulate matter that will make our air more dangerous.
Voice Your Concerns
The Mayor’s Office has convened an Environmental Justice Advisory Board which held its first Town Hall on February 25, 2021. The group is full of renowned Environmental Justice warriors (several were among the authors of the CAMP-EJ report). This new advisory board is working with the Mayor’s Office of Climate Policy and Programs to create the City’s first comprehensive study on Environmental Justice. There is a public comment period through April 30, 2021. The advisory board is full of Environmental Justice warriors (several were among the authors of the CAMP-EJ report). Please do voice your concerns about ESCR!
You can fill out their survey here: nyc.gov/ejstudy
You can also email your comments to EJ@climate.nyc.gov or leave a voice message at 212-788-4144. Comments must be received by April 30, 2021.
– Deborah Mills, Lower East Side
Another good article from Brooklyner focusing on the Williamsburg part of the study: COMMUNITY-LED AIR QUALITY STUDY IN WILLIAMSBURG UNEARTHS POLLUTION HOT SPOTS by Rose Adams, March 5, 2021, Brooklyn Paper