LES Breathe monitors the air for the people and by the people of the Lower East Side and East Village
Public health is one of East River Park Action’s chief concerns. That’s why we recently formed a community committee, LES Breathe. Our mission is to create a robust, open and reliable air monitoring system run by residents of our neighborhood. It will inform and empower us to protect our health before, during and after construction of the massive flood control project across the FDR. (See below for more on that.*)
What’s wrong with the air
Residents of our neighborhood already face an environment that puts health at risk:
- During this pandemic, researchers have found there is a higher death rate in areas with poor air quality
- Too many Lower East Side residents have had compromised respiratory systems since 9/11.
- Thousands live adjacent to the FDR Drive, absorbing 6 lanes of auto emissions, day and night.
- Some of the most vulnerable members of our community are already living behind fences obscuring a massive construction site: the multi-year FEMA-funded Sandy Recovery to Resilience project. With trees cut down and lawns ripped open and heavy equipment churning up dust on NYCHA (public housing) campuses from Delancey to 14th Street, this massive public works affects the health of thousands of residents. The project is silo’d off from the East Side Coastal Resiliency ESCR, which will create even more health hazards.
- ESCR will soon begin razing 45 treed acres of East River Park and barging in landfill to form a levee with a low-maintenance park on top.
- North to 25th Street and south to the Seaport, even more of the park and greenway will be torn up for miles as new pedestrian bridges, storm barriers and other grey infrastructure is wrested into place.
The city’s plan for Air Quality
How will ESCR impact air quality? Thousands of residences directly face the dust and noise of construction – currently, NYC plans to tell them “close your windows.” The contractor for the ESCR will monitor air quality and provide data to the CAG (the Community Advisory Group) once ESCR construction begins.
Rather than this closed approach with no baseline data, LES Breathe formed in Fall 2020 to develop a ‘citizen science’ monitoring system with open data that records both quantitative and qualitative information, using sensors and testimonials that increase understanding of lived experiences.
Then there’s the dirt
In September, LES Breathe collected baseline soil samples and found Lead in two tests under the Williamsburg Bridge in East River Park. In December 2020 the city responded to our FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request for data collected in the park. There are more than 2,000 pages, and we are examining it. It’s vital to know what’s in that landfill that will be stirred up with construction, and we welcome anyone who can wade in. See our Soil Foil page
How will ESCR protect local residents as the area is razed and raised? With 110,000 local residents expected to be impacted by ESCR, including 28,000 living in NYCHA, we wonder why elected officials have yet to join us in advocating for a pause on ESCR while the health emergency persists.
We have requested that all data related to air quality and soil quality already collected in and around the ESCR area be made public and released immediately. We requested the release of information on construction locations, the number of construction vehicles, trucks and barges, as well as any planned mitigation measures. This request is not controversial, considering that we are in the midst of a life-threatening pandemic.
Do It Yourself Project
Although the City has yet to reply, we are extending our support network. LES Breathe is talking with two major environmental toxicology programs involved in both training and study design, and will soon meet with a nearby environmental justice orgsnization with their own air monitioriong project underway. Currently, we are testing Aircast’s sensors and as we collect baseline air quality data.
Want to get involved? We are especially seeking NYCHA residents interested in monitoring the air quality coming into their homes before and during the ESCR construction period. This would involve hosting an indoor/outdoor air quality sensor that connects to your wifi. The data each device captures is anonymized and will be continuously posted to a map that is open to the public, showing the effects the ESCR construction may have on the air that our community’s most vunerable children, pregnant women and elders are breathing, a matter of crucial interest during the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you’d like to get involved, please contact Mary Jo Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to help support the air monitoring project, please donate to East River Park ACTION. We are a nonprofit 502(c)3 charity.
* The city plans to demolish East River Park and rebuild it eight feet higher. It will take several years. We are working on getting a greener plan for flood control that won’t destroy East River Park, but we are preparing for bad air and what we can do to make it better.