The Start of the Cross Bronx Expressway Courtesy of: Bloomberg CityLab

Air quality report shows insufficient air monitoring in Hunts Point

A city environmental group is reporting finding air pollution levels in pockets of Hunts Point that are 20 times higher than levels recorded by city air monitors.

The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance reported dozens of low-cost, portable air quality monitors to capture pollution levels at a much more local scale than city monitors are able to measure.

Researchers confirmed that local facilities and traffic congestion throughout the “Toxic Triangle” contribute to the high pollution levels.

A spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Environmental Conservation said the Alliance’s research is consistent with its own monitoring efforts.  She noted that the state is on track to implement Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to reduce 85% of air pollution by 2050.

The alliance is a citywide collective that advocates to improve environmental conditions and unfair environmental burdens on communities.

Jalisa Gilmore, research analyst for the Environmental Justice Alliance, believes these communities have historically been dealt a bad hand.

“Historic discrimination in access to housing and racial land use planning policies really resulted in a disproportionate amount of polluting infrastructure and facilities in these environmental justice communities — low-income communities and communities of color,” she said.

The project’s goal, she said, was to raise awareness about the disproportionate health impacts in environmental justice communities.

The recent report, said minute-by-minute measurements of PM2.5 in some areas, at busy times of day, were 20 times higher than levels shown by the nearest citywide monitor.

PM2.5, or fine particulate matter, is an air pollutant that affects both respiratory and cardiovascular systems and can worsen medical conditions such as asthma, which many in the South Bronx deal with, and heart disease.

Short-term health effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath. For more information on PM2.5 visit the NYS Department of Health website.

The city has only 13 air quality monitors to record and track all PM2.5 levels throughout the five boroughs, according to the group’s report. These monitors are scattered in various locations throughout the city and only record measurements every hour, and sometimes less frequently.

Environmental Justice Advocates said its mobile monitors, located just blocks away from one another, showed one-hour measurements could vary by a factor of three.

The report, issued in February, said the difference between the group’s findings and city measurements are important because even short-term exposures to high concentrations of PM2.5 are associated with adverse cardiorespiratory health effects such as heart attacks in vulnerable populations.

Danny Peralta, who works with both the Justice Alliance and The Point CDC, says the report points to a lot of changes and realistic recommendations that can be achieved in 10-30 years.

With the help of three local grassroots organizations throughout Hunts Point, and local high school students through summer youth employment, the environmental group was able to track significant on-the-ground measurements over the course of two years.

The mobile air monitoring systems identified several hotspots where PM2.5 levels are highest, and the group reported that local facilities, expressways and traffic congestion throughout Hunts Point are big polluters.

The levels near the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center and the Hunts Point Water Pollution Control Plant were consistently higher, the report said. In addition, the area between the Cross Bronx, the Sheridan and the Bruckner Expressways, also referred to as the “Toxic Triangle,” also saw higher PM2.5 levels.

Traffic congestion elevates levels during the morning rush hours (7-8am), but they drop during the day, and pick up again in the late evening (8-9pm), the report said. This is in-part due to the boundary level of the atmosphere, the closest layer to the earth, which usually concentrates air pollution in the breathing zone during the morning and evening rush hours.

Researchers recommended investments that prioritize limiting emissions in “pollution hotspot” areas around the “Toxic Triangle” and the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. The report also calls for using more electric vehicles in Hunts Point and reducing traffic congestion there.  Additional hyperlocal monitoring is also recommended to spotlight pollution sources and effects of exposure.

The city’s Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman did not disagree.  “We will use this data as we move forward on the many clean transportation and air quality improvement initiatives underway to electrify cars and truck, remove dirty trucks and buses from our roadways, and make investments to help improve the health and wellbeing of environmental justice communities,” she said.

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