02/22/2021 05:01 AM EST
Air quality in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods like Hunts Point and the south side of Williamsburg is much worse than previously thought, according to a new report by a coalition of environmental justice groups.
The report, first reviewed by POLITICO, states the concentration of fine particulate matter in three 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,” said Jalisa Gilmore, a research analyst at the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, one of the groups behind the report. “Resources need to be directed to environmental justice communities that have been affected the most by environmental racism. Covid-19 has only made that clearer.”
Details: Low-income communities and communities of color are more exposed to pollution because of historic discrimination in planning, which disproportionately placed power plants and highways in or near these neighborhoods.
The report examines what impact the legacy of racist infrastructure planning has had on three such communities in New York City — Hunts Point, Soundview and south Williamsburg.
Gilmore said there have been longstanding concerns about how the state Department of Environmental Conservation measures air quality because the monitors are placed above street level. Over the course of two years, the coalition measured PM 2.5 — or fine particulate matter — from the ground level during one-minute increments. The snapshots revealed air quality was up to 20 times worse than what state air quality monitors were capturing.
“Our feeling is this is much more accurate as to how the average person experiences air pollution,” Gilmore said.
Maureen Wren, a spokesperson for the DEC, said the report is consistent with trends seen by the state, where data collected closer to emissions sources will be higher than monitors. That’s because monitors collecting data over a 24-hour period will include times of the day when pollutant concentrations are lower. The state has 13 air quality monitors in environmental justice communities across the city.
“DEC will use this data as we move forward on the many clean transportation and air quality improvement initiatives underway to electrify cars and trucks, remove dirty trucks and buses from our roadways, and make investments to help improve the health and well-being of Environmental Justice communities,” Wren wrote in an email.
What's next: Because traffic congestion is a major contributor to poor air quality, the report recommends electrifying diesel-powered trucks and electric buses. It also said the state and city should allocate resources toward hyperlocal air monitoring networks in environmental justice communities.
Gilmore said a more local approach to air quality monitoring can aid city and state officials in addressing poor air quality through a more targeted approach.
“Whether that’s adding green infrastructure or increasing electrification along bus routes, it’s important to know where in the community the hot spots are,” she said.