DEC discusses air monitoring with Peace Bridge residents

New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation hosted an information session on Monday, September 15th, to discuss the year long air quality study that will be conducted adjacent to the Peace Bridge’s customs inspection plaza, after nearly two decades of residents’ pleading for a solution to a public health crisis that has engulfed the Westside.

The air monitoring began last month and runs from August 2014 to August 2015. Air samples will be collected at two sites: one on Busti Avenue across the street from the Peace Bridge plaza; and a second downwind, on the roof of Grover Cleveland High School on Porter Avenue.

Air samples will be collected every sixth day on a rotating basis for one year, which will give DEC’s research scientists enough data to determine an annual average of pollutants in the air, with some insight into how the pollutants’ concentration could be effected by weather, time of day, traffic volume, and other factors.

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This is the first study that the DEC is conducting to monitor ultrafine particulates from diesel exhaust, which have been identified in published peer reviewed studies as the determinative cause of the Westside public health crisis.

The two scientists charged with designing and executing the study are Dirk Felton and Randi Walker. Both are residents of the Albany area and are career environmental research scientists.

Ms. Walker is originally from the Buffalo area and both were involved in conducting the Tonawanda Coke air monitoring that eventually led to the first ever prosecution of a CEO for violations of the Clean Air Act. That CEO was sentenced to a 75 year prison term for knowingly dumping tons of carcinogens into the air, including benzene, at night when it would go unseen by area residents.

Both were relatively well received by attendees — no easy feat, given that residents have understandably grown weary, suspicious, and deservedly hostile towards a State government that has largely ignored them.

This study comes out of that discontent, as the Westside’s childhood asthma epidemic worsens, and as elevated rates of cancer, stroke, and neurological disorders become more apparent.

Residents were disappointed that the process would have no impact on preventing the Cuomo Administration’s expansion of truck processing capacity at the Peace Bridge. They are concerned that increased volumes of diesel carcinogens will lead to worsened health impacts.

Many residents made it clear that their desire is to have the trucks banned from the Peace Bridge, and they were disappointed that the DEC lacks the authority to address this issue.

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Residents have many concerns, chief among them: the disconnect between the Department of Environmental Conservation and the State’s Department of Health. A number of residents insisted that the public health impacts on the neighborhood should also be studied, to identify a correlation between the diesel emissions and prevalent illnesses in the area.

But DEC only intends to study air quality, because that is their expertise. They will be publishing their findings and submitting the data to the Environmental Protection Agency, as it has begun to aggregate data on ultrafine particulates nationally. That data could then be used to in conjunction with another study that considers health impacts, though there is no plan on the part of the state to conduct it at this point.

Neighborhood residents are being encouraged to participate in the air monitoring, and the Clean Air Coalition will be assisting in additional data collection at moments of peak congestion, using mobile equipment.

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