Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) pollution is responsible for 2,000 premature deaths and 6,500 emergency department visits in NYC annually.
The donning of masks to protect others and ourselves from COVID-19’s droplets is a physical reminder that there are dangerous things in our air. Air quality has long been a concern in North Brooklyn. El Puente, who began the fight for cleaner air over thirty years ago, contributed to the Community Air Mapping Project for Environmental Justice (CAMP-EJ) that was released on February 18.
The reason for this report came about when New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA) noticed there was a data gap in determining air quality as NYC has only thirteen high-performance ambient air monitoring sites. “To address this data gap, CAMP-EJ utilized dozens of low-cost, portable air quality monitors to measure hyper-local air quality and characterize air pollution exposures at more refined spatial and temporal scales than is possible using existing City and State data,” stated the introduction to the CAMP-EJ report. El Puente was one of six community-based organizations (Brooklyn Movement Center THE POINT CDC, UPROSE, We Stay/Nos Quedamos, and Youth Ministries for Peace were the other five) that organized air quality monitoring campaigns in their Brooklyn and the South Bronx neighborhoods.
They measured Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5). According to the NYS Dept. of Health site, “Particles in the PM2.5 size range are able to travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Exposure to fine particles can cause short-term health effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath. Exposure to fine particles can also affect lung function and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Scientific studies have linked increases in daily PM2.5 exposure with increased respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions, emergency department visits and deaths. Studies also suggest that long term exposure to fine particulate matter may be associated with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function and increased mortality from lung cancer and heart disease. People with breathing and heart problems, children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive to PM2.5.”
What did this study reveal about our community? El Puente’s headquarters, which is near the MTA Williamsburg Bridge Plaza bus depot and the BQE is a hot spot for PM2.5. Highways and traffic congestion are major contributors to air pollution. The hyper-local studies also showed, “Mobile monitoring revealed that local, one-minute PM2.5 measurements could be twenty times higher than the levels reported by the closest government-run monitor.”
For Williamsburg the study recommends, “air quality can be improved through incorporating more green infrastructure in the redesign of Continental Army Plaza. The addition of green infrastructure would improve air quality and provide a number of other environmental benefits, such as reduced surface temperatures, storm water capture, and flood mitigation.” It’s curious that the design of the Marsha P. Johnson Park (formerly known as the East River Park) is embracing plastic more than plants.
The report also demonstrates that community science and data collection is a necessary means to exact a more precise picture of the circumstance. Especially when it comes to the health and well-being of a community that has been under-served.