Waiting to Inhale - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the December 1999 Juniper Berry Magazine

Waiting to Inhale

People in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Manhattan should not be taking a deep breath. That's because the air being produced in these areas is filled with deadly toxins. The high concentration of people, vehicles, and industry are making our air quality worse by the day. Sometimes if you're stuck on the LIE during rush hour, you can see a thick, yellowish haze covering the New York City skyline. The wind usually makes this haze unnoticeable, but believe me, it is always there. And don't forget...the air we breathe in New York increases our cancer risk up to 90% and our risk of other illnesses another 90%. In one section of the metropolitan area, the cancer risk for one million people ranges as high as 2,609 and can be as low as 29 in upstate New York, according to the Environmental Defense Fund's 1990 State Report.

However, don't run for cover indoors. There are many Hazardous Air Pollutants, or HAPs, that can be found in our homes, schools, and offices. Poor ventilation can cause many health problems that can sometimes be found early, but usually they show up months or even years later. Immediate symptoms are similar to those of a cold or a viral disease; such illnesses

are hard to diagnose. Respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer can be contracted after long or repeated exposure to such chemicals. These illnesses can be debilitating and fatal.

The leading cause of indoor air pollution is asbestos. Asbestos can be found in older insulation, roofing, flooring, cements, bathroom tiles, and even in a car's brake lining. Asbestosis, which is a scarring of the lungs, Mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest's lining, and lung cancer are all caused by exposure to asbestos. Have your home checked for remaining asbestos and urge your workplace and/or school to do likewise. Good indoor ventilation can decrease many of your risks.

Cigarette smokers, however, need to worry about bigger issues first. Besides tainting the air of others around them, those who smoke almost a pack a day will be exposed to 20 to 50 times more benzene, a dangerous HAP, than someone breathing even the most contaminated outdoor air. Benzene is considered a serious cancer hazard and can cause genetic damage, so beware!

Our outdoor situation is just as bad and could get worse. Surprisingly, much of our pollution doesn't even belong to us. New York is unable to meet federal air quality because many of the pollutants found in our state originate in the Midwest. So what's a state to do? The Clean Air Act gives the Federal Environmental Protection Agency authority to deal with air

pollution blowing across state lines. Last year, the EPA finally came up with a plan that orders 22 states east of the Mississippi River to sharply reduce nitrogen oxides, the main cause of smog. However, don't inhale too soon--this plan does not go into effect until the year 2003.

The air pollution generatedby NewYork Statecomes fromthreemain sources:Point, Area, and Mobile. Pointsources include industrial facilities. Chemical plants, steel mills,power plants,and hazardouswaste incinerators are all pointsources. They account for nearly 90% of all sulfur dioxide emissions. Sulfur Dioxide is formed when fuel-containing sulfur (mainly coal and oil) is burned, as well as during other industrial processes. Sulfur Dioxide will aggravate existing cardiovascular diseases and put children, the elderly, and those with bronchitis, emphysema, and other lung diseases at high risk for illness. Sulfur Dioxide is a precursor to sulfates, which are associated with acidification of lakes, accelerated corrosion of buildings, reduced visibility, and adverse health effects, according to the U.S. EPA Office of Air & Radiation. The EPA has already proposed a program that would evaluate and address some peak concentrations that could occur near some point sources. In addition, the EPA has found that since 1986, there has been a 37% decrease of the concentration of Sulfur Dioxide in our air..

Area sources consist of smaller businesses, like the local dry cleaners, gas stations, auto body paint shops, and so on. They include commercial and residential buildings, boats, trains, and even household items like lawnmowers and barbecue grills. The worst area source that effects the metropolitan area, more specifically, Staten Island and Brooklyn, is the Fresh Kills Landfill. For decades, New York has been dumping its trash in Staten Island's landfill, making it the largest in the United States. The Fresh Kills Landfill is scheduled for closure by December 31, 2001. All the area sources make up 50% of the Hazardous Air Pollutants in New York. These area sources are the worst source of Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs.

VOCs play an important role in the formation of ground-level ozone. When nitrogen oxide and VOCs team up, they create smog. If you own a small business or work for one, you must call the EPA for your specific guidelines.

If we all do our own part, we can decrease this contribution to the area's HAPs.

When point sources and mobile sources are added together, their adverse effects are not as damaging as the area sources alone. However, the point sources and the mobile sources are easier targets. Mobile sources are comprised of cars, trucks, buses, ships, airplanes, and even construction equipment. Nationwide, mobile sources make up 75% of all carbon monoxide pollution. In Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Brooklyn at least half of the hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide comes from mobile sources.

The nitrogen oxide from mobile sources becomes devastating when it meets up with the area sources' VOCs to create ground-level ozone. Ten to thirty miles overhead, ozone provides a protective layer that filters out ultraviolet radiation. However, on the ground, ozone can have an adverse effect on us.

High ozone concentrations irritate nasal, throat, and bronchial tissues.

Ozone attacks our bodies' immune system, harms forests, lowers crop yields, and damages materials such as rubber, plastic, synthetic fibers, dye, and paint. Those who live outside urban areas must also beware because, just as air is carried from the Midwest to the city, it is carried to upstate New York, White Plains, and other rural areas.

The amount of mobile sources is rising dramatically. In 1977, there were 142.1 million vehicles registered nationwide. In 1984, the numbers jumped to 181.3 million, and in 1993 there were 189.4 million vehicles. Chances are the numbers have skyrocketed since then, thanks to the new found craze of leasing. Industry and electric power producers emit millions of tons of nitrogen oxide, VOCs, and other HAPs. Some things you could do to help may be to use solvents or paints that contain fewer pollutants, use fuel that burns cleaner, try to use mass transit or car pooling more often, do not leave your car idling, and do not top off your gas tank.

New York State has been a leader in the fight against air pollution

actively. Safety assessments are constantly done to ensure the improvement of our air quality. A safety assessment will evaluate the toxicity in the air and how much of the toxins we inhale. From safety assessments, the EPA has found that there are 27 HAPs that New Yorkers are exposed to. Moreover, these assessments have found that nitrogen oxide levels for New York are between 70-80% too high. The sulfur dioxide emissions are over 80-90% and the carbon monoxide emissions are 80-90% too high.

So what is a New Yorker to do? Well, take the advice mentioned above, do your part in saving our air quality and improving it. Do it for yourselves and your future generations.

For more information, contact:

Ozone: Pollution Paradox

NYS DEC

50 Wolf Road

Albany, NY 12233-3245

--or--

Environmental Protection Agency

290 Broadway

New York, NY 10007-1866

http://web.archive.org/web/20010305101552/http://www.epa.gov/region02/

Phone: (212) 637-3000

Fax: (212) 637-3526