2003-06-04 / Front Page

Pollution Report Hailed For Proposed Policy Changes

by linda j. wilson
Pollution Report Hailed For Proposed Policy Changes by linda j. wilson


Photo by Dominick Totino Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said,”We finally have the weapon we need,” as report on air pollution was released in front of West Queens High School in Long Island City.  At left is City Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. and at right, Katherine Kennedy, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Tony Gigantiello, chairman of Community Helping Organize a Kleaner Environment (CHOKE). The report, funded by KeySpan and prepared by Synpapse Energy Economics, found that Queens is among the worst 10 percent of U.S. counties in terms of exposure to air pollution.Photo by Dominick Totino Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said,”We finally have the weapon we need,” as report on air pollution was released in front of West Queens High School in Long Island City. At left is City Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. and at right, Katherine Kennedy, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Tony Gigantiello, chairman of Community Helping Organize a Kleaner Environment (CHOKE). The report, funded by KeySpan and prepared by Synpapse Energy Economics, found that Queens is among the worst 10 percent of U.S. counties in terms of exposure to air pollution.

Residents of the borough of Queens live in a county that is among the 10 percent worst in the United States in terms of exposure to air pollution, a report by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts research firm, revealed last Thursday. Borough President Helen Marshall, City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., Assemblymember Michael Gianaris and representatives of the Natural Resources defense Council (NRDC) and Citizens Hoping for a [K]leaner Environment (C.H.O.K.E.) gathered on the steps of Long Island City H.S. to release the report and present an action plan for reducing air pollution.

According to the report, the greatest air quality health risks in Queens are due to four types of pollutants: fine soot, especially fine particulates, smog, or ground-level ozone, hazardous air pollutants, and greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. These pollutants subject Queens residents to serious health risks. Queens has a 48 percent rate of deaths from heart disease, seven percent higher than the city as a whole and nine percent higher than the rest of New York state. The hospitalization rate for children with asthma in Queens increased by 57 percent between 1988 and 1997--a rate three times higher than the state average. Studies have shown links between high levels of ozone and fine particulate matter and greater prevalence and exacerbation of asthma, the report added. These elevated rates show that there are large numbers of people in Queens who are likely to be susceptible to the effects of air pollution because of pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory problems, the report continued.

"This report confirms what we have known for years—that air pollution problems in the borough are the cause of serious health problems for our residents," Marshall said.

Queens is home to many sources of air pollution, according to Vallone Jr. In the northwest corner of the county there are currently four large power plants, which together house 46 electric generation units, as well as a number of smaller units, he said in a statement. Several other power plants have been approved for construction. The county also contains an extensive transportation network, which includes the Long Island Expressway, the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, the Grand Central Parkway, two highway bridges, a tunnel to Manhattan and two airports, along with more than 400 miles of arterial and local roads. "All of these ingredients make up a toxic cocktail we consume daily," Marshall said.

Vallone Jr., a former counsel to C.H.O.K.E., added: "Western Queens provides more than 60 percent of the electric power to the entire city, and polluted air is the natural result of this." C.H.O.K.E. chairman Tony Gigantiello agreed. "[The] report shows that air quality in Queens is among the worst in the nation. [The report] will serve as a wake-up call that Queens can no longer be a dumping ground for air pollution."

The report, "Air Quality in Queens County: Opportunities for Cleaning Up the Air in Queens County and Neighboring Regions," provides a "Clean Air Plan" for reducing air pollution in Queens, New York City and the region that was hailed as a step forward for clearing the air. "We can and must achieve cleaner air through a menu of practical solutions, from requiring more efficient air conditioners to increasing reliance on renewable energy sources and low-emission power plants to requiring cleaner fuels for diesel [powered] heavy duty construction equipment," Ashok Gupta, NRDC Air and Energy program director, said.

Gianaris has called on area power plants to adopt measures that would reduce emissions from their generating plants and has introduced legislation to that effect. "New York state must be a leader on innovations to the air quality problem in Queens," he said. "Following in the success of the law to encourage cleaner new power plants that I authored, we must continue to fight for more efficient uses of energy." Councilmember James Gennaro concurred. "Decades ago, New York City was a leader in banning coal-burning power plants. Now we must become leaders in fighting air pollution on the new battlegrounds that threaten our environment, public health and quality of life." His sentiments were echoed by Vallone Jr. "I’ve introduced legislation mandating the reduction of carbon dioxide in our air by 20 percent, but much more must be done. The action plan is a step in the right direction."

The Synapse report was funded by KeySpan energy as part of the regulatory process that led to approval of its 250-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas Ravenswood power plant in Astoria. Pam Adamo, KeySpan vice president of community affairs and environmental policy, pointed out, that while air issues in Queens can be attributed to more than power plants alone, "KeySpan is committed to improving air quality. With the instillation of our new $9 million emission control system and the addition of our soon-to-be-completed combined-cycle facility at Ravenswood, hundreds of tons of emissions from older generating plants will be avoided annually."

Marshall was encouraged by the report’s proposals for giving residents of Queens and surrounding regions cleaner air to breathe. "Several projects are in the works which should allow us to breathe easier," she said. "For one, KeySpan is modifying its generators at Ravenswood to lower their emission rates. Also, the [Charles F.] Poletti [power] plant now owned by the state Power Authority will be shut down in coming years. In addition, [the report also makes recommendations about pollution from transportation sources, and we look closely at those proposals as well.

"Today I call on all local officials from the city, state and federal governments, as well as the companies who provide power and transportation in our borough, to work with me to implement this report’s proposals. We must all work together, even as the city suffers through the current fiscal crisis, because nothing is more important than our health and that of our children."


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