2009-12-23 / Features

Report Shows Some Air Pollution Sources

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

Manhattan has a lot of traffic. Western Queens has a lot of power plants.

Nobody would argue with that, but recently announced results of the New York City Community Air Survey (NYCCAS), billed as the “first-ever comprehensive survey of street-level air quality in New York City”, seem to have concluded one and not the other is affecting air pollution in the city.

The survey, conducted from December 2008 through March 2009 concluded Manhattan and high volume traffic corridors in other boroughs have the highest particulate levels. Particulates, or fine particles, are tiny airborne pieces of solid material, less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, that, when inhaled, penetrate deep into the lungs, causing inflammation. Higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and elemental carbon were found too in areas with heavier traffic.

The results also found a greater concentration of oil burning boilers in commercial and residential buildings as a source in areas with the highest levels of air pollution.

“We conducted a comprehensive streetlevel study of our city’s air quality to target local sources of pollution, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a December 15 press statement. “We are collecting air samples around the city at ground level so we can measure the air New Yorkers breathe while walking on the streets. This study clearly demonstrates the impacts that pollution from vehicles and certain oil-burning boilers has on our neighborhoods.”

The study measured combustion-related air pollutants at 150 locations throughout the city with portable air samplers mounted atop light poles 10 to 12 feet above ground. Four pollutants, elemental carbon (EC), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and find particles (PM2.5) were collected. Also measured was ground level ozone (O3).

Fine particles, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide are all closely associated with electric power generation. All three are also known as potential health hazards, related to asthma, other respiratory illnesses and heart disease.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said although air quality in the city has improved, levels of pollutants are “still high enough to harm our health”.

Sampling results from each monitoring locations were analyzed for statistical correlation with dozens of land-use factors, such as the density of boilers and truck traffic, and the results were projected to other locations to create air-quality maps for the entire city.

The maps, blocked out by local community board[s], showed that in Queens Community Board 1, with many power plants, significant results were found for fine particles, elemental carbon, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide levels.

Although the survey analysis concludes an association between measured pollution and indicators of sources near the monitoring, it names only fuel combustion emission from vehicles, i.e., cars, trucks and buses, and building heating systems as the sources. The only mention of electric power generators was as a possible cause of down wind pollution.

The NYCCAS report is available at www.nyc.gov and is the first of several to follow, the next results coming in 2011.

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