The findings show that Manhattan and the more built-up, high-traffic locations in the other boroughs have the city's highest particulate levels, as well as higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and elemental carbon.
To better assess the levels and sources of harmful pollutants, researchers collected and analyzed air samples from 150 sites across the five boroughs last winter. Besides showing large geographic differences in the concentration of fine particles (PM2.5) and other pollutants, the analysis showed that pollution levels were closely associated with traffic volume and fuel use by buildings. Fine-particle and sulfur dioxide pollution was concentrated in areas where more buildings burn oil for heat, and levels were especially high in areas where buildings use so-called residual oil (also known as #4 and #6 oil) in their boilers.
All of these pollutants have adverse health effects. They can irritate lungs, worsen asthma and emphysema, and increase the risk of heart attacks and premature death. Seniors and young children may be especially vulnerable to air pollution, but it affects everyone. In a national study published this year, researchers found that residents in cities with poorer air quality generally had shorter life expectancies. Cities that achieved larger reductions in fine-particle air pollution during the 1980s and 90s enjoyed greater health gains during those decades.
The new report is the first of several that will grow out of the Community Air Survey. Future reports will assess other patterns in air quality and relate them to seasonal changes in fuel use and atmospheric conditions.