Earth Day: Rep. Torres unveils new legislation to monitor air quality in the Bronx

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Friday, April 22, 2022
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On Earth Day, Rep. Ritchie Torres and Bronx officials announced initiatives to combat air pollution.

BRONX, New York (WABC) -- On Earth Day, Rep. Ritchie Torres and Bronx officials announced initiatives to combat air pollution.

A recent report from Columbia University finds vehicle congestion on the Cross Bronx Expressway has gotten even worse, adding to the already poor air quality in nearby neighborhoods, and they detailed new federal legislation to monitor air quality.

The Columbia report found that automotive congestion worsened between 2017 and 2019 in residential and mixed-use neighborhoods of Mott Haven and Port Morris in the South Bronx, an area already overburdened by environmental pollution from interstate highways and industrial activity.

The congestion contributes to traffic-related air pollution and to high rates of asthma prevalence in Mott Haven and Port Morris (17% of children ages 4 and 5) and traffic-related pedestrian injuries (43 hospitalizations per 100,000 people vs. 23 citywide).

Moreover, the trend of increasing congestion could potentially represent an environmental health disparity as other more affluent areas in New York City are planning interventions to reduce congestion, including proposed congestion pricing that would discourage drivers from entering the Central Business District in Manhattan.

Traffic-related air pollution is also associated with hypertension, heart attacks, and stroke.

The legislation would establish a five-year pilot program for hyperlocal air quality monitoring projects in communities of color, low-income communities, and other underserved neighborhoods.

Under a $100 million annual budget, the program would enable state, local, and Tribal air agencies to partner with local nonprofit organizations or air quality data providers to identify block-level hotspots for multiple pollutants, empowering them to use this data to build online mapping tools, inform local communities and air pollution managers about where poor air quality exists, and recommend a course of action to reduce pollution in identified hotspots.

"Communities of color, like the South Bronx, have long been exposed to elevated levels of air pollution that gravely impact all aspects of our health: physical, mental, and emotional," Torres said. "Our current infrastructure cannot measure block-level variation in air pollution, which is why I am proud to introduce the Environmental Justice Air Quality Monitoring Act to create a pilot program to facilitate local-level air pollution monitoring. Identifying block-level hot spots will inform communities and spur action to reduce air pollution in high-risk areas."

Torres and environmental activists from Loving the Bronx and South Bronx Unite are also pushing for capping the Cross Bronx Expressway and ensuring that the highway can be used to reduce pollution through air filters and more innovative technology.

"It is critical that local environmental justice communities are given the tools and the partnerships to monitor and document that which causes them disproportionate harm," said Mychal Johnson, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, a nonprofit organization in the South Bronx working with Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health to track air and noise pollution in the South Bronx where asthma rates are eight times the national average. "The Environmental Justice Air Quality Monitoring Act will save lives, and we applaud efforts to finance researching and mitigating harm."

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