Civics meet to tackle air quality in Maspeth

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U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) held a news conference with civic leaders at one of Maspeth’s busiest intersections last week to draw attention to problems caused by air pollution and to push for a federal study of air quality in western Queens.

Speaking from a triangle of land wedged in the intersection of Grand Avenue and the service road of the Long Island Expressway, Crowley, Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden and Community Board 5 Environmental Services Committee Chairman Tony Nunziato voiced their community’s growing concern over air quality in Maspeth, which is bisected by the LIE.

“We just want to know what we’re breathing in,” Holden said.

Gesturing in every direction — at the airplanes flying overhead, trucks lumbering along Grand Avenue and heavy traffic idling on the LIE — Holden said fumes generated by the convergence of major transit routes in Maspeth threaten residents’ quality of life.

“What is it doing to our health?” Holden asked. “We don’t know. We need an air quality study.”

Crowley announced his office has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a neighborhood air quality study, which the congressman said was last performed in 1997.

“We’re calling upon the EPA to commence an updated study to identify violators and improve the health of men, women and children,” Crowley said.

EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears said her agency is considering Crowley’s request, but noted the state already monitors air quality constantly and posts its data on the Internet.

“We do have very good air quality information that comes from monitors that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Mears said.

According to Mears, the 1997 report Crowley alluded to was an audit that evaluated how well New York state identified and dealt with Clean Air Act violators in New York City and a region upstate.

Crowley’s letter specifically requests the EPA to update its 1997 audit, Mears said, “which is a different animal from a health study or an air-quality study.”

Although the 1997 audit found the state failed to identify serious violators of the Clean Air Act, “the state did a full audit of all of its regions and did some pretty big wholesale changes,” Mears said.

“We’re now confident that they’re doing a good job in terms of identifying significant violators,” she said.

While Holden cited heavy traffic along the LIE as a major source of local air pollution, he and Nunziato also pointed a finger at illegal commercial traffic using Grand Avenue as a shortcut.

“Right now we’re trying to have the truck route enforced to keep trucks and traffic off Grand Avenue,” said Tony.

Most of Grand Avenue has been designated a local truck route, meaning commercial traffic is only permitted on the roadway when they are making local deliveries.

Holden said truck traffic has increased in recent months with the influx of solid waste trucks carting garbage to transfer stations.

Tiffany Elliott, an adviser to Juniper Park Civic, listened to Crowley at the intersection with her young son, a pile of children’s books on pollution filling his stroller. She said traffic is so heavy outside her home, which sits along the service road of the LIE, that she often cannot allow her children to play outside in the summer.

“I can’t open my windows in the summer. You can smell it in the house, you can smell the car fumes,” she said. “If you can imagine a large truck outside your house running continuously, it smells like that.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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