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Question of Air Quality Hangs Over Bay Ridge

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Six months after a preliminary study of air quality in Bay Ridge, Community Board 10 has indicated interest in having more extensive testing done. ccording to Harriet Rosenberg, the chairperson of the board’s Health & Welfare Committee, testing done last June and July by the RJ Lee Group indicated that on 14 out of 18 days, daily averages of particulate matter, PM 2.5, exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) annual average limit of 15 micrograms per cubic meter. However, according to the report prepared by RJ Lee, which was submitted to the community board in August, “None of the 24-hour average values exceeded the NAAQS 24-hour basis standard” of 65 micrograms per cubic meter. Particulate matter is the phrase used to delineate a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. PM2.5 refers specifically to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or smaller in size. The testing was conducted between June 24th and July 11th, outside the CB 10 office, which overlooks the Gowanus Expressway at 86th Street and Gatling Place. Funding for the study was allocated by City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, out of his own expense account. A major cause of PM 2.5 is combustion, according to material provided by Gentile’s office which also indicated that exposure to high levels of PM 2.5 can result in “increased respiratory symptoms and disease, chronic bronchitis, and inflamed asthmatic symptoms.” “Particles found in our air were tested, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke and liquid droplets,” Rosenberg told fellow board members gathered at Shore Hill, 9000 Shore Road, for the board’s December meeting. However, the results, said Rosenberg, were, “Not considered unusual or exception for concentrations measured in comparative urban communities.” In assessing the study, said Rosenberg, it is important to take into account the fact that the study’s scope was extremely limited. “The group concluded the study did not represent the entire community as a whole,” she told her listeners. “A better understanding of our air quality would require a more comprehensive study using several monitors spread throughout our community in specifically selected locations for an extended period of time. More sophisticated equipment would be needed to measure and identify the quality of air we breathe.” This point was stressed by Glenn Harmon, vice president of RJ Lee Group. In a phone interview, Harmon elaborated on a point made in the report, that, “The study conducted should not be considered to be representative of the annual concentrations of airborne particulate matter for the location examined or for the neighborhood as a whole. Furthermore, these results may not reflect the highest or lowest concentrations of airborne particulate matter in Bay Ridge during the monitoring period nor the overall level of PM 2.5 on a long time basis. Rather, the results provided should be considered an initial site assessment limited only to the monitoring location and the duration of monitoring.” “Keep in mind,” noted Harmon, “that we sampled in one spot, and that spot was picked for convenience rather than for any scientific reason, and wasn’t perhaps the most ideal location.” The test, Harmon elaborated, “Showed that, in that spot, there was no imminent danger. We looked at it in a variety of ways. One average showed slightly higher than average. To come to any broad conclusion about the community would require more sophisticated testing. To draw a scientific conclusion, you would have to have several sampling sites and a more methodical approach to the study. We don’t want people to think there is some huge conclusion to be drawn.” What exactly did the testing demonstrate? All the testing showed, Harmon stressed, is that, “In this spot, during 18 days, we didn’t observe any season for major concern. We were careful in the way we wrote the report to neither overstate nor understate. Yes, there was particulate matter that came out. No, it wasn’t extreme.” Is further testing warranted? “You could argue it either way, depending on your point of view, perspective and priorities,” said Harmon. “Is it necessary? That’s not something I would want to argue. Is it something that I would want done if I lived in the community? I’m like Harry Truman, looking for a one-armed economist when everyone says, on the other hand.” Board members appeared to be interested in encouraging additional studies to be done. “If 14 out of 18 days we were above average, that says something, and that’s just in one area for one short period of time,” noted Rosenberg. “I would love to push for further studies, but that would require a lot more money.” While more in-depth testing may be costly, added Craig Eaton, the board’s chairperson, “I think that we need to follow up in a couple of months with the agencies, and keep pushing them and prodding them alone, and talk to our elected officials to come up with the funding that’s necessary to do this testing. The fact that it’s expensive doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. It means that we should push to get the money allocated. The rates of cancer in our community was extremely high.” Gentile said that, in conversations with him, Harmon had indicated, “That there may have been spikes at certain points but certainly nothing out of the norm that he could see at this point. He didn’t see anything outwardly alarming about the air quality, given the location and the numbers of New York City in general.” Asked about more exhaustive testing, Gentile said, “I would certainly take it under advisement and consider it.” However, he added, given the cost, “We would need multiple sources of funding if we really want to do a broad-based study.” CB 10 has previously expressed concern about high rates of cancer in the community, and has asked the city to engage in a health study of the neighborhood, to determine whether environmental factors are playing a part in the seeming prevalence of the disease.

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