Originally appeared on BuffaloRising on August 23rd, 2012.

The Department of Environmental Conservation announced today that air quality testing should begin early next month in the Peace Bridge neighborhood. The Buffalo News has the story here. The DEC will be monitoring upwind and downwind of the bridge in two, six month phases. The first monitoring phase will be before the planned expansion and the second phase will occur six months after the expansion has been completed.

Once all the data has been collected the DEC will compare notes and see if there has been a significant, negative environmental impact with the expansion and the additional trucks sure to follow. While nearby residents have been trying to get the air quality monitored for quite some time, the DEC is only acting now and it seems like the effort is coming up short.Peace Bridge neighborhood resident, Kathleen Meeca believes the effort is, “too little, too late” and I definitely have to agree with her. It has been documented that cases of asthma in the neighborhood are significantly higher than other areas of the city as a result of the truck traffic and idling. While it’s good that the DEC will be finally monitoring the effects, what happens after the expansion is built and it turns out the air quality is even worse?

Does anyone actually think that if that turns out to be the case the newly built expansion will be bulldozed to reduce the negative impact? The following letter comes from Dr. Jamson Lwebuga-Mukasa, President and CEO of Respiratory and Environmental Exposure Consultants. Dr. Mukasa has performed several of his own tests in the Peace Bridge neighborhood in recent years. His research was also the basis for a thesis project I completed in my final year in UB’s Environmental Design program.

“After a transient decrease in traffic congestion at the bridge and US Customs, truck traffic volume may actually increase as truckers take advantage of decreased congestion at the bridge. Increased truck volume will trigger in a new round of congestion and parking lot enlargement paid for by the taxpayers. The proposed plan does not address pollution due to diesel trucks accelerating out of the plaza and the idling of the trucks at the duty-free shop at the parking lot. Increased truck volume will increase pollution at these sites, which are major causes of pollution.

The congestion and increased pollution will require more land expansion deep into the community. So will the illnesses associated with particulate exposure. This will results in further widening of the parking lot and associated pollution due to further additional traffic. Buildings number at the parking lot will need to be increased to service the increased parking lot customers. Multi-story buildings at the parking lot may be erected on the parking lot. Spaces between multi-story buildings form channels with increased wind flow, which results into pollutants penetrating deep into the community. Multi-story buildings ruin the quality of life for those living in the community by obstructing the lake and river view and rendering Front Park unusable because of increased pollution.

I now wish to talk about children’s health. Sick children do learn as well. If a child has been up all night, or in the emergency room and/or hospital, because of asthma, sinusitis, ear ache, cough or nasal congestion he/she and the parents will not be able to attend school or go to work. This contributes to already poor school attendance and school achievement. Parents too leave work in order to take care of the children. This contributes to a permanent underclass of community residents that will last 50 to 100 years.

In the meantime, an organization will make a lot of profit from tolls and shops at the parking lot. The city will continue to provide services for the sewer system and connecting roads. The number of jobs will be low paying and likely episodic. Workers at the tollbooths are exposed to truck pollution and develop chronic illnesses that will increase as traffic increases. Because pollutants are distributed to other organs in the body, most people do not associate their illnesses with traffic pollution. For example, heart attacks, stroke, certain cancers and other inflammatory diseases. Such illnesses are paid for by taxpayers. The parking lot owners keep the profits.

The construction of transit traffic parking lot in a densely populated urban community is ill-conceived, horribly unjust and progress in reverse, especially when other cities are diverting pass-through traffic from downtown. Proper environmental assessment has not been performed because of unachievable rushed timelines. Yet residents are threatened with properties seizure when they request that justice be done. The threats create uncertainty and a further deterioration of a stable diverse, historic community. The rushed air monitoring schedule does not take into account seasonal variations likely to invalidate the assessment. It appears that studies are being done to cherry peak results that support the parking lot expansion into the community.”

I had an opportunity to talk to Kathleen Mecca further so she could elaborate on her opinion of the expansion. “The DEC ploy is to detract from the scientific data collected by Mukasa-Spengler and to avoid conducting an environmental impact study.” said Mecca, “DEC monitoring does not replace that process and cannot be used to avoid requirements under environmental law. Air monitoring is a part of the EIS not a substitute. Why is the DEC so willing to violate NEPA?”

Mecca went on to explain that, “Irrefutable data on air toxins at the peace bridge already exists that is peer reviewed by top scientists. The location of DEC monitors is arbitrary: According to Mukasa-Spengler, the hottest spot for fine particulates and toxins was at the Episcopal Church Home not Busti and Vermont. Reason; The bridge and the ingress and egress of truck diesel emission. The ECH is where the PBA intends to expand it’s complex either with a Duty Free or some other truck staging function – we don’t know because they won’t tell us.”

The whole situation continues to result in more unanswered questions than anything else. “Why has the scientific evidence been ignored by Higgins, Ryan, Kennedy, Mayor Brown, David Rivera, Sam Hoyt, Gov. Cuomo, the PBA and now the DEC?” asked Mecca, “Who are these agency bureaucrats that hijack federal policy & laws and why are they able to get away with it?”

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