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Originally appeared in Artvoice on October 25th, 2012

The stadium proposal drew a substantial crowd to Common Council chambers on Tuesday, and when it was finished the retreating spectators and the media gantlet in the hallway raised a din that nearly drowned out the more quotidian business that followed: several items tabled, a brief and confused exchange regarding complaints about the city-funded media center hosted at the old Apollo Theater, and finally a series of testimonies regarding air pollution in the West Side neighborhoods surrounding the Peace Bridge.

Recently, the state Department of Transportation, working with the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health, released white paper entitled “Review of Air Quality and Asthma Issues at Peace Bridge.” Among the conclusions offered by that report: air quality in proximity of the Peace Bridge meets EPA emissions standards; more than 50 percent of trucks crossing the bridge use new cleaner fuel and engines mandated by the EPA in 2007, decreasing emissions; and poverty, race, and socioeconomic factors play a bigger role in asthma incidences than geographic location.

This last conclusion drew a pointed response from Rebecca Soto, a member of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, who decried the conclusions as racist and classist:

I am angry because this white paper has clumped us all together as a poverty stricken area. It makes us, and our children, feel like second class citizens because of where we live. It has indirectly called people of color pigs. And that offended me. Even in poverty, people want to have a clean and healthy home. This is not why we have so much asthma. We have inherited the problems in our neighborhood.

Ana Martinez, also a CACWNY member, added:

How would you feel if you had kids with asthma and you read this paper telling you it’s because you’re black and brown and dirty? How would you react to that? I have children, and grandchildren, and I take care of them, I take care of my children, and I take care of myself.

Those critiques were followed by testimony from two University at Buffalo professors who found fault with the white paper’s conclusions. Dr. Joe Gardella, who teaches chemistry at UB and serves as chair of the city’s Environmental Management Commission, said that there is “a distinct lack of science behind” the claims advanced by the state’s review, and that he was “astounded by the nature of the PR campaign…to try to deflect attention from the real pollution issues.” He dismissed the state review’s claim that there exists no EPA standard methodology for analyzing the ultrafine particulates emitted by diesel engines, saying the methodology has existed for 30 years—then wondered how the review’s unnamed authors could claim that the air quality around the Peace Bridge meets EPA standards whil also claiming that such emissions cannot be measured.

Dr. Bill Scheider, of UB’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, noted, among his other criticisms of the state’s review, that its authors contextualize air quality in the vicinity of the Peace Bridge by comparing it to air quality in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, New York City, and Houston, “the air quality of which rank among the worst in the nation.” Scheider also argued that, the review’s claims notwithstanding, “[d]ata specific to the Lower West Side show that geographic location near the Peace Bridge is a major contributor to high asthma prevalence in the area.”

Both Gardella and Scheider noted that the benefits of just over 50 percent of trucks using the Peace Bridge having switched to clean diesel are conjectural, unmeasured, and that the emission of the just under 50 percent that have not converted is cause for alarm, especially if truck traffic increases.

(You can see both the state-issued white paper and the responses to it on AV Daily.)

By the time this testimony had been delivered, of course, the football fans had left the building.

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