Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Black Soot and Asthma" NY Times 11/19/06

Gee, wonder what will happen when those unnecessary taxpayer subsidized garages for 4,500 cars, SUVs and trucks are built for the Yankees by 2009.

Black Soot and Asthma

Editorial in The City section in Sunday's New York Times, November 19, 2006

New York has some of the worst rates of asthma in the nation. The victims tend to be poor and minority children trapped in environments that cause and exacerbate their condition. They often lack access to regular health care, their homes may be infested with mold or household pests that trigger breathing problems.

And in neighborhoods like the South Bronx, there’s often no avoiding one of the biggest threats to the lungs: diesel exhaust from trucks. Though its impacts have been well-documented by government and private studies, diesel exhaust is a public menace that policymakers have yet to treat as seriously as they should.

A recent study conducted by New York University confirmed the link between bouts of asthma and one particularly disagreeable component of diesel exhaust — elemental carbon, also fittingly known as black soot.

Forty asthmatic children who attend schools situated near major roads in the South Bronx carried backpack-sized air quality monitors as part of the study. On days when black soot measured heaviest, the children had double the usual number of symptoms.

These youngsters have become the unfortunate local version of canaries in a coal mine. Health experts also point to diesel exhaust as a contributor to a host of other health problems, including cancers and birth defects.

While the city cannot regulate privately owned trucks, it has done the right thing and begun to replace retired buses and trucks in its own fleet with cleaner-burning versions. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has also issued strict new regulations mandating cleaner fuels and engines in diesel trucks and buses.

But it could be years before there is a complete turnover. The solution lies in reducing the city’s dependence on trucks. The wholesale markets at Hunts Point, which daily attract some 12,000 trucks making deliveries and pick ups, sit right on the water. Boats could offer a better way to move perishable goods.

The Bloomberg administration should also revisit the rail freight issue. Re-connecting the city to the national rail freight system is possible with construction of the proposed cross harbor tunnel. The project has been bogged down by neighborhood opposition in Queens, where incoming freight would be shifted to trucks for shorter-range distribution. We understand the concern, but the city has too much to gain, in terms of overall improved air and improved traffic, not to get the project back on track.

New York’s health department has done a commendable job of trying to get a handle on the asthma epidemic. It has worked with the hardest hit communities to educate parents and to get regular care and medication to asthma sufferers. A recent city study showed that hospitalizations for asthma were down 17 percent in the last year, but still occurring at a rate well above the national average.

The challenge for asthmatics is avoiding the causes of attacks. Policymakers can help them, and the public health, by declaring war on poisonous diesel fumes.


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