Queens Study Airs Its Discontent – QNS.com

Queens Study Airs Its Discontent

Queens residents have a new concern to get choked up about. According to a new study, the borough is in the top 10% of the nations counties for poorest air quality.
The study, jointly conducted by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), the Community Helping to Organize a Kleaner Environment (CHOKE) and the Queens Borough Presidents Office, was released last Thursday. It found that Queens had high levels of ground level ozone, or smog, and fine particulate matter, caused by exhaust from power plants and diesel trucks and buses. The report also stated these air pollutants can cause and exacerbate health problems, including heart disease, asthma and premature death.
"The report is obviously distressing," said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. The report cited electrical power plants in Astoria as one culprit for the boroughs lousy air. Other causes were Queens two airports, the high-volume traffic on its artereal highways and out-of-state pollution.
Marshall plans to use the findings to induce state and federal government to fix the smog-ridden borough. "It gives us the weapon to make the case for clean air," she stated optimistically about the study, which was funded by KeySpan Energy as a regulatory condition for building a new power plant in Queens.
To those involved in the study, the findings came as no surprise. "This only confirms what we have known in Queens for a long time," said Councilman Peter Vallone, whose district, Astoria, houses many of Queens power plants. Vallone served as pro bono counsel for CHOKE, before taking office in the City Council. The grassroots organization began two years ago in reaction to SCS Energy Services attempt to build a new plant rather than update existing ones. CHOKE successfully lobbied to have the energy companys old plant shut down when its new plant is completed.
There are four large power plants in northwest Queens, generating 60% of the electricity for the city. But, says Choke president Tony Gigantiello, these plants contribute to 15% of the total carbon dioxide emissions for all plants in the state. Most are older-generation fossil fuel plants that burn inefficiently. Newer generation plants use mostly natural gas, burn cleaner and get twice as much energy from the fuel. Energy companies are not opposed to the new plants but prefer to build them at different locations rather than modernize existing plants. As a result, old plants remain operational, nullifying any gains from the opening of newer-generation plants.
Councilman Vallone says New York State siting boards, which determine where power plants are built, enable this practice. "Enough is enough, the state can no longer ignore the local communities," said Vallone. The councilman complained state siting boards permit energy companies to build new plants, regardless of the local communitys objections. According to Gigantiello, only one energy company, Orion, has made an effort to modernize its old plant instead of building a new one.
New Yorks poor air quality is not just from in-state polluters. Since it is downwind from many midwest states with coal-burning industries, New York gets much of their pollution. Katherine Kennedy, senior attorney for NRDC, stated New York unfairly bears out-of-state pollution without compensation. She believes the federal government needs to step in. "We need to get Bush to strengthen the Clean Air Act," said Kennedy.
The NRDC and CHOKE report also warned of the harmful effects from smog and particulate matter. The report cites statistics that asthma hospitalization for children in Queens is three times higher than the state average, and Queens has a higher percent of heart disease deaths than the city.
"Studies show when air pollutants are higher, people with asthma have to go the hospital more often," said Kennedy. However, the reports findings did not confirm a causal relationship between the boroughs poor air quality and these health abnormalities.
Dr. Robert Mittman, director of the Allergy and Asthma Family Care Center in Bayside, agreed that pollution can exacerbate asthmatic attacks, but he believes there are more factors at work like cockroaches, moldy buildings, access to health care and allergies. He also noted that some areas in Queens have the lowest asthma-hospitalization rates in the city. "Bayside and its surrounding areas have some of the lowest rates in all of New York," remarked Mittman.
In order to combat the pollution, both the NRDC and CHOKE recommend conservation. Councilman Vallone agrees. In his attempt to restore the citys quality of life, Vallone introduced a bill to make emissions reductions at the citys power plants a requirement. Gigantiello says lowering energy dependence is not just a federal and state problem. It can start on a local level as well. The CHOKE president also chairs the The North Queens View Homes Co-op. His co-op uses fluorescent lights that use less electricity, and it also offers rebates to residents who switch to energy star products.
"Pollution doesnt discriminate, it kills everyone," said Gigantiello grimly. "Conservation is the way to go."

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