By Bill Parry
A recent study by NYU Langone Medical Center revealed that breathing New York City air can block arteries to the brain triggering strokes. The condition, known as carotid artery stenosis, is especially troubling for people with health problems.
City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), whose district regularly registers the highest particle pollutionin the borough according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is trying to do something to help those at risk. “We must do more to test our local air quality to ensure we are protecting the respiratory health of all New Yorkers,” he said.
Constantinides joined fellow Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) to introduce two companion bills that would protect the city’s air quality. The legislation would require the city to conduct annual air-quality surveys, and to open the city’s cooling centers on days when poor air quality may put all New Yorkers at risk of harm.
The city’s cooling centers are currently open only during heat-related emergencies and there is no permanent citywide online database that lists the cooling center locations.
“Codifying our city’s cooling center program into law will ensure that they stay open whenever necessary,” Constantinides said. “Opening our cooling centers on low-quality air days would help keep our vulnerable populations out of harm and improve our overall public health. A permanent online listing of all city cooling centers will give our residents the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe.”
Johnson’s bill would require that the Health Department conduct an air-quality survey annually and submit their findings to the City Council. It would ensure that the agency analyze how pollution patterns vary based on location and make recommendations for improving air quality.
“We must use all the tools at our exposure to protect the health of New Yorkers,” Johnson said. “Children and seniors, in particular, are vulnerable to environmental pollutants. These measures will save lives by helping to prevent the development of serious respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Staying cool and dry during days with low air-quality brings public health benefits, the two councilmen explained at City Hall March 11 while introducing their bills. One in eight children in the city has asthma. The rate is higher in neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Poor air quality also brings higher rates of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses such as emphysema and COPD. Young children and seniors remain the most vulnerable to these effects.
A top reason children are absent from school is due to asthma-related illnesses, and these children generally miss 10 to 30 days of school a year.
“It’s still winter, but the hot summer days are not that far away,” AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel said. “As the Council members note, the oldest and youngest among us are most vulnerable to emphysema, COPD and other respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses triggered by air pollution. These bills take common sense steps to help protect all of our residents.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr