By Bill Parry
Residents of Long Island City and Astoria are demanding environmental justice for Asthma Alley, the area of western Queens that is home to more than half of the city’s power plants.
City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), the chairman of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, held the first-ever hearing on these power plants and the emissions they produce, but none of the operators appeared to testify. He sponsored a resolution which calls on power plants throughout the entire state to phase out the use of the dirtiest grades of oil that are linked to air pollutants that pose risk to public health, including particulate matter, nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxide.
“For decades, power plants in our communities here in western Queens have strongly contributed to increased asthma rates and increases in hospitalizations and ER visits that exceed the average in Queens,” Constantinides said. “Now more than ever, these plants must become better neighbors and stop the practice of burning No. 6 and No. 4 oil while looking to repower these older facilities. Too many promises to our neighborhood have gone unfulfilled. “We stand together to say our community deserves better and we will not stand for the polluting status quo.”
Although plant operators have only three years left to comply with the scheduled 2020 phase-out of No. 6 oil, five plants cumulatively burned over 19 million gallons of that type of fuel last year. These plants are located in Astoria, Long Island City and directly across the East River on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
“Astoria and Long Island City have one of the highest childhood asthma rates in New York City,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “This is unacceptable. Our communities should not be known as ‘Asthma Alley.’ If these power plants reduce their emissions, we can make our communities stronger and more healthy.”
Compounding the situation is the location of the plants. The Ravenswood Generating Station, known as Big Allis, burns 3,309,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil a year. It is just across Vernon Boulevard from the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing complex in the nation.
“Too many residents have come to me, from babies to seniors, with asthma, bronchitis and emphysema,” Queensbridge Tenants Association President April Simpson Taylor said. “We don’t know what we’re breathing in on a daily basis.”
Carol Wilkins, the president of the Ravenswood Houses Tenants Association, suffers from asthma. Claudia Coger, the president of the Astoria Houses Tenants Association, has a granddaughter and two great granddaughters with chronic asthma.
“We suffer the residual effects of Big Allis. My father lived in this neighborhood his entire life and never smoked a day in his life. He died of pulmonary fibrosis,” Bishop Mitchell Taylor, the founder of Urban Upbound, said. “At some point, someone has to recognize the injustice that’s being put upon neighborhoods of color, particularly public housing.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr