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New York State mulls study of Sunset Park air quality

SUNSET PARK — The air quality in Sunset Park and its impact on the health of residents could soon be coming under close scrutiny by New York State environmental experts.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is seriously considering a request made by Assemblymember Felix Ortiz to conduct a comprehensive study of Sunset Park’s air quality with an eye toward developing ways to mitigate any damaging effects, officials said.

“We share Assemblyman Ortiz’s interest in ensuring cleaner air for Brooklyn residents and will review his request,” DEC officials said in a statement emailed to the Home Reporter on Oct. 24.

Ortiz, a Democrat representing Sunset Park, Red Hook and parts of Bay Ridge, issued an urgent request to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to authorize a study of the air Sunset Park residents breathe.

There are reasons to believe the community’s air quality is negative, Ortiz said.

The heavily-trafficked Gowanus Expressway bisects Sunset Park, exposing thousands of residents to constant auto emissions, according to Ortiz, who said 14 elementary schools are located near the highway.

The Gowanus Expressway, part of Interstate 278, is an elevated roadway running over Third Avenue in Sunset Park.

“My constituents and I have been very concerned about the air quality in Sunset Park for years. Many community members suffer from asthma and bronchitis,” Ortiz said.

DEC conducted a 15-month-long study of the air quality in the South End community of Albany in 2017-2018 and Ortiz said he is hoping for a similar review of Sunset Park.

The study found that vehicle emissions, particularly truck emissions, have a negative impact on air quality in South End.

As a result of the study, Cuomo announced a series of mitigation measures that DEC is implementing in coordination with the Department of Transportation, the city of Albany and the Albany Housing Authority. The measures include rerouting trucks, reclassifying roads and minimizing residents’ exposure to indoor air pollution.

“The landmark Albany South End Air Quality Study is one of many ways New York State continues to work to address air pollution in high traffic areas. New York has adopted the California Car and Inspection and Maintenance programs, which go beyond federal standards, and continues to increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads through Gov. Cuomo’s Charge NY initiative,” DEC said in a statement.

Ortiz, who noted that the South End study was the first of its kind, said Sunset Park deserves the same consideration.

“This type of air quality study will provide detailed information regarding the type and level of air pollution our community is exposed to. Those facts will allow us to create an effective remediation plan,” Ortiz said.

“All New Yorkers deserve clean, healthy air to breathe,” he added.

Jeremy Laufer, district manager of Brooklyn Community Board Seven, said the board would welcome a study of Sunset Park’s air quality.

“The Gowanus runs right through our community. It has a terrible impact,” he told the Home Reporter.

Sunset Park has been the subject of a health study before. In 2012, the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center and Lutheran Medical Center conducted a study which found that living near a heavily congested highway did correlate with higher instances of asthma.

The  study, which was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, showed higher rates of asthma among people living near the Gowanus Expressway and lower rates of asthma among residents who also live in Sunset Park but reside farther away from the highway.

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