An Open Letter to New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Department of Transportation Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll, and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos:
The residents of Albany’s South End, specifically those people living in the Ezra Prentice Homes on South Pearl Street and on Mount Hope Drive, are living in a toxic environment that requires you to take immediate emergency action to protect our health.
The Ezra Prentice community is a mostly low-income community of color that is a designated Environmental Justice Community. In reality, it is an Environmental INjustice community! The NYS DEC recently reported to us that the benzene monitor stationed at South Pearl Street and Schuyler Street (where our neighborhood elementary school–Giffen Memorial–is located) shows that levels of the cancer-causing carcinogen benzene are among the highest in the State. A benzene level that is seven times higher than the acceptable level for benzene exposure for humans!
The source of the benzene has not been identified. It could be any of the following: the crude oil trains (or, as we refer to them, “Bomb Trains”); the more than 1,000 diesel-engine trucks and buses that daily drive through the middle of Ezra Prentice along State Route 32 (South Pearl Street); the county sewage treatment plant; I-787 traffic; activities at the Port of Albany; the recycling center located adjacent to Ezra; etc. Or, more likely, the dangerous level of benzene is a combination of these and other source-points.
What emergency action do we want you to take, you ask? Two simple immediate actions:
First: We demand that NYS DOT Commissioner Driscoll issue an emergency order prohibiting diesel-engine vehicles from traveling north and south along Route 32 from the intersection of Route 32 with Old South Pearl Street to the intersection of Route 32 with the entrance/exit to I-787 (Exit 2) just north of the Ezra Prentice playground. We need you to take this action now, for our lives may depend on it.
A health assessment survey that is currently being conducted at Ezra by resident outreach workers shows 50 percent of households interviewed report at least one family member suffering from asthma. Other health-related disorders that have been identified include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and cancers.
Second: We demand that NYS DEC Commissioner Seggos issue an emergency order to limit the amount of crude oil-by-rail that both Global and Buckeye are allowed to process to the pre-2012 levels. This emergency order is nothing more than putting some teeth into the Sept. 16, 2016 letter the DEC sent Global stating that Global’s Title V Permit renewal is incomplete and that DEC intends to rescind its Negative Declaration regarding Global’s request to modify the permit to allow the heating of rail cars transporting extremely filthy and disgusting tar sands oil. If the application is incomplete as stated in your letter, then why the hell are you allowing these facilities to operate at the increased level of crude oil, as much as 2.8 billion gallons a year?
And, should DOT and DEC refuse to issue these emergency orders/regulations, we demand that Governor Cuomo, who has the duty under the New York State Constitution to protect the health, safety, welfare and property of the residents of New York state, to issue an Executive Order barring diesel-engine traffic along the section of Route 32 that splits the Ezra Prentice complex in half and limiting the amount of crude oil-by-rail allowed to be brought into the Port of Albany to pre-2012 levels. Gov. Cuomo, as you stated in your e-mail letter of Nov. 18, 2016: America was built on the promise that all of us were created equal and should be treated equally.
So, Gov. Cuomo and Commissioners Driscoll and Seggos, treat us equally, and take the necessary and immediate actions needed to protect our health and safety. To quote Willie White, Executive Director of A Village: “Our lives do matter. . . . Our kids do not know what they are breathing. Treat us like we are human beings.”
Dominick Calsolaro served on the Albany Common Council representing the First Ward for three terms. Calsolaro has spearheaded major advocacy campaigns on the Albany landfill, anti-gun violence and “bomb trains.” He lives in Albany’s South End.