Opinion

The Divide: Dear Gov. Cuomo: Protect Our Health, Re-Route Truck Traffic!

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The Divide: Dear Gov. Cuomo: Protect Our Health, Re-Route Truck Traffic!

Dear Governor Cuomo,

One year ago,The Alt published my open letter to you concerning the Environmental INjustice community of Ezra Prentice Homes and Albany’s South End. One of the requests in that letter was that the NYS Department of Transportation issue an emergency order to prohibit diesel-engine vehicles from traveling along South Pearl Street through the heart of Ezra Prentice. But, here it is, a year later, and the trucks haven’t been re-routed and our health continues to suffer. The divide between your sworn duty to protect the health and safety of the citizens of the state, and the lack of any action taken to protect our health and safety from diesel exhaust is inexcusable.

Therefore, due to your lack of action in this matter, the residents of Albany’s South End and the Ezra Prentice Homes have taken it upon themselves to stop the diesel engine truck traffic from driving through Ezra Prentice (Times Union, October 18, 2017). These brave souls are putting their lives on the line by standing across South Pearl Street and blocking tractor trailers, dump trucks, and other diesel-engine heavy vehicles from passing in front of Ezra. We are doing this, because after four years of meetings with DEC, DOT, EPA, the Port, and representatives from your Executive Chamber, nothing has been done to prohibit these extremely loud, cancer-causing, asthma attack-inducing, benzene and black carbon spewing vehicles from continuing to affect our health.

Governor Cuomo, your quick and humane efforts to visit the hurricane-devastated areas and to offer the state’s help to the millions of people adversely affected by these recent storms is admirable. You deserve much credit for taking a leading role, while Trump tweeted about “fake news.” What we would like to see in Albany’s South End, is the same quick action to protect us from the unhealthy contaminated air we are forced to breathe each day as thousands of diesel-engine trucks drive through our residential neighborhood. We would like you to visit the South End and see and hear for yourself the damaging affect these trucks have on our health. Best of all, you don’t have to fly in a helicopter to see the damage, just take a drive, or public transportation, the two miles from the Governor’s Mansion to Ezra, and hang out for a half hour on South Pearl Street. A note of warning, though, be sure to have a mask or respirator for the exhaust fumes you will be breathing in and a sound system in case you want to be heard over the road noise.

It should be reiterated that when, not if, you visit Ezra Prentice, be sure to have a respirator as our benzene levels and black carbon exposure is extremely high. According to the EPA, “Black carbon is the sooty black material emitted from gas and diesel engines… It comprises a significant portion of particulate matter or PM, which is an air pollutant. Black carbon…has negative implications for both human health and our climate. Inhalation of black carbon is associated with health problems including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even birth defects.” And, when you include the adverse health effects of long-term exposure to benzene as described by the NYS DEC as, “There are two potential adverse health outcomes from lifetime exposure to high concentrations of air toxics: cancer or non-cancer endpoints. Non-cancer endpoints include reproductive, neurological, respiratory and cardiovascular effects,” you can readily see why I suggest you use a respirator when visiting Ezra. Your health could be adversely affected by exposure to these air contaminants we breathe in every day.

Knowing that elected officials and department heads depend on data to help them develop policies that are beneficial to the public, I urge you to review the NYS Department of Health’s 2017 Health Equity Reports. The DOH specifically breaks out numbers for the city of Albany. These statistics compare health disparities of the city of Albany with both the county of Albany and the state. As you will read, the adverse health issues noted above that are a result of exposure to both black carbon and benzene – cancer, asthma, and reproductive health – are much higher in the city than in the county and the state. I think you will find the comparisons very disturbing. For example: Asthma, emergency department visits (per 10,000 population), all ages: City – 162.7; County – 73.4; NYS – 100.8. Asthma, emergency department visits, aged 0-4 years: City – 382.2; County – 191.4; NYS – 198.3. Diabetes, rate of hospitalization: City – 10.7; County – 6.5; NYS – 6.3. Lung cancer, late stages, female (NOTE: no NYS numbers): City – 37.4; County – 33.9. Lung cancer, late stages, male (NOTE: no NYS numbers): City – 78.3; County – 75.1. Pre-term births: City – 12.6 percent; County – 11.6 percent; NYS – 10.9 percent. Low birthweight births: City – 8 percent; County – 6.5 percent; NYS – 6 percent.  (Please note, the county numbers include the city’s numbers. If you extrapolate out the city’s numbers from the county’s numbers, the county’s rates will be even lower than the listed number.)

Governor Cuomo, if this health disparity comparison isn’t enough to sway you to take immediate action, perhaps a few numbers specific to the South End’s 12202 zip code, as compiled by BirthNet will convince you: Infant mortality (per 1,000 births): 12202 – 16.5 deaths; County – 8.5 deaths; NYS – 5.0 deaths; Black babies, Albany county – 23.2 deaths.  Pre-term birth: 12202 – 13 percent; County – 11.6 percent; NYS – 10.9 percent; Black babies, Albany county – 16.2 percent. Low birth weight: 12202 – 12.1 percent; County – 8.7 percent; Black babies – 14.6 percent.

Governor Cuomo, we are very appreciative of the $500,000 air quality study that is currently being done by the DEC and that your Deputy Secretary for the Environment met with us, and visited Ezra last month. However, we feel that you must experience first-hand what we face each day. Come down to Ezra, pay us a visit, and immediately order the re-routing of diesel-engine truck traffic from South Pearl Street. Follow the state’s objective, as stated in the DOH Health Equity Report, “ensuring the best possible health outcomes for all New Yorkers.” If you will not take the necessary actions to protect our health, we will have no other choice but to continue to stand together across South Pearl Street and stop the trucks ourselves. Our lives, and those of our children, are at risk from long-term exposure to toxins. Protect our health and order the immediate re-routing of the trucks and stop them from literally driving through the heart and lungs of the residents of Ezra Prentice Homes.

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