October 21, 2019
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Announces Results of Landmark Air Quality Study in Albany's South End

TOP Governor Cuomo Announces Results of Landmark...

First-of-Its-Kind, Community-Based Scientific Study Pinpoints Local Trucks as Largest Contributor to Air Pollution Near Ezra Prentice Homes

State and Local Partners Announce Measures Underway to Reduce Air Pollution

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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the findings of a state-of-the-art air quality study in Albany's South End community and new State-led actions to help address air pollution in the area. Directed by Governor Cuomo, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation launched a study in 2017 to assess potential emission sources - including trains and vehicle traffic - that impact air quality in this Environmental Justice community. In addition, the Governor announced mitigation measures that DEC is implementing in coordination with the State Department of Transportation, the City of Albany and the Albany Housing Authority; these measures include rerouting trucks, reclassifying roads, minimizing residents' exposure to indoor air pollution, among other efforts.  

"New York is taking aggressive action to tackle air quality and other environmental health issues impacting residents across the state, and Albany's South End is no exception," Governor Cuomo said. "In the short term this innovative new study gives us the facts we need to implement new measures to reduce community exposure to truck pollutants, and in the long term it will serve as a model for other communities across the state as we advance our efforts to create a cleaner, greener New York for all."

"This first-ever community driven scientific study address the important issue of air quality in Albany's South End neighborhood," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "As a result of the study, the state plans to partner with local stakeholders to address concerns and reduce the negative impact emissions have on air quality in the area. We want to reduce contaminants to help improve public health for local residents and promote a cleaner and greener environment."

DEC designed the study as a model that can be replicated in other communities across the state. During the study, DEC worked closely with the community over 15 months to collect street-level measurements of air quality at strategic locations and performed more than a year of continuous monitoring to account for meteorological and source activity variability. A video featuring DEC researchers and partners conducting the study is available here.

Conducted during 2017 and 2018, the study included an estimated 260 hours of backpack air monitoring, during which DEC researchers walked 780 miles over 6,480 hours using portable monitors. Researchers took a total of 8,570 photos of vehicles traveling through the area, gathered 70,000 hours of monitoring data and collected benzene samples at more than 100 locations. In addition, the State Department of Transportation collected 4,400 hours of traffic data.

The study found that more particulate matter is coming from local traffic rather than activities at the Port of Albany and that emissions from locomotives and port shipping transport are minimal in comparison to local traffic. The study then transitioned to focus on local traffic pollutants. DEC analyzed DOT's traffic data during periods of the day when vehicle volumes were higher on South Pearl Street, and reviewed data from community monitors which showed trucks are responsible for the majority of traffic pollutants at Ezra Prentice Homes. Overall, data shows that traffic pollutants are relatively uniform throughout the South End, except for Ezra Prentice, and that trucks are contributing the most to traffic pollutants while traveling to and from businesses and other operations located south of Ezra Prentice.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Through Governor Cuomo's leadership and an investment of $500,000 from the State's Environmental Protection Fund, DEC executed a first-of-its-kind study to protect public health in Albany's South End neighborhood. By partnering with local residents, this study is providing a better understanding of air quality in this neighborhood and will help guide future initiatives to protect air quality in Environmental Justice communities across the State."

The study evaluated pollutants, including benzene and diesel emissions, and collected unprecedented levels of detail about particulate pollutants primarily associated with mobile sources in the community and further evaluated the vehicle types associated with higher emissions. Particulate pollutants associated with mobile sources continue to be monitored at Ezra Prentice. As part of the study, middle and high school students from the Science and Technology Entry Program at the University of Albany collected air quality measurements with DEC scientists.

The study has already resulted in the City of Albany directing its Department of General Services to prohibit city vehicles from using South Pearl Street, except for regularly scheduled solid waste pickup and street cleaning.

Key Study Findings

The Ezra Prentice community is disproportionately impacted by truck pollutants. The study found truck pollutants on South Pearl Street at Ezra Prentice homes are higher compared to the rest of the Albany South End community. Portable air monitoring also found higher concentrations on the east side of South Pearl Street and closer to the road. Traffic pollutant concentrations are relatively similar in the rest of the complex and drop to background levels approximately 250 feet from the road. While total traffic volume at Ezra Prentice and a comparison road (Southern Boulevard in Albany) are similar, Ezra Prentice has approximately six times the truck volume.

Benzene sampling found higher levels near operations that store and transfer gasoline and petroleum products, and the community monitor shows Port activities contribute to local benzene concentrations. Benzene concentrations are slightly higher at the monitor near Albany County Health Department compared to other DEC network monitors in urban areas. Benzene concentrations are lower at Ezra Prentice, compared to the Albany monitor, because the Albany monitor is more frequently downwind of gasoline and petroleum terminals.

DOH Health Outcome Review

The State Department of Health conducted a Health Outcome Review to address health concerns in the Ezra Prentice community. The review focused on outcomes related to air pollution and evaluated emergency department and hospitalization data from 2005 through 2015. Rates of respiratory and other health outcomes in the South End were compared to those in a City neighborhood with similar demographics. Rates of respiratory outcomes including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute bronchitis and asthma, as well as hypertension and diabetes, were higher in South End compared to the Arbor Hill/West Hill neighborhood. While differences in the health outcome rates are suggestive of exposure differences between the two communities, they cannot prove cause and effect because individual level risk factors were not taken into account. However, these results support taking actions to reduce air pollution in the Ezra Prentice neighborhood.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "Clean air should not be determined by zip code and steps must be taken, especially in our most vulnerable neighborhoods, to reduce the harmful emissions created by increased traffic and industry. At Governor Cuomo's direction, this thorough air-quality study conducted in Albany's South End will help inform efforts to address air pollution and improve the health and quality of life for residents."     

New Actions to Reduce Air Pollution and Exposure

As a result of the study and directed by Governor Cuomo, state agencies are undertaking new actions to reduce community exposure to truck pollutants in coordination with local officials:

  • DEC and DOT are making $20 million available from the Volkswagen settlement and other resources to fund clean trucks statewide, with a focus on environmental justice communities like the South End. DEC is also working with identified truck fleets to evaluate ways fleets can reduce emissions. DEC has allocated an additional $52.4 million for future projects to replace transit, school and paratransit buses statewide.
  • DEC is conducting enforcement checks and imposing fines on trucks with high emissions on South Pearl Street.
  • DEC is conducting frequent leak detection inspections at gasoline and petroleum handling facilities using new state-of-the-art equipment, followed by enforcement, as appropriate. DEC has required one gasoline and petroleum terminal in Rensselaer to repair leaks identified using that equipment.
  • DOT, in coordination with the City of Albany, has reclassified four roads within the Port of Albany to create the potential for trucks to be rerouted away from the area near Ezra Prentice.
  • DOT is committed to providing technical support to the City of Albany, including direct engineering assistance, in support of the city's continued assessment of South Pearl Street and potential alternative routes for truck traffic.
  • The Mayor's Office is helping coordinate the voluntary rerouting of frequent truck traffic by several commercial entities with a presence in and near the South End. Traffic monitoring demonstrates that these efforts have reduced truck and bus traffic by 30 percent on South Pearl Street
  • The Mayor's Office directed the City of Albany Department of General Services to prohibit its vehicles from using South Pearl Street other than for regularly scheduled solid waste pickup and street cleaning. DGS has acquired a street cleaning vacuum to use along the South Pearl Street corridor daily to help reduce particle resuspension. Mayor Kathy Sheehan also assisted the State's efforts by facilitating meetings between DEC and local transportation companies to help provide additional data.
  • DEC continues to monitor traffic-related pollutants at Ezra Prentice while evaluating ways to adapt and transfer knowledge gained from this study to other near-road and Environmental Justice communities across the state to mitigate traffic pollutants.
  • The Albany Housing Authority is minimizing residents' indoor exposure to traffic pollutants. AHA is providing professionally installed window air conditioners where appropriate, as early as this year, beginning with residences closest to South Pearl Street and moving outward. AHA is evaluating other strategies for reducing pollution from entering the apartments, such as the effectiveness of central air conditioning. AHA will increase door-to-door advocacy with healthcare partners to increase awareness and education related to indoor air quality.
  • DEC, the Mayor's Office and AHA are leading a workgroup to develop mitigation strategies and ensure implementation of overall approaches. The workgroup will evaluate the effectiveness of roadside barriers such as green walls where appropriate.

DEC's year-long study, supported by $500,000 from the State's Environmental Protection Fund, is in addition to previous efforts in the South End. DEC launched an air screening study in 2014, air quality monitoring for hydrogen sulfide in 2015 - 2017 and added an air toxics monitor in the community to the existing monitoring network in 2015. DEC has also conducted increased vehicle and facility inspections in the community as part of its Operation Eco-Quality.

In April 2017, the Capital District Transportation Committee researched and analyzed truck traffic patterns along South Pearl Street at Ezra Prentice homes. The results were used to develop potential strategies to mitigate the negative impacts of truck traffic on the residents in the study area.

Senator Neil Breslin said, "I am pleased to see the actions taken by Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation as well as input from local residents, to identify problems and find solutions in reference to the air quality and truck pollutants in the Ezra Prentice community. Strategically rerouting trucks from the neighborhood has already provided dividends by reducing truck and bus traffic by 30 percent. The continued monitoring of air and traffic pollutants in the Ezra Prentice neighborhood will lead to better air quality and reduce pollution."

Assembly Member John T. McDonald III said, "The South End Air Quality Study results include proactive next steps that will build upon the state, local, and community partnership that has led this process. I am confident that the community engagement that spurred the study will continue as these action items are implemented. The health and safety of our residents is paramount and I will continue to work ensure that the necessary protections are in place."

Assembly Member Patricia Fahy said, "Residents in Albany's South End neighborhood have endured lower air quality and pollution for years as a result of local traffic and truck emissions. I commend the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Governor for initiating this study and for taking meaningful steps working with the City of Albany to address this environmental justice issue. The host of actions announced by the state to redirect truck routes, local traffic routes, and otherwise based off the study's findings show a commitment to rectifying what has become an environmental justice issue over the last few years for many South End residents."

Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy said, "I've been fighting for the residents of Ezra Prentice since I called for the 2014 moratorium on Global Partners' expansion plans at the Port of Albany, which helped bring attention to air quality in this neighborhood. Everyone, no matter their zip code, deserves clean air, and the alarming findings in this study show that more needs to be done to uphold that fundamental right. I commend the Governor, the DEC and the DOH for conducting this comprehensive analysis that will lay the groundwork for real change in the South End."

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said, "Since taking office, I have worked closely with Council Members, community members, and local businesses to identify solutions that will improve the health and well-being of the residents of Albany's South End. This air quality study has helped us identify further action we can take together to address important quality of life issues for those living in effected neighborhoods. Thank you to Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for undertaking this innovative study."

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