Walking Through Pollution

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Studies show living in polluted areas can hinder brain development.

Imagine living in an area where
every breath inhaled could stimulate and arouse a harmful disease.
Depending on where you live this illusion may be a reality dwelling
outside your door. The Bronx and areas of Manhattan are home to some of
the most highly polluted areas in New York. Still yet many other
communities in New York produce harmful pollutants.


I
met up with child allergist, Dr Paul Ehrlich to discuss why
Williamsburg Brooklyn, like many metropolitan areas in New York, is a
health hazard. Dr. Ehrlich and I stepped off the F train; looking
around Williamsburg was not at all like I expected. “Pollution is
extremely bad in this area,” Ehrlich said, “you will see why in a
second.” It was a residential area. The streets were filled with homes
and apartments. They were not occupied with tall combustion burning
skyscrapers.

As we
walked Dr Ehrlich pointed out the automotive pollution that was hurting
the environment. “Take a look at this car.” Ehrlich was referring to a
running car standing on the side of the road. The hood was popped,
although the owner was no where in sight. Across the street was a dorm
room sized car lot, packed with about ten cars. “People bring their
cars here in order to work on it. They will leave it running while they
are working on them.” He explained that often the cars are left running
simultaneously. The constant flow of gas is a constant contributor of
air pollution. This however was only the beginning.

Blocks
later we were standing in clear view of the Williamsburg Bridge.
Drivers, unprotected motorist and bicyclist were jam packed on the
massive bridge. The traffic, leaked gas which adulterated the air
quality. “They are just spewing that stuff out of their cars,” said
Ehrlich. As I looked around, Dr Ehrlich pointed out another interesting
phenomenon. A block away we could see a construction company building
an apartment building. “They are building apartments in an area that
has no room,” Ehrlich stated. There a few steps away from the bridge,
closed in by blocks of apartments from either side, yards away from the
open car lots, a construction company was building another apartment
building. More residents would soon be packed into the over crowded,
highly polluted area.

Dr
Ehrlich and I parted ways and I continued to peruse the streets of
Williamsburg. Standing in front of a small coffee shop I ran into a
young waiter named Joseph Ryan. I asked Ryan if he has ever felt the
effects of living in Williamsburg. “Yeah I just came back from
California. When I returned here I went for a jog on the bridge and my
lungs hurt.” As I walked closer to Williams Bridge, I found Frank
Hawkins, a bus Operator for NYC transit. Hawkins said that his daughter
suffered many health complications after living near a highway in the
Bronx. “Living right underneath the Brooklyn Express Highway, she
suffered from a lot of coughing and wheezing. At one point she was in
the ICU once a month.” After moving to Rochester NY, Hawkins says his
daughter is about 75 percent better and doesn’t go to the hospital as
often.

I
decided to go for a walk across the Williamsburg Bridge in order to
feel the effects of the gas dumping travel mechanism. The bridge
actually produced a relaxing and peaceful experience. The sun gently
touched my cool skin as I walked along. Couples held hands before and
after me as skate borders and bicyclist zoomed by. The cars and trucks
below did let off a rather unpleasant smell, but it came and went with
the wind. The most disturbing part of being on the bridge was the fear
that it would somehow give way, leaving me to fight for safety with the
drivers, walkers and cyclist that also occupied the area. It was as if
the pollution was disguised by the beauty and excitement of the city.

As
I approached the end of the bridge, there was a joyous sound. I looked
over to see Manhattan elementary school, PS 142. Its play ground was
home to kids playing, laughing and breathing in the pollution which
leaked from the Williamsburg traffic. Asthma is not the only risk for
the children of PS 142. New studies show that pollution can also have a
negative effect on the intelligence of children. A study conducted by
the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health showed that
children living in parts of the Bronx and Manhattan had the greatest
effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); toxic pollutants
resulting from the burning of coal, diesel, or gas. Children who had
been exposed to the pollutants had IQ’s about five percent lower than
those who did not. The center has also linked PAH to cancer.

Air
pollution also occurs indoors. It often results from rat droppings, and
dead cockroaches. Dr Ehrlich stated that when the cockroaches die, they
turn into dust and people breathe it in. Indoor pollution can also come
from in door fumes. A Harvard School of Public Health study showed that
children who slept in rooms highly concentrated with fumes from
cleaning and painting, were more prone to suffer from asthma attacks,
rhinitis, eczema, and other allergic diseases.

There
are ways to prevent the mount of health effects associated with
pollution. In order to reduce PAH in the home, refrain from burning or
browning food and smoking inside. Dr Ehrlich suggests also buying a
HEPA filter. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particle Air filter. There
are some problems associated with the cleaning device, “they won’t
clean them,” says Ehrlich. “People say it cost a lot of money, well
they need to do it.”



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