Walking Throgh Pollution
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.
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,” he 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 passed. 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 a 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 Colombia 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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