(2) 4th Avenue

Air pollution in urban areas is almost always a health problem and Sunset Park is no exception. According to the EPA, the six most common air pollutants are: ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and lead. [1] The summertime exacerbates the negative health effects of these pollutants; children, the elderly, and people with asthma and heart disease are shown to be more vulnerable. [3] What are these pollutants, their health effects, and ways to reduce our exposure to and personal emissions of them? Sunset Park is on the top five Brooklyn communities with the highest lung cancer rate, according to a 2010 cancer report by SUNY Downstate. [7] It also has a high respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalization rate due to particulate matter exposure compared to most of Brooklyn. Asthma emergency hospitalizations due to particulate matter in adults is also high compared to most of Brooklyn. [3] Although air pollution is not the only cause for these news, it definitely plays a large role in the health of community members.

(2) Gowanus Expressway
Gowanus Expressway, 3rd Avenue

Sunset Park is the site of a considerable amount of industrial activity, including construction, dry cleaners, electronics manufacturing, food manufacturing, and more. They contribute to sulfur dioxide, particulate matter (airborne particles), and other harmful emissions. Moreover, the vehicles on the Gowanus Expressway, which runs right down the middle of Sunset Park, and the busy avenues are heavy sources of pollutants such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and benzene (a carcinogen also found in cigarettes). [1] All these pollutants irritate the lungs and some affect the heart too by changing heart rhythm and increasing blood pressure. In the summertime, ground level ozone can be a serious problem in Sunset Park because it is produced by the interaction of sunlight with nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are released by vehicles, industrial activity, and volatile organic compounds (e.g. paints, pesticides, and building materials). Ozone can irritate lungs, cause coughing and wheezing, worsen asthma and lower resistance to lung infections. [3]

(2) Side Street
Side Street on 49th Street

Contrary to what many people think, ozone levels may be higher in more low-traffic areas of Sunset Park because of ozone scavenging. [3] Ozone scavenging actually destroys ozone and happens when a large concentration of nitrogen oxides, mainly released from vehicles in this case, interacts with ozone and forms different compounds. [3] Therefore, areas in Sunset Park with less vehicles may actually have higher ozone level concentrations. Studies also show that parallel side streets (e.g. 53rd and 54th street) may have up to four times as much carbon monoxide than on main streets (e.g. 3rd Ave and 5th Ave) because there is not enough air flow on the side streets and pollutants tend gather up there. Pockets of air pollutants can collect on tight and sheltered streets, making them as unhealthy as being on busy streets. [5] Indoor air pollution is also a problem. Buildings in Sunset Park built before 1978 may still contain lead. Outdoor air pollution can easily get into and stay inside homes. Cooking with gas or electric appliances without a good venting hood can generate a lot of indoor air pollution, including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds [4]. Here are some tips to reduce attracting air pollution indoors and keep indoor air fresh:

  1. Have a floor mat at the entrance.
  2. Take off shoes at the entrance.
  3. Mop floors and keep them clean.
  4. Open windows at night to let air circulate.
  5. Get your home checked for radon, a colorless and odorless gas that can significantly increase your risk of lung cancer.
  6. Keep a healthy humidity level to prevent mold and dust mite growth.
  7. Use more natural detergents, fragrance products, and cleaners.
  8. Get a good venting hood for cooking. [2], [4]

It is important to note that the health effects of air pollution are usually combined with other factors, including noise pollution from the honking cars, diet, and other preexisting health conditions. There is little sense in avoiding air pollution altogether, but here some ways to reduce your exposure and to live with it:

  1. Energy StarDo your exercise routine in the morning or at night, not in the sunny afternoons when ozone levels are highest.
  2. Don’t smoke or smoke less.
  3. Avoid streets that are surrounded by buildings, which can be “pockets” for air pollutants.
  4. Save electricity by unplugging unused appliances and buying Energy Smart appliances.
  5. Carpool or use public transportation; avoid traffic by planning ahead.
  6. Conserve water.
  7. Recycle.
  8. Have a garden or grow plants both indoors and outdoors. [1]

You can check your air quality forecasts and health risks at www.airnow.gov. [6]

Written by Karen Ouyang.

Works Cited

1. What are the Six Common Air Pollutants?. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/airquality/urbanair/

2. Davis, J. Breathe Easy: 5 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/lung/features/12-ways-to-improve-indoor-air-quality?page=3

3. Millay, S. Air Pollution and the Health of New Yorkers:The Impact of Fine Particles and Ozone. Retrieved from http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/eode/eode-air-quality-impact.pdf

4. Smith, P. The Kitchen as a Pollution Hazard. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/the-kitchen-as-a-pollution-hazard/?_r=2

5. Underwood, K. Want to Reduce Your Air Pollution Exposure? Cross the Street. Retrieved from http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/want-to-reduce-your-air-pollution-exposure-cross-the-street.html

6. Today’s AQI Forecast. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/airquality/urbanair/

7. LaRose, J. Brooklyn Community Health Report. Retrieved from http://www.downstate.edu/bhr/reports/Cancer-Report-2010.pdf

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