Rep. Torres & Bronx Environmental Justice Groups Announce New Initiatives To Combat Air Pollution In The South Bronx

Apr 22, 2022

For Immediate Release: Friday, April 22, 2022

Presser available here.

On Earth Day, Rep. Torres Detailed New Legislation to Monitor Air Quality; Environmental Justice Activists Released Findings from New Report on How Traffic Congestion Has Worsened Air Pollution & Health Outcomes in the Bronx

BRONX, NY: Today, Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY-15) was joined by various Bronx environmental justice groups to announce the findings from a new Columbia University report on how increased traffic congestion in the South Bronx has worsened air pollution, and details of new federal legislation to monitor air quality.

A recent Columbia University report found that automotive congestion worsened between 2017 and 2019 in residential and mixed-use neighborhoods of Mott Haven and Port Morris in the South Bronx, an area already overburdened by environmental pollution from interstate highways and industrial activity. This congestion contributes to traffic-related air pollution and to high rates of asthma prevalence in Mott Haven and Port Morris (17 percent of children ages 4 and 5) and traffic-related pedestrian injuries (43 hospitalizations per 100,000 people vs. 23 citywide). Moreover, the trend of increasing congestion could potentially represent an environmental health disparity as other more affluent areas in NYC are planning interventions to reduce congestion, e.g., the “congestion pricing” policy which would discourage drivers from entering the “Central Business District” in Manhattan, NYC. Traffic-related air pollution is also associated with hypertension, heart attacks, and stroke

In February 2022, Rep. Torres, along with Reps. Castor (FL) and Blunt Rochester (DE), introduced the “Environmental Justice Air Quality Monitoring Act” which would help address pollution in environmental justice communities by expanding access to local air quality data. 

The legislation would establish a five-year pilot program for hyperlocal air quality monitoring projects in communities of color, low-income communities, and other underserved neighborhoods. Under a $100 million annual budget, the program would enable state, local, and Tribal air agencies to partner with local nonprofit organizations or air quality data providers to identify block-level hotspots for multiple pollutants, empowering them to use this data to build online mapping tools, inform local communities and air pollution managers about where poor air quality exists, and recommend a course of action to reduce pollution in identified hotspots.

“Communities of color, like the South Bronx, have long been exposed to elevated levels of air pollution that gravely impact all aspects of our health: physical, mental, and emotional. Our current infrastructure cannot measure block-level variation in air pollution, which is why I am proud to introduce the Environmental Justice Air Quality Monitoring Act to create a pilot program to facilitate local-level air pollution monitoring. Identifying block-level hot spots will inform communities and spur action to reduce air pollution in high-risk areas. I am proud to partner with Reps. Castor and Blunt Rochester to advance environmental justice for all communities and I look forward to this legislation becoming law,” said Rep. Ritchie Torres.

Rep. Torres and environmental activists from Loving the Bronx and South Bronx Unite are also pushing for capping the Cross Bronx Expressway and ensuring that the highway can be used to reduce pollution through air filters and more innovative technology.

“It is critical that local environmental justice communities are given the tools and the partnerships to monitor and document that which causes them disproportionate harm. The Environmental Justice Air Quality Monitoring Act will save lives, and we applaud efforts to finance researching and mitigating harm,” said Mychal Johnson, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, a nonprofit organization in the South Bronx working with Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health to track air and noise pollution in the South Bronx where asthma rates are eight times the national average.

“When we talk about the major causes of death in The Bronx, we often mention heart disease, cancer, stroke, and asthma. But what is the actual cause underlying these diseases? Air pollution is a major factor in all of them. So one cure for these diseases is to reduce vehicle exhaust and build green space,” said Peter Muennig, Professor of Health Policy & Management, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.


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