Albany's South End Neighborhood Air Quality Initiative Is Operational

Jul 28, 2017

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos joined other officials Wednesday at Albany's Ezra Prentice Homes.  The visit comes amid ongoing discussion about quality-of-life in the city's South End.

Residents have voiced concerns about their health and safety for years. In 2014, alarmed about a plan by Global Companies to build a crude oil heating facility at the nearby port of Albany, First Ward Common Councilmember Dorcey Applyrs led a drive that resulted in a series of meetings over neighborhood safety issues.

200 Concerned South End neighborhood residents spoke out February 2014 in Albany about health and safety concerns surrounding Global Companies’ proposal to build seven oil heating facilities at the Port of Albany and increase the amount of oil being shipped through the port.
Credit WAMC Composite Photo by Dave Lucas

There were fears of exploding oil trains prompted by several incidents across North America. Rail safety was a major headline-grabber following the July 2013 disaster in Quebec that killed 47 people. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and several environmental activist groups joined the ranks of the concerned. Those fears since have subsided with market shifts in the demand for crude oil. But that was just for starters.

People living in and around the Ezra Prentice homes claimed to be sick from noxious fumes emanating from the port of Albany. Applyrs welcomed reporters who showed up to experience firsthand the diesel smoke and noise generated by the many large trucks making their way through the South Pearl Street neighborhood.  "We know that there are roughly 1,000 trucks traveling on this street in this residential community on a daily basis."

Applyrs was there for the protests, citizen action initiatives and community forums, including an August 2016 town hall where DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos promised an air monitoring study would soon begin in the neighborhood, a  $500,000 DEC environmental improvement program tasked with evaluating the impact of diesel emissions there. He returned to Ezra Prentice Wednesday to explain the year-long study has begun.

Seggos pointed out that the agency has erected a state-of-the-art quality monitoring system on the Ezra Prentice grounds. Its real-time sensors collect and analyze air samples.   "And this is now to the minute. Particulate matter. Nitrogen-oxide emissions and black carbon. This is in an effort to get a better understanding what this community here, what the South End has been enduring relative to truck traffic in the area, the use of diesel trucks, benzene emissions and any of the other stationary source problems that we have in this area. I mean, the port is obviously right nearby. We wanna make sure that we have good sense of the picture of emissions that's happening from the port, and we want the public to be made aware of it on a real-time basis. This is one of its kind, because, there are few stationary sources of monitoring where we take the data on a real-time basis, not only apply it to video screens here where people can get a sense of what they're breathing, but apply that data, apply that science into our regulatory decision-making, so we can adapt our regulatory decision-making real-time when problems occur."

Students work with the DEC on the air quality survey.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Several area students are working with the DEC on the air quality survey. They've become a common sight along South Pearl Street carrying instrument-laden backpacks — "mobile monitors" that measure pollutants in the air.   "That's giving us a sense from an area-wide basis what the contaminant picture looks like at the street level. Marrying that data from those backpacks into this stationary monitoring device is providing this really comprehensive approach to air monitoring."

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan pronounced the DEC installation "the delivery on a promise."  "What you see behind me is a commitment is getting down to a true understanding of what's happening to air quality here, to a true understanding of what this issue is. We're not gonna sweep it under the rug. We're gonna get the facts and we're gonna report those facts to the community. And then we're going to figure out what we need to do to make sure that residents here can rest easy at night. That they can see their children play at that playground across the street, and not worry about what they're breathing in."

At the end of the year-long study, a list of recommendations will be compiled and reviewed, in anticipation of remedying pollutions detected.

Seggos noted the DEC will take the model developed at the Prentice site and apply it to at least six other locations statewide.