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DEC: Peace Bridge air quality study finds conditions meet federal standards


Wed, Sep 21st 2016 01:10 pm

Agency: Results similar to other New York urban areas; continues calls on EPA to lower emission standards for diesel trucks, evaluate new standards for ultrafine particles

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced today the results of an extensive air monitoring study conducted on the west side of Buffalo near the U.S. Peace Bridge Plaza indicate air quality in this area is consistent with levels found in other similarly sized metropolitan areas, and meets federal standards. 

The study was designed with public input and assessed changes in air quality associated with the redesign of the Peace Bridge Plaza and access to the I-190. The study expanded upon an initial DEC investigation conducted between 2012 and 2013. Using two air monitors and data collected by community members, the study measured black carbon, carbonyls, fine particulate matter, ultrafine particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds over a full year, allowing DEC to compare data to annual standards and guideline concentrations, and to capture periods when traffic is heavier on the Peace Bridge and I-190.

"DEC is deeply committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers have clean air to breathe," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. "Our comprehensive scientific analysis has shown that air quality near the Peace Bridge meets current applicable federal health-based standards and is comparable to air quality near high-traffic corridors in other parts of our state.

"While these findings are encouraging, DEC continues to call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve emission standards for diesel trucks to better protect public health and the environment of Buffalo's west side and across the nation. The EPA must also launch a health assessment on ultrafine particles and, if appropriate, prioritize establishment of a new standard for these emerging pollutants of concern."

DEC developed the study in response to community concerns that its previous air quality study did not include a full year of monitoring or other air pollutants associated with motor vehicle emissions. To accommodate the feedback and input received from the community, the new study spanned well over a year and included data gathering from August 2014 through September 2015, followed by a rigorous technical review through the summer of 2016. Two air monitors were placed in the west side residential community, one located close to and downwind of the Peace Bridge Customs Plaza on Busti Avenue, and a second monitor at Public School 198.

The continuous, 24-hour monitoring of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at both sites measured levels below the daily and the Environmental Protection Agency's annual national ambient air quality standard. Additionally, the average levels of PM2.5 from both monitoring locations were similar, indicating the primary contributor of PM2.5 to the area is from sources outside of the area. The monitoring documented a modestly higher increase in PM2.5 concentrations in the neighborhood closest to the Peace Bridge, which correlated with the pattern of daily automobile and truck traffic on the bridge. Even with the slight increase, the levels are still well below the federal standards.

DEC also measured pollutants for which the EPA has not developed air quality standards, including black carbon and ultrafine particles, which have been associated with diesel-powered vehicle emissions. Black carbon concentrations corresponded with Peace Bridge truck traffic volume on weekdays. Analysis for ultrafine particles found that an increase in automobile and truck traffic contributed to higher particle counts at the Busti Avenue site. The highest particle counts were associated with truck traffic on weekdays during the winter months.

As EPA has not established a national standard for ultrafine particles, the state is now pressing EPA to explore establishment of such a standard to assess the long-term impacts associated with these pollutants. 

Both the black carbon concentrations and ultrafine particle counts were lower than results obtained from DEC air quality monitors located in other urban centers in New York, near heavily traveled roads in Buffalo and Rochester.

Air monitoring for mobile source air toxics (volatile organic compounds and carbonyls) was conducted at the Busti Avenue site, where these types of pollutants were expected to have higher concentrations. The results revealed concentrations at levels comparable to other similarly sized metropolitan areas.

The DEC said New York state has one of the largest air-monitoring networks in the country, working to ensure air quality meets EPA standards. Through this effort, the state has identified elevated levels of several toxic pollutants from cars and trucks across the state, and levels of ozone downstate that exceed federal standards. As EPA sets national ambient air quality standards and has primary authority over regulation of motor vehicle emissions and fuel composition, the state continues to press EPA to move more aggressively to address levels of ozone and other pollutants outlined in DEC's recent letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on the national level.

While the new emission standards for heavy-duty trucks announced by the Obama administration are a step forward, the DEC said, they only address carbon dioxide emissions and not other pollutants of concern. 

DEC will continue to collect data focused on mobile source emissions at near-road monitors in Buffalo and Rochester, and will soon be establishing one in Queens. These results, along with the findings from this study, will provide health researchers with the information necessary to investigate linkages between near-road vehicle emissions and human health outcomes.

A copy of the study report can be found online at http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/83984.html.

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