Thursday, August 05, 2004

Harlem's High Asthma Rates

It was recently reported that Central Harlem, NY has one quarter of its young people suffering from asthma. Yet, the elected and appointed officials continue to pretend not to know why this is occuring.

There was a recent claim that the cause was exposure to roaches. However, as a member of a family who has roots going back to the 1920's in Harlem, I can assure you that Harlem has been living with roaches and mice since at least then. As a historical note, I remember my grandmother wondering in the 1980's if the rat and roach poison she put out back then was still impacting on the land and the people.

If modern science, which has been proven to be for sale, pretends not to know what's really going on, consider this:


Harlem is surrounded by 5 Open Sewers, North River Water Pollution Control Plant, Wards Island, Tallmans Island Water Pollution Control Plant, and Bowery Bay Water Pollution Control Plants. The year after North River was built there was a radical rise in the infant mortality rate. However too many people are making too much money keeping the system as is, so the roaches are blamed. Can't blame everything on Canada.

The two most obvious, North River (135th & Hudson River, 10027) and Wards Island (Wards Island, NYC 10035) Water Pollution Control Plants (Sewage Treatment Plants) are on the west side of Harlem and in the river off of the east side respectively.

In great part due to the open windows at all ends of the North River Water Pollution Control Plant, and outdoor tanks at Wards Island, Harlem is breathing, daily, volatile organic compounds (VOC's -airborne living organisms) from these sewage tanks.

Across the river on the east side, Harlem is also close to Hunts Point Water Pollution Control Plant, Tallmans Island Water Pollution Control Plant, and Bowery Bay Water Pollution Control Plant. You can find a map of the NYC sewer system as published by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Politics and common sense need to merge in Harlem. Her best park, Riverbank State Park, is located over the North River plant and has people, among them children and seniors, exercising over an open sewer…not healthy. The NYC EPA says “The roof of the building is the home of Riverbank State Park, a popular recreational facility with three swimming pools, an amphitheater, an athletic center, a skating rink, a restaurant and sports fields - and, of the two New York State park facilities in the City, the only one built on top of a water pollution control plant.” It’s won many awards while placing Harlem residents in danger of toxic chemicals, methane gas and mutating germs.

Established Harlem leadership had decided to put a Hudson River mall just south of the sewer. Don't they think that the funk from the sewer may affect the quality of the meal? There are germs in the sewer air. Environmentalists are being honored in Harlem who keep the conversation about odor and flow rather than toxins and germs and toxic chemicals coming off the sewers.

Sewer System As A Source of Germ Disbursement: “The greatest danger…in breathing of sewer air is that of inhaling with it the living particles (bacilli, etc.) contained or developed in the excrement of diseased persons.” {Roger S. Tracy, Handbook Of Sanitary Information For Households, NY Appleton, 1895}

Sick people from all over the world come to New York City to benefit from her extraordinary medical system. Though hospital waste is handled separately from the general sewer system, during the time before sick people check into the hospital, and, if they remain in the city, after they leave, they are using the general sewer facilities.

In this time of terrorism, toxic materials (both medical and chemical that could cause illness and death) can be dropped into the sewer system and a large portion of the population could be impacted days after the event. Floating material could contain harmful elements and the results, devastating. This is because many, if not all of the NYC sewer plants, are not covered and in some cases could be easily contaminated from street or building levels without the culprit being noticed.

At North River, the large windows by the tanks are open. At Ward’s Island, the tanks are outside. Though we are encouraged to take comfort in the fact that chlorine kills 85-95% of the germs in the sewer, the more relevant question is what is in the other 5-15% that is strong enough to survive chlorine, food additives, genetically altered foods, human growth hormone, antibiotics, etc. Consider what happens when those strong germs and toxic chemicals get together in North River’s secondary tanks, with their steam wafting off the tanks next to open windows. Also, the additional chlorine put into the environment via tap water and flushed into the river can have a seepage effect on the land it comes in contact with, further empowering mutating bacteria.

The water in North River’s secondary tanks frequently has steam coming off them, which lifts some germs and they become air borne. Harlem's infant morality rate in the year after the North River Plant went into operation was 2.5 times higher than the rest of the City. Yet the discussion is limited to odor and flow, which haven’t killed anybody.
When you connect the dots between when the North River plant was open and rises and falls in her infant mortality rates over the years, you’ll see a direct correlation.

North River Plant and Infant Mortality Rates in
NYC & Harlem 1984-1993

Year (Event at North River plant), NYC, Harlem
1984 (Plant Construction), 13.6, 16.0
1985 (Plant built), 13.4, 23.3
1986, 12.8, 27.6
1987, 13.1, 20.9
1988, 13.4, 22.0
1989, 13.3, 23.4
1990, 7.6, 27.7
1991 (Primary Tanks Covered), 11.4, 19.2
1992, 10.2, 15.9
1993 - (Crack in tank), 10.2, 25.

Shortly after I published this data, the information source dried up. I had children with oxygen masks protesting the plant and the damage it was doing to them in the mid-90's.

What needs to happen to correct the problem?

First, the windows need to be covered or, like at Ward's Island where the open sewer tanks are outside, at least the tanks sealed, like what was in the original plans. “The problem with covering and air treating the secondary tanks is one of expense … NYCDEP’s rough estimate for subjecting the secondary tanks in a similar odor control system as that for the primary tank is in excess of $100 million.” From “The Smell of Success? An assessment of Odor Control Measures at the North River Water Pollution Control Plant” (June, 1994)

Where are they shopping? Tiffany’s? We need to honestly evaluate the situation at hand. Consider using sealed aircraft aluminum covers for the secondary tanks and using a NYC labor pool, featuring Harlem residents trained for the job.

Community residents will be motivated to do a good job because they and their families are breathing the air.

Second, regular testing of the sewer's contents and airborne materials need to be done and the results published. They test for indicator gases, but with the level of chemical reactions that can happen when various chemicals are mixed, we need to test for what is in the air.

The people have a right to know what's in the air, water and land more than they need a say over "is coke or pepsi or snaple going to get the vending contract for the park on top of the sewer, Riverbank State Park, the best park in Harlem.

As we remove or control the cause of the problem, the effects, what we experience as reality, will diminish like what happened in 1991 when the primary tanks were covered.

I've put up a page on Harlem's environmental crisis.

Please, tell New York's elected and appointed officials to stop leaving New Yorkers in danger of environmental hazards like when the WTC fell, and cover the 5 open sewers.

I still feel deep sorrow toward the mayor and the govenor about their silence concerning the EPA lying about the dangers in the dust. Yet, the congressmen, senators and many elected and appointed officials in Harlem are just as silent as the children die from asthma.

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