Counting The Particles In The Air

March 28, 2017

The State of New York takes responsibility for the
quality of the air in the South End

Something amazing has been happening in the South End of Albany, down at the Ezra Prentice Homes neighborhood along South Pearl Street. The residents of the complex of apartments stretched along the train tracks have banded together into a tenants association that is fighting back against the daily barrage of deadly pollution that blows in from both the trains and from the constant parade of diesel trucks barreling down the street. The tenant’s association has become a permanent fixture, maintained by a hardcore group that is determined to improve the quality of life for themselves and for their beleaguered neighbors.

That’s not the amazing story. The real news is that the tenants association is succeeding beyond all expectations, as authorities both public and private have started taking this neighborhood very seriously after ignoring and neglecting them for far too long. The neighbors have found some very powerful allies both local and national who are helping them in their fight. And as I learned at a meeting in early March, their battle to upgrade their neighborhood has somehow induced the State of New York to completely change their methods for dealing with air quality issues and for meeting the needs of the public that they are supposed to be serving.

Brian Frank Of The Emissions Measurement Research Group Explains The Air Monitoring Process At The Ezra Prentice Community Room Brian Frank Of The Emissions Measurement Research Group Explains The Air Monitoring Process At The Ezra Prentice Community Room

On March 8 of this year I sat in yet another well-attended public meeting at the Ezra Prentice Community Center on South Pearl Street to hear a NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) employee named Brian Frank explain what he and his co-workers were going to do about the bad air around this neighborhood. He heads a newly formed Emissions Measurement Research Group which is part of the DEC Division of Air Resources. This, he told us right at the start, was the first time his research group was talking to the public.

We were told by Mr. Frank that the effectiveness of this new Emissions Measurement Research Group is greatly facilitated by some new technology that has recently “come onto the market,” some of it so new that they are still waiting for backordered equipment to arrive. Unlike the larger clunky monitoring boxes with limited use that air researchers are used to using, these are small devices with multiple functions hooked up to GPS that fit in your pocket like a phone. This new generation of monitoring equipment opens up new possibilities for researchers and makes it easier to collect and handle data and can better serve the public in innovative ways.

I have to say it was strange and astonishing to hear State officials going out of their way to deliver to the public policies they were asking for. Mr. Frank explained that his new group was beginning their air monitoring work with the Ezra Prentice neighborhood for a very simple reason, “The community came to us.” He also pointed out that their office was located next door in the Port of Albany, “So it is very convenient for us.” Of course it does appear that the their offices were located so close to the neighborhood mainly so they could begin work nearby.

Photo Taken Late July, 2016, Astonished To See No Oil Tankers Parked At The Global Dock In The Port Of Albany Photo Taken Late July, 2016, Astonished To See No Oil Tankers Parked At The Global Dock In The Port Of Albany

Then again another reason for this amazing responsiveness by the State is the successful lawsuits. Since July of last year the shipments of oil by train to the Port of Albany have ceased due to a lawsuit filed in 2014 by Earthjustice and the Ezra Prentice Tenants Association along with a crowd of environmental groups that have signed on. The courts have ruled that the main oil handler at the port, Global LLC, did not give correct information on its application for a permit to operate at the Port of Albany and that proper procedure was not followed in granting that permit. From the Earthjustice website:

On September 16, the State DEC informed Global that its Port of Albany air permit renewal application will be considered as an entirely new application, requiring additional information to address issues identified by DEC and restarting the State’s environmental review process. On January 26, 2017, a broad coalition including the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association, represented by Earthjustice, notified Global of their intent to file a federal lawsuit against the company. The coalition’s letter claims that because Global’s expired permit was not renewed and it has not yet been issued a new permit, the company has been illegally operating the Albany facility since September.