Brooklyn Heights

Expert: City’s BQE plan could bring dangerous levels of toxic pollution to Brooklyn Heights

December 17, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The BQE’s triple-cantilever, topped by the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Photo by Don Evans
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Forget the traffic, noise, disruption and dust-filled air. The biggest danger from temporarily replacing the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) will be invisible and insidious, says Laurie Garrett, former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Garrett, Pulitzer Prize-winning author on global public health, says that toxic particulate matter released by the 153,000 trucks and cars that travel the BQE daily could affect the health of Heights residents for years — including children who attend school in the neighborhood.

Tiny, airborne particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter are known as PM 2.5. According to the city’s Health Department, PM 2.5 particles are the most harmful urban air pollutant, small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, worsening lung and heart disease.

A Health Department report confirms high levels of particulates emanating from the BQE. The shape of the BQE can be seen in a map showing particulates collected by the city’s monitoring units.

The shape of the BQE can be seen in this map showing dangerous particulates collected by the city’s monitoring units.
Map courtesy of the NYC DOH


Studies Link PM 2.5 to Host of Ailments

Garrett told the Brooklyn Eagle that currently the overhang of the Promenade partially protects Height residents from plumes of PM 2.5 particulates. Raising the BQE to sit atop the Promenade, however, will bring a toxic cloud to street and garden level.

In an open letter to Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, Garrett cited some of the health data associated with PM 2.5 particulates.

Globally, PM 2.5 air pollution cuts an average of two years off life expectancies for children that grow up breathing the toxins, she said. An estimated 8.9 million people died worldwide from air pollution exposure in 2015, primarily from fuel and auto emitted PM 2.5.

Studies have linked residential proximity to high traffic roadways to autism in children and Alzheimer’s and other dementia in adults. It also has been linked to decreased productivity on the job.

Childhood exposure to PM 2.5 pollution is linked to lower IQ and academic performance, regardless of the youngsters’ social/economic class, Garrett said, noting the number of schools in the area, including P.S. 8, St. Ann’s, Packer, several pre-K schools and daycare centers an St. Francis College.]


Pollution from Vehicles Worse than Pollution from Construction

In an article in the Eagle last week, Assemblymember Simon cited a 2012 study conducted by researchers at Lutheran Medical Center (now known as NYU Langone Hospital–Brooklyn) and SUNY Downstate Medical Center which found that living near a heavily congested highway correlates with a higher presence of asthma.

The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, reported higher rates of asthma among those living closer to the BQE (aka I-278), near a portion known as the Gowanus Expressway. Those living in the same community but farther from the Interstate had lower levels of hospital admissions.

Assemblymember Simon noted that construction would also causes air pollution. If the job were to proceed on a traditional lane-by-lane basis, another option DOT has considered, construction — and its pollution — could last up to two years longer, she said last week.

Garrett said, however, that the dust and other matter raised by construction is not as dangerous as PM 2.5 particulates.

“Many people confuse ‘particulate matter’ with ‘particles,’ and polluting industries have worked had to sow such confusion. They would like the public to believe that the invisible isn’t harmful – just big particles, such as bits of construction matter or clouds of demolition dust,” Garrett said.

She added, “In general, if you can see it, the particle can irritate, but not kill you.”

The Brooklyn Heights Association and local officials met with DOT on Nov. 18 to present their alternate proposal, which would route a temporary BQE over the eastern edge of Brooklyn Bridge Park, far below the residential neighborhood.

Any plan must go through the city’s environmental impact process.

In a letter to Brooklyn Heights neighbors last week, Garrett urged residents to prepare “EIS ammo,” referring to the required Environmental Impact Study.

“It is clear that officials are moving rapidly on each step of the process, and anybody that thinks this problem is going to ‘go away’ is sadly self-deceiving,” she wrote

She added, “A city EIS process will likely commence in early 2019, and the window for response will be quite small.”



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  1. Brooklyn Barry

    This is nonsense. It’s not about air pollution and potential health issues, it’s about property values in Brooklyn Heights. How many other neighborhoods along the BQE heading north have a promenade to block pollution? Besides, all of Manhattan below 125th street shows up red like the areas around the BQE. Stop grasping at straws and let it happen.

    • It’s not nonsense. It’s an environmental assault on Brooklyn. Moving the BQE to Promenade level will unleash emissions from 150,000 vehicles a day into the ears, noses, and mouths of locals. This includes CO, CH4, CO2, ozone, PM 2.5, lead, mercury and other pollutants that the Promenade previously shielded them from.

      The community will be exposed to illnesses like lung and heart disease with shorter life-expectancy rates. Children growing up nearby will be at risk of becoming physically and mentally slow. There are over 15 schools in the area, thousands of kids will be affected.

      The plan is an environmental disaster. NYC is supposed to be a green city committed to the COP21 and climate change mitigation. The BQE rehab provides an opportunity to reduce planetary greenhouse gas emissions – for instance via congestion pricing or tolling. Instead, the city is pushing a plan that doesn’t even meet their own environmental and health safety regulations.

  2. The DOT’s plan is alarming. I feel for the community by the BQE. The plan will unleash a toxic health nightmare, especially on small children and the elderly. There’s at least 15 schools in the area, mostly nursery schools and K-5.

    What about the alternative proposal to build a temporary highway under the promenade, along the berms? Seems like this plan would mitigate the pollution issue. It would also cost less and take less time than the DOT’s current proposal. Why isn’t the DOT going with a more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient proposal?

  3. This pollution argument seems specious to me, although I do not support the idea of replacing the Promenade with a six-lane highway. Aren’t the particles and pollution still being emitted by cars/trucks below the Promenade right now? And where are the particles/pollution going right now? The mess is airborne, may be “blocked” somewhat by Promenade but all that crap is certainly going somewhere right now…like into kids’ lungs, no? There is a 6 lane highway right on the edge of the Heights right now…if you’re worried about pollution, you need to move far, far from NYC right now…