Brooklyn Boro

BQE pollution must be studied before rehab, expert says

September 24, 2019 Mary Frost
Global health expert Laurie Garrett says scientists need to conduct an air pollution study before the city decides on a plan to rebuild the BQE. Shown: Garrett on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade overlooking the BQE and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
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A global health expert is urging officials to fund a BQE air pollution study before the city’s Department of Transportation decides on a plan to rebuild a 1.5-mile section of the rapidly deteriorating highway running next to Brooklyn Heights.

Scientists at Columbia University have been unable to raise the minimum of $100,000 needed for the study, however.

Laurie Garrett, a former senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, believes the Brooklyn Heights Promenade’s overhang has been shielding the neighborhood from the worst of the emissions emanating from the 153,000 vehicles a day traveling along the BQE. If the DOT’s plan goes through, the promenade would be torn down.

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“We know that the promenade is buffering noise. We also are quite confident that it buffers the pollution as well,” Garrett said.

The unique shape of the triple cantilever underpinning the promenade and the typical prevailing wind direction likely work together to flush pollutants away from the neighborhood, Garrett says.

That would have major implications if the highway’s design is changed as part of its upcoming reconstruction. But the data informing this design aspect is not there yet, and Garrett is proposing a study in collaboration with Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and its Earth Institute, which carried out a similar study for the Cross Bronx Expressway several years ago.

The hypothesis is that the promenade “acts as a lid, holding pollutants beneath residents, and buffers noise,” Garrett, a Brooklyn Heights resident, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

She has worked with scientists from the Earth Institute and the Mailman School of Public Health as well as the Brooklyn Heights Association to design a study and determine placements for monitoring devices — but the group has been unable to raise the $100,00 needed.

“It’s proven much more difficult than I expected,” Garrett said.

The study would require the placement of five to 10 sensors under, over and below the BQE, maintained and monitored by graduate students.

The $100,000 figure would cover the minimum of five sensors. Ten sensors would allow the team to study the air over the BQE “trench” in Cobble Hill and the air in DUMBO as well, she said. While cheaper sensors are available, Garrett said the higher quality models will provide data “that will stand up in court.”

“We also hope to put sensors inside homes near the promenade,” she said. “I don’t think we’d have any trouble mustering volunteers.”

Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Laurie Garrett on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade overlooking the BQE.  Eagle photo by Mary Frost

The city appears to be moving forward with the design process without this data. Thousands of trucks from the BQE could be diverted onto the streets of Brooklyn if repairs on the aging structure aren’t completed before it reaches its expiration date in 2026.

“The Brooklyn Heights Association strongly supports efforts to monitor emissions and pollution levels at the promenade as well as at other places where the BQE closely intersects with our neighborhood,” Lara Birnback, BHA’s executive director, told the Eagle.

“It’s not hard to imagine that toxic pollution from the BQE spills into Brooklyn Heights and into all of the highway’s neighboring homes and streets — the city needs to take advantage of this opportunity to understand what we’re all dealing with and take steps to mitigate any ill effects.”

One of the proposals DOT has been considering would temporarily replace the landmarked promenade with a six-lane highway during the eight-to-10-year reconstruction of the BQE. This would bring toxic particulate matter directly up into the neighborhood, with potentially grave health consequences, according to Garrett.

DOT says it is considering a number of alternate BQE designs that have been suggested by local residents, officials and design firms.

“NYCDOT is exploring other concepts, including options (like the Brooklyn Heights Association’s proposal) that utilize portions of Brooklyn Bridge Park,” the agency’s BQE page reads. “This work requires significant engineering analysis, and we ask for your patience as we continue to study these proposals.”

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  1. misanthropingnyer

    Caton Avenue which has no buffer from noise or a shield from pollution needs to be included in this study. The BQE traffic feeds into Caton Avenue for deliveries across Brooklyn!!!!!!!!

  2. Roberto Gautier

    Why would the DOT think that data on air pollution is not vital to the BQE project? Elected officials must insist that any environmental impacts of the BQE project be studied in depth before the work begins.

    • Roberto Gautier

      Studies are not enough. We need to be vigilant. Before cheering that a study is being done, we should be sure that government officials will take effective measures to protect citizens. Simply having a study find that pollution is bad for our health has been the useless end point while our health and quality of life are endlessly put in danger. We need enforcement of real environmental protections.