Air quality near the Peace Bridge meets federal standards, according to a study released Wednesday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and is no worse than anywhere else in Buffalo.
The study was based on samples collected between August 2012 and mid-March at two air-monitoring sites – downwind of the bridge plaza in a vacant lot at Busti Avenue and Vermont Street and upwind at the southwest corner of Front Park.
“Results from this phase of testing indicate that mobile source emissions from the Peace Bridge Plaza are not impacting overall air quality significantly,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. The DEC will test air quality again after the plaza renovations are finished to see if there are any changes.
The report drew immediate criticism from environmentalists and neighborhood activists, who challenged how it was conducted said it contradicts other studies that found high levels of air pollution.
The DEC report said that levels of fine particulate matter and black carbon, associated with combustion of diesel fuel and other fuels, were similar at both test sites, “which indicates the plaza is not a significant source of [particulate matter] in the surrounding neighborhood.”
The report added that there was a slight increase in black carbon downwind during heavy Peace Bridge traffic in the afternoon.
“Overall,” the DEC stated, “the data suggest that there are no significant differences between air quality in the plaza neighborhood and in the City of Buffalo overall.”
The report drew sharp criticism from Erin Heaney, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.
“You can’t find what you’re not looking for,” Heaney said Wednesday evening. “We’ve expressed concern from the very beginning that the study was not looking for ultrafine particles.
“Second,” she continued, “I believe there is only one other air monitor in the City of Buffalo and I’m not even sure it’s monitoring the same thing.
“Third,” she added, “I have concerns about how science is being used by the Cuomo administration and I have concerns about the rigors and the understanding of the DEC.”
Kathleen Mecca, president of Columbus Park Association, a Peace Bridge-area group, also disputed the DEC’s methods.
“I completely disagree with these findings,” she said Wednesday evening. “There is tons of empirical data out there that contradicts what the DEC did.”
Mecca said that the air samples were taken during months when traffic is not at its peak on the bridge and in locations different from where studies were made that showed high levels of pollution from diesel engines.
“How can they come up with different conclusions from the World Health Organization or the Harvard School of Health or the American Cancer Society?
“Every pregnant mother on the West Side is breathing these toxins from diesel exhaust and so are their unborn babies. Unfortunately, the question is this – has the government done enough to protect us?”
The DEC’s announcement of the results included support from two members of the Buffalo area’s legislative delegation in Albany.
“I am pleased that air testing has shown no significant air quality concerns in communities near the Peace Bridge Plaza,” said State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo. “This is an important project for Western New York and it is vital that the state continue to work with local residents to address their concerns and ensure that it is beneficial for all of Western New York.”
State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said, “I commend the DEC for working with the community on this project to ensure the Peace Bridge maintains the environmental standards that Western New Yorkers expect and deserve. I’m proud to be a part of these ongoing efforts, and I look forward to continuing our work with the DEC and local residents to protect and improve air quality for all Buffalo neighborhoods.”