For almost as long as there’s been a Peace Bridge, neighbors living near the international span have complained about exhaust fumes and raised questions about effects on their health.
Now, after a 2013 study pronounced Peace Bridge air quality safe, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is testing the area once again. It wants to find out exactly what’s in the emissions of thousands of cars and trucks lined up at U.S. inspection booths every day. The monitoring of the air quality already has begun in the West Side neighborhood, the state announced Thursday. Long lines of summertime traffic have idled as much as 2½ hours in Peace Bridge delays this summer. Meanwhile, some area residents say the problem has been studied enough, and they believe science already shows that the neighborhood air is unsafe.
“What residents need is a solution to the exposure, and our position is to move the trucks off the Peace Bridge,” said Kathleen Mecca, president of the Niagara Gateway Columbus Park Association.
The new yearlong study will gather data about the presence of any harmful particles in the air as well as seasonal changes in air quality associated with traffic patterns near the bridge, according to the DEC. It follows a study based on samples collected between August 2012 and mid-March 2013 at two air-monitoring sites. That effort found no significant problems at the bridge.
“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 then.
But that report drew sharp criticism from environmentalists and neighborhood activists, who challenged how it was conducted and said it contradicted other studies that found high levels of air pollution.
“You can’t find what you’re not looking for,” Clean Air Coalition Executive Director Erin Heaney said at the time. “We’ve expressed concern from the very beginning that the study was not looking for ultrafine particles.”
The DEC’s six-month study in 2012 and 2013 focused on particulate matter and black carbon, concluding the air quality met state and federal standards. The department made it clear in announcing the effort Thursday, however, that it would gather data on volatile organic compounds and ultrafine particles.
The DEC said it will hold a public meeting to discuss the study and answer questions from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 15 in the Niagara Branch Library at 280 Porter Ave. A Spanish-language interpreter will assist.