By William L. Scheider
The Peace Bridge article in the April 13 Viewpoints section calls to mind the archer who claimed a bull’s-eye, but shot the arrow first and then painted a target around it. The “study” referred to was not a study, but a selective compilation of information designed to obscure the impact of Peace Bridge traffic, especially diesel trucks, on the health of residents in nearby neighborhoods.
Scientific studies conducted by local asthma doctor and researcher Dr. Jamson Lwebuga-Mukasa build a strong case for a link between Peace Bridge traffic and asthma prevalence on the Lower West Side. A survey of 2,000 randomly selected households found that the odds of having at least one person with asthma per household on Buffalo’s West Side was 2.57 times that of Buffalo’s East Side. This relationship persisted even after taking into account race, household triggers of asthma and socioeconomic factors. Another study of emergency room utilization and hospital discharges due to asthma found that “current traffic levels not only contribute to asthma and other respiratory disease exacerbations but may also contribute to high asthma prevalence on Buffalo’s West Side in comparison with other Buffalo communities.”
A comprehensive study of vehicle emissions funded by the Health Effects Institute concluded that, “The Peace Bridge plaza and the adjacent neighborhood represent a classic mobile-source hot spot.” Although an HEI review panel challenged this conclusion by comparing Buffalo’s West Side with cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Houston, doing so is like saying a person who drinks a quart of whiskey every day does not have a drinking problem because there are people who drink two quarts a day.
The article cites economic benefits of truck traffic. This cuts to the core of the Peace Bridge issue: Benefits arising from the bridge and proposed plaza expansion accrue to people who live far from the Lower West Side, while residents of the area suffer the health risks and lower quality of life from bridge traffic. Gaining a voice for residents in the plaza planning process has been an uphill battle, and residents’ concerns are usually dismissed or ignored.
Viable alternatives include diverting some truck traffic to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and enhancing traffic flow by increasing the number of customs inspectors, as well as pre-inspection on the Canadian side. Also, effects of emissions can be cut by enforcing no-idling laws and establishing “green barriers” to prevent pollution from migrating into neighborhoods.
The state agencies that released the so-called study are charged with serving the public. It is time for them to undertake this role rather than serving as handmaidens for the few who would profit from an ill-conceived project.
William L. Scheider, Ph.D., is an environmental health scientist and educator in Clarence Center.