Coming to NYU, we tend to look at the benefits of the city: 24-hour anything, job opportunities, shopping, nightlife, fashion, theater- the list goes on. What we don’t always consider is the health effects the city has on our bodies. It’s common knowledge that cities come with their smog, germs, and dirt, but the question arises: in a city like NYC, where the pump of pollutants into the air is extreme and constant, is what we breathe harming our bodies? What do we New Yorkers inhale on a day-to-day basis?
This year Travel + Leisure Magazine ranked NYC as the dirtiest city in America, up from its place at number 5 last year. While internationally it didn’t make Forbes’ list of 25 most polluted cities in the world, its dirtiness index does serve as the standard of which all of the dirties cities are measured against. These facts are cause for alarm.
Founder of Urban Arborists (which is just what it sounds like), and author of many environmental books, Bill Logan took some time with the NY Daily News to explore the city and find out what type of pollutants were out there. Using a tiny vacuum cleaner rigged to capture only the smallest particles and trap them in an uncontaminated canister, Logan traveled to various parts of New York City to sample the different types of air pollutants. While traditional pollution is to be expected: bacteria, dirt, pollen, dust, and carbon emissions. The array of things he found was surprising and shocking.
The array of things Logan found in the air was extensive, and included bits of clothing, carbon materials, rubber, rust, fungus, starch, paint, glass and fat. Logan remarked to the NY Daily News: “ A neighborhood’s air is an invisible stamp of its business, lifestyle and even culture,” which explains the readings in Williamsburg, for example. The “hipster sample,” as Logan calls it, contains elevated levels of blue jeans, tire rubber, nail polish and pollen. Similarly, he calls attention to his samples in Chinatown, whose starch elevations were extremely high, explaining that those numbers probably come from the cooking of noodles and rice, and from the many laundromats near where the sample was taken. Logan turned his samples into a map titled “inhaling a city,” where he shows slides of a few of the samples he takes, and lays them out on a map of NY to show what he found in various neighborhoods.
Breathing in dust and finding higher concentrations of pollen and carbon emissions characterizes classic city-air. However, we don’t always think about the non-traditional more harmful things we’re breathing: paints, bits of glass, and fat. So, what effect does this high concentration of diverse pollutants mean for the (literal) NYU student body? Pollutants do things such as irritate asthma (and cause asthma), and can contribute to long-term negative tolls on your respiratory health.
According to nyc.gov, the pollution in NYC contributes to 6% of annual deaths in the city, but NY is trying to take some intitatives to try and reverse this fact. In 2007, the Mayor released a plan called PlaNYC, which “[brings] together over 25 City agencies to work toward the vision of a greener, greater New York,” seeking to “achieve the cleanest air quality of any big U.S. city” by the year 2030. While that may be difficult, as we’re the dirtiest city in America as of now, the plan commits to an environmental overhaul of aspects of NYC including greener housing, creation of parks, ensure the quality of our water, improve the waterfront, along with Bloomberg’s initiative to plant one million trees in NYC, in order to help to clean the air and filter storm water. The project is also holding events and giving away trees to be planted in October and November.
While the cleanliness improvements of NY have a long way to go, some progress has been made already. Despite any alleged improvements, though, that does not mean that what we are breathing is good for our bodies. I guess we can only hope for a better tomorrow, or at least next year to rank below number one in the Dirtiest Cities category.