Breaking the Education Promise
It is known that the brain's capacity to learn is improved by exercise. It is also known that young lungs, breathing extra fast during exercise, are especially susceptible to damage by pollution. This can have a permanent affect not just on their lungs, but on their brains too.
Children are far more sensitive to pollutants than adults. That's why hundreds of doctors signed a petition urging first Bloomberg and now de Blasio NOT to build a massive garbage site next to an athletic center in Manhattan used by 34,000 city kids - a garbage site that will attract 100 to 500 trucks a day.
To reach the 91st Street Marine Transfer Station (MTS), the trucks will drive back and forth through the athletic facility on an access road that literally bisects it. As they drive up this access ramp, they will be only 11 feet from the kids on the sports field.
Pollution will be greatly increased both by added traffic congestion in the area and from the diesel trucks' emissions. The World Health Organization recently classified diesel as a carcinogen and noted its particular harm to children. East Harlem and Yorkville, where the dump is being built, already have some of the worst pollution in the city, and East Harlem, only four blocks from the dump, has the worst asthma rates.
There will be a radiation detector at the gate of the access ramp because of hospital waste, but radiation is one of the lesser dangers. You cannot control what people throw out and we have no idea what they will throw out in the future. One would hardly think it necessary to remind someone like de Blasio that corporations are notoriously ruthless in denying the dangers of their products, and environmental history is rife with the tragic consequences of allowing children to play near unknown substances.
One of the most irritating aspects of the dump is how New York's big newspapers report on it. There are complex reasons for their views (not unconnected to real estate revenue) which I'll deal with another time, but here is one common mistake:
"Asphalt Green only caters to rich, white kids."
This isn't true, but imagine it was. Now imagine the only child allowed to play here is the secret love child of Donald Trump and Michelle Bachman. He's a mean little bastard with crazy eyes and a premature blonde comb-over - and he's rich and white. Horrible. But would this justify filling him with pollution until he keeled over and died? Reluctantly, one would have to say no. Constant references to race and wealth are therefore irrelevant.
And the truth is something else altogether. The children who attend Asphalt Green come from over 60 public elementary schools in all five boroughs, most of which have no other sports facilities. Fifty-two percent of the kids are from low income families of color.
This is NOT a local issue.
If you are a parent of a child in any borough in this city, you should be against this Bloomberg/de Blasio dump. You may be lucky enough to send your child to a school with excellent sports facilities, other parents aren't so lucky. You should support them in fighting this risk to their children's health.
Contrary to what you might think, the East Side waterfront from Battery Park to Inwood, is the most neglected, broken down, and inaccessible stretch of waterfront in the five boroughs. In Brooklyn and Queens there are 15 places where children can launch kayaks. In the Bronx there are 5. On Manhattan's Westside there are 6.
On the East Side there are none.
School kids from Inwood, Washington Heights and Fort George, down through East Harlem, Yorkville, the Upper East Side and Lennox Hill all the way down to the Lower East Side and beyond are poorly served. There are almost no places on the east side where a school bus can get across the FDR Drive and park by the water.
One is the South Street Seaport, currently being demolished and soon to be redeveloped for luxury housing. Another is, potentially, the 91st Street MTS, where a heavy duty ramp passes over the FDR.
Despite fervent resistance, a platform is being built on the water. At the moment, you could construct anything on top of it. Incredible as it may seem in a residential area, the footprint of the proposed industrial plant is over 2 acres, only slightly smaller than the footprint of the Empire State Building.
You could easily build a school here.
As we all know, there is a chronic shortage of school buildings in the city, many are falling apart, and some students are currently studying in trailers. Given the enormity of the platform, you could provide classrooms for 4000 kids, easily.
If it was a school like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, or Brooklyn Tech, kids could be brought here from all over the city by ferry, and the same dock could be used for recreation and education at weekends by kids from Fort George down to Lennox Hill and south.
The intended industrial plant is so massive, the school could have an Environmental Study center, a small garden, a basketball court, even a theater. Asphalt Green sports facility would be a natural extension of the campus. For various reasons, funding for this would not be hard to find. Instead of vindictively slamming a garbage dump down on a residential neighborhood, instead of imposing this unhealthy, child damaging, anti-education monstrosity on 34,000 school kids, you could create one of the best public schools in New York, available, as is Asphalt Green, to the entire city. If there was one good environmental reason to build this truck-attracting garbage dump so close to children, perhaps one could mount a defense for it. But I don't think so. Looked at closely, a thoughtful person (even a thoughtful reporter) concludes that if this is what it takes to make a city-wide garbage plan work, the philosophy of the plan must be flawed, rather as one says of Hamas, "No matter what your cause, using children as human shields invalidates it."
But you don't even have to get to this philosophical point, because there is no good practical reason to build this thing. None. It's not even hard to figure this out. For a start, read this report, no detail of which has been refuted by the city.
The only educational opportunity the garbage dump provides is the study of political corruption and the physics of death.
This is a wasted opportunity, a broken promise, and a scandal.
What You Can Do:
1. Appeal to Mayor de Blasio HERE.
More importantly, contact your elected representative at any level or write or call any of the New York news outlets. Remember this is NOT a local issue. It doesn't matter where you live in the five boroughs, this is your problem.
2. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has to approve the permit renewal for the 91st Street MTS in the next couple of weeks, by October 14th.
If there is "newly discovered material information or there has been a material change in environmental conditions" the request for renewal must be treated as "a new application." In that case, the project has to be looked at again and a better use can be found for the riverside platform that is starting to be built.
Since the last permit was issued, the World Health Organization classified diesel as a carcinogen; new pollution monitors in the city showed that the area around the dump has possibly the worst air quality in the entire city and consequently the worst asthma rates; thousands of new apartments have been built; traffic patterns have never been adequately studied and have now changed since the loss of one to two lanes on 1st Avenue; and five new schools have opened in the area, including three large public schools and one special ed school. A new permit application is mandatory under the law and citizens and scientists deserve to be heard. Insist upon this by writing to:
Governor Andrew Cuomo HERE.
Joseph Martens (DEC commissioner) HERE.
(The picture of the athletic field shows a dump at the top that was built in the '30s and closed in the '90s. It has now been torn down. The new one is being grandfathered in or it would be illegal. It will be more than twice as large as this one.)
(Madonna lives on the Upper East Side. Many residents, knowing she has kids and cares about children's issues, wish she would get involved. Perhaps then the press would give this the attention it deserves... )
TOMORROW: Part four - Mayor De Blasio dumps on public housing.