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Air Quality

Bus Depots a Symptom of Environmental Injustice

2:07 PM EDT on April 17, 2007

depot.jpg

Gotham Gazette talked recently with Cecil Corbin-Mark, of West Harlem
Environmental Action
(WE ACT), about environmental justice in Upper Manhattan.

WE ACT formed in 1988 to fight the siting of a sewage treatment plant, a bus
depot and a garbage transfer station in an area already bearing an undue share
of the city's environmental waste. Things are better today, Corbin-Mark says,
but the city has yet to balance environmental costs and benefits.

The burdened neighborhoods are not hosting facilities that are serving only their own neighborhoods. For example, in the case of the bus depots, the depots in northern Manhattan have bus lines that run routes through Manhattan and the Bronx. So that's a benefit to the broader society. But when those buses go home at night, they are repaired and fitted, in some instances, to venting mufflers so that the exhaust doesn't build up inside the depot. That sends the diesel fumes and particulates into the surrounding neighborhoods. Many of these bus depots are located next to homes, schools, or recreational facilities.

Corbin-Mark applauds Council Member John Liu for legislation to apply "best
technologies" to mitigate school bus emissions while keeping pollutants out of
bus cabins. ("Right now it's actually worse for children to be inside the
school bus than to be outside," he says.)

The interview, conducted as part of Gotham Gazette's Reading NYC Book Club, centers on Julie Sze's Noxious New York. Released in December 2006 by the
MIT Press, Noxious New York chronicles "urban planning and environmental health
activism" in West Harlem, the South Bronx, Sunset Park and Williamsburg. The
book casts Rudy Giuliani as a "villain" for the "belittling of environmental concerns of local neighborhoods." Corbin-Mark says the Bloomberg administration
has been responsive by comparison.

This mayor has a greater environmental sensitivity, for sure. A number of forces have propelled him, as mayor, to this, because I don't think he necessarily started out that way.

Photo: Infinite Jeff/Flickr

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