Critics See Link Between High Asthma Rate and School Pollution - NBC New York

Critics See Link Between High Asthma Rate and School Pollution



    More Kids Reporting Breathing Problems at School

    Environmental critics say city schools release so much smoky soot from heating oil that it's becoming a health crisis for children. (Published Friday, May 13, 2011)

    Buildings in New York City churn out so much smoky soot from heating oil it's become a health crisis for children, according to environmental critics.

    "They create more soot pollution than all the cars and trucks combined," said Isabelle Silverman, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit watchdog.

    Silverman noticed the black smog from her window in the Flatiron district, so she videotaped it. Then she tested it. She said the results showed the smoke originated from what's known as "dirty oil #6," an old-fashioned type of heating oil used in thousands of buildings, and hundreds of city schools.

    Silverman is convinced that oil is a contributor to New York's high asthma rate.

    "Soot pollution aggravates asthma, contributes to heart and lung disease, and can even cause premature death," she said.

    The EDF brought its concerns to the mayor, who announced the city would replace the oil in more than 400 schools by 2030.

    But the teachers union, among others, has questioned the timetable. 

    "The city needs to come up with an immediate plan that doesn’t wait decades to solve the problem," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

    The Department of Education said it has accelerated the plan. The DOE plans to replace the fuel in more than 90 percent of dirty-oil schools by 2015. That would still leave 34 schools that need full boiler replacements in order to stop the black smoke.

    "As of now, we are funded to do half of these full boiler replacements by 2015," said Margie Feinberg, DOE spokeswoman.

    Many parents, like Monique Sheppard of the Bronx, want more urgency from the city.

    "That date has to be challenged, it should be forced up," said Sheppard, whose 10-year-old son, Leonardo, suffers from asthma.

    For years she assumed his difficulty breathing stemmed from the traffic in her Hunts Point neighborhood. The Bruckner Expressway is just a few blocks away. Now, she worries her son's school is also to blame. 

    "Ignorance is bliss," said Sheppard. "If no one has any knowledge of it, they will not be able to speak about the damage that will be done in 19 years."