Health Department Releases Online Infographic of Traffic-Related Air Pollution Study, Which Shows Impact On New Yorkers

Online infographic summarizes traffic-related air pollution’s impact on city neighborhoods

November 22, 2016 – The Health Department today released an online infographic of a study describing the public health impacts of traffic-related air pollution among New York City residents. Motor vehicles emit fine particulate matter – known as PM2.5 – that when breathed in, contributes to cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness and death. The study found that exposure to traffic-related PM2.5 causes 320 premature deaths and 870 emergency department visits and hospitalizations each year among city residents. Trucks and buses on NYC streets contributed to the largest share of the traffic-related PM2.5 health impacts, accounting for over half of all adverse health outcomes. The city’s low-income neighborhoods assume the largest burden of exposures and health impacts – relative to the most affluent neighborhoods, the poorest neighborhoods experience 1.7 times higher PM2.5 exposures and 9.3 times the rate of emergency department visits for asthma due to emissions from trucks and buses. A summary of the report can be seen here in infographic form, while the full report has been published here. Currently, the full version of the infographic is available on desktop and an abridged version is available on smartphones.

“Air quality in NYC has improved dramatically over the last several decades, but pollution levels remain harmful to New Yorkers, particularly for those living in low-income neighborhoods,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “The adverse health effects from traffic pollution are preventable and the 80x50 transportation plan includes measures that will continue to reduce levels of these harmful air pollutants throughout the city, reduce inequities in exposures, and plan for sustainable transportation options that reduce the risk of injury and provide options for physical activity.”

“New York City has made a bold commitment to achieve the best air quality of any large American city,” said Daniel Zarrilli, Senior Director of Climate Policy and Programs and Chief Resilience Officer for the NYC Mayor's Office. “Today's findings reaffirm the necessity of reaching this goal for the benefit of our residents and our environment. They also show the value of engaging New Yorkers in this effort through tools like a new educational infographic to communicate our work more clearly. Efforts like this are critical to building a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable city."

The de Blasio administration continues to take action to reduce emissions citywide through its comprehensive OneNYC plan. Recently, the administration released a roadmap report outlining cross-sector pathways to reach the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The roadmap charts a path to more sustainable transportation and freight movement which can provide substantial public health benefits by reducing harmful traffic emissions and reducing inequities in negative health outcomes from pollution exposures. These efforts include expanding programs to retrofit and replace the most polluting trucks on NYC streets, expanding the use of renewable fuels where available, and studying the potential for Low-Emission Zones that use regulation or pricing to restrict the most polluting vehicles in the city.

Major findings of the air quality and traffic impact study include:

  • Traffic-generated fine PM2.5 in the NYC metropolitan region contributes to 320 premature deaths and 870 emergency department visits and hospitalizations each year among city residents.
  • The largest share of PM2.5-attributable health outcomes from traffic comes from trucks and buses traveling city streets.
  • Traffic-related PM2.5 pollution and its health impacts are greatest in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
  • Relative to more affluent neighborhoods, high-poverty neighborhoods had 1.7 times the PM2.5 exposure and 9.3 times the rate of emergency department visits for asthma due to emissions from trucks and buses.

There have been recent improvements in PM2.5 levels due to actions taken by the City. The Health Department’s New York City Community Air Survey found that between 2008 and 2014, annual average PM2.5 levels declined by 16 percent - a decline due in part to reduced emissions from the City’s buildings. This past February, the de Blasio administration and the Department of Environmental Protection announced that all 5,300 buildings that registered in 2011 as burning #6 heating oil – a high-polluting fuel – have converted to a cleaner fuel as of December 31, 2015, greatly reducing building emissions of sulfur dioxide and fine particles that contribute to premature deaths and hospital admissions from cardiovascular and lung disease. In September 2015, Mayor de Blasio launched NYC Retrofit Accelerator, which provides free technical assistance and advisory services for building owners to “go green” through clean energy upgrades. The program will prioritize assistance to buildings in high-poverty neighborhoods that are still using more polluting types of heating oil.

“Diesel is the third largest human-contributor to the emission of fine particulate matter, responsible for up to 15,000 premature deaths nationwide each year and directly linked to myriad health issues including lung cancer, heart arrhythmia, and asthma attacks. And while state legislators continue to ignore these dangers by refusing to implement the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, I’m grateful to Mayor de Blasio and Health Commissioner Bassett for their efforts to bring attention to the harmful effects of traffic-related pollution,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, Ranking Member of the Environmental Conservation Committee.

"This study shows that poor traffic-related pollution has serious public health effects including asthma-related issues, hospitalizations, and premature death. The effects are even starker in lower-income neighborhoods,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Council's Environmental Protection Committee. “Our city has been implementing policies that reduce emissions from vehicles including encouraging use of electric vehicles and expanding use of a more sustainable fuel oil. I look forward to working with agencies and stakeholders to implement even more policies that will benefit our public health. I thank Commissioner Dr. Bassett for her partnership. Now more than ever, our city must lead the way in making our communities healthier and more sustainable."

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MEDIA CONTACT: Christopher Miller/Carolina Rodriguez: (347) 396-4177
PressOffice@health.nyc.gov