South Bronx Pollution; Health Disparities Leave Area Residents Susceptible To Legionnaires

Back in December, FreshDirect purchased 15 new diesel polluting trucks.
Back in December, FreshDirect purchased 15 new diesel polluting trucks.

The first thing we were told when New York City’s largest Legionnaires Outbreak in its history began in the South Bronx last month was about the people who were most susceptible to contracting the curable yet deadly disease.

At the top of the list were people suffering from respiratory issues and those with compromised immune systems.

The South Bronx continues to suffer from some of the highest rates in the nation of asthma where it is at 8x the national rate. The area suffers 21x the hospitalization rate for asthma compared to the rest of the city not to mention as having the highest mortality rate from this respiratory ailment in the New York City.

The South Bronx also has the highest rates of HIV/AIDS leaving this population also susceptible to Legionnaires’ due to their compromised immune systems.

Diabetes prevalence in the South Bronx is at 16% compared with New York City rate of 9% and both state and national rates are under 8%. People with diabetes also suffer from compromised immune systems and when you combine these three ailments that are the highest in the South Bronx, you have a recipe for disaster as it appears to have impacted this outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease.

With a population suffering from these negative health outcomes and the worst health out of 62 counties in New York State we also have to look towards our environment which contributes to the aggravation of these conditions with some of the dirtiest air quality in the city.

Then why are our politicians allowing the continuance of truck intensive industries into our communities such as FreshDirect and even praising them, yet they are expected to flood our neighborhoods with thousands of diesel truck trips through our neighborhoods?

How can our Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, along with State Assemblyman Michael Blake stand today with US Senator Gillibrand during her announcement of a bill to help children at school with asthma and yet support FreshDirect which is a dirty industry?

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr even admitted that his wife was a chronic asthmatic so how can he support to continue to dirty the air of South Bronx residents who are suffering the above conditions beyond that the city averages and national averages?

According to the American Lung Association:

“People with asthma are particularly sensitive to the health risks of outdoor air pollution. Ozone pollution (smog) and particle pollution (soot), the most common air pollutants, are powerful asthma triggers, as are vehicle exhaust, wood smoke and fumes.”

According to NAMaidsmap, an organization from the UK on HIV/AIDS related information, scholarly research, and articles:

“Temperature and air pollution levels are associated with hospitalizations caused by Pneumocystispneumonia (PCP) in people with HIV, investigators from San Francisco report in the online edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases. Hospitalizations due to PCP were highest in the summer months and there was a significant association with an increase in temperature and higher levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2).

“The identification of both climatological and air pollution constituents associated with the development of PCP is a novel and important observation”, write the authors.

PCP is an AIDS-defining opportunistic infection. It was a major cause of death in people with HIV in the era before effective antiretroviral therapy was introduced, and the infection remains the second most common AIDS-defining illness in the US.”

This particular quote above can perhaps account for the deaths and infections in this current outbreak that have occurred within our populations with compromised immune systems such as those with HIV/AIDS considering the summer heat and pollution in the immediate area.

According to the American Heart Association:

“The risk of death is greater from long-term exposure. Current science suggests air pollution facilitates atherosclerosis development and progression, said the scientific panel that worked on the statement. It also may play a role in high blood pressure, heart failure and diabetes.”

The 13 deaths and over 100 cases of Legionnaires’ are a failure of our government to project the most at risk populations. The South Bronx has been overburdened for decades with waste transfer plants, incinerators, the ring of death of highways that surround us and trucking intensive operations that contribute to making the air quality some of the worst in the city.

Residents have long fought and successfully fought to shut down incinerators and block dirty industry from coming into our neighborhoods but more needs to be done by our own government officials to protect our populations from such harmful industries.

Let’s also not forget the following recent studies that have been issued that indicate negative outcomes which directly impact residents of the South Bronx due to the intense pollution:

We must demand a stop to the South Bronx being the dumping ground for New York City’s unwanted businesses and industries and we must demand a better quality of life NOW for our existing residents and not be an afterthought thinking about new populations of more affluent means moving in.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.