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Noxious Neighborhoods

To the Editor:

Some unpleasant memories resurfaced as I read Michelle Chen’s “Unequal Under the Sun” [Feature, August 20]. In 1969, I lived on 9th Street between Avenue C and Avenue D in New York City’s infamous Lower East Side. Even with the windows closed, I woke up every morning to a thick layer of black dust on my windowsill courtesy of the Consolidated Edison Power Company, affectionately known as ConEd. They ran a coal burning power plant that spewed toxic fumes out of four huge smokestacks morning, noon, and night. The subsequent dusky fallout landed on the residents of the Lower East Side. This went on for years before I lived there and continued for several more years after I left the area.

I moved out for health reasons after I ended up in the emergency room barely able to breathe. The rate of tuberculosis for people living on the Lower East Side in the 1960s was four times higher than the national average. Emphysema and asthma were, and still are, major health problems for area residents, even though ConEd discontinued burning coal in the mid ’70s.

Who lives on the Lower East Side? The poor, mostly immigrants. How long do you think these emissions would have continued if the dust blew into the homes of the folks on Sutton Place, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, or the wealthy Westchester neighborhoods that benefitted from the power and gas production? Not for one minute after the first signs of illness in one of the affluent residents.

Maybe the solution is for the poor people to grab cardboard boxes and start fanning the pollutants toward the wealthier communities. Maybe then we will see some environmental action.

Mark Ritter


To the Editor:

Two days ago, National Grid visited my house at my request for a different reason, and declared an emergency, turning off our hot water and red ticketing our landlord. The licensed plumber who arrived said the level of carbon monoxide pouring into our house from a gap in our water heater venting system, caused by shoddy workmanship—a wrong part installed by an unlicensed workman—could have killed myself and my two children.

Business as usual in West Hill.

My landlord is probably the best one on the block—not absentee, just a little careless on details. But if you walk down my block, you see abandoned buildings with open windows and burst pipes, decaying from the inside, about ready to fall. You see a tall damaged tree, not pitched up on the city (despite my phone calls) which may fall on us at any time. You see electric lines hanging off buildings, looking like arson-by-neglect waiting to happen. You see roofs in disrepair, broken windows, abandoned buildings which are open in back so groups of teens can hang out there, leaving little plastic baggies behind them (despite numerous calls to “code violations” and promises and all that for over 8 months); and of course, the magnitude of the garbage is bound to breed rats right next to where children play in the broken glass.

Nevermind the crime and violence sparked by the total neglect of our youth. Nevermind the police abusiveness towards particularly residents of color just going about their business . . . our services are shoddy and inferior, our landlords are not held accountable, and our houses are apparently not inspected.

I have always opposed the death penalty for convicted felons. I also oppose the death penalty for low income families whom reside where they can afford to.

The City of Albany is complicit in these conditions.

Grace Nichols

Director, Westhill Arts and Gardens Project


Metroland welcomes typed, double-spaced letters addressed to the editor. Metroland reserves the right to edit letters for length or clarity; 300 words is the preferred maximum. You must include your name, address and day and evening telephone numbers. We will not publish letters that cannot be verified, nor those that are anonymous, illegible, irresponsible or factually inaccurate.

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