How polluted is New York City’s air? For the first time, soot and other easily inhaled particulates are being tracked at street level in the city’s five boroughs. The Center for the Biology of Natural Systems (CBNS) received a four-year grant in 2008 to do this monitoring as part of the New York City Community Air Survey. Usually air quality is monitored from rooftops. But CBNS created portable monitors and is placing them on street poles about 10 feet up to track pollutants in 150 sites, from high-traffic locations to quiet tree-lined neighborhoods. By matching those results with data on asthma, emphysema, and other health outcomes, New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will have a better idea of how reducing air pollutants could improve health.
Through such projects, CBNS— established in 1966 at Washington University in St. Louis by environmentalist Barry Commoner—responds to environmental and resource problems and their policy implications. CBNS is known for its pioneering studies to devise and assess alternative solutions and its assistance to government agencies and community organizations. When it moved to Queens College in 1981, CBNS began to focus on urban environmental problems, and increasingly on environmental health. Its researchers continue to monitor and address the health risks of first responders at the World Trade Center, as well as workers in U.S. nuclear bomb plants.