Forty P.S. 146 parents shouted and cheered for their children to push through the final minutes and out-play the other team to take the lead. They were all desperately wishing to take home the championship trophy as a memento of their final game at Asphalt Green as Middle Schoolers. It was 5 o’clock in the afternoon and the sun cast its light on their game and on the games of the many teams around them. Asphalt Green, a not-for-profit organization, has offered athletic facilities for low and high income families. Moreover, they have provided the opportunity to enjoy a haven of greenery amidst the busy New York City. However, the survival of Asphalt Green is being threatened by the construction of the East River marine transport plant adjacent to the field, as depicted in the map above. The issue of garbage disposal in the city has been one that the city has grappled with for decades and by looking deeper into the issue, it is evident that it cannot be solved by simply building a new transfer plant.
As a result of New York City’s poor sustainability policy, low-income, African American neighborhoods, such as the South Bronx and North Brooklyn, have suffered from various health problems such as asthma and diabetes. In 2006, the South Bronx accepted 40% of the city’s waste, 100% of its own waste, contained a sewage treatment plant, sewage pelletizing plant, and four electrical power plants. North Brooklyn, suffers from similar conditions to the South Bronx, and therefore similar health problems. According to the Department of Sanitation’s data, in 2011, North Brooklyn handled about 1 million tons of non-putrescible waste per year with around 5,000 trucks moving into the area per day. In 2009, in those intersections that contained the most traffic, the air quality in the area declined by approximately 335%throughout the course of the day. According to census data, the South Bronx has only 6,008 white residents out of its total 26,588 and one North Brooklyn zip code, 11221, has a 56.8% African American population, proving that the location of treatment plants in NYC coincide with the race of its residents.
In 2006, the NYC Council recognized and sought to remove the disparity between South Bronx, North Brooklyn and affluent NYC neighborhoods, by passing Mayor Bloomberg’s waste proposal that entailed building four new marine waste transfer plants in different boroughs of NYC. This plan included building an East River transfer plant in one of the most affluent NYC neighborhoods, the Upper East Side. When the plan was first proposed an estimate of 72-130 trucks were expected to be hauled into the area per day, bringing around 720 tons of garbage to the East River transfer plant.
This resolution was met with immense backlash from the Upper East Side community, as they feared radiation, traffic, odors, pollution, and the general dangers that accompany living next to a marine transfer plant. Pledge 2 Protect, one of the three marine transfer station lobbyist groups, fought against this proposal by pointing out the proximity of the plant to day care centers, schools, senior centers, the Issac Holmes public housing complex that houses over 2,200 residents, and to the 22,000 residents that live within ¼ of a mile of the plant. Additionally, this area contains the most hospitals and schools per square mile in NYC, and is adjacent to the neighborhood’s beloved Asphalt Green. Building a new treatment plant in a heavily populated area such as this will put low and high income individuals in danger, as there will now be diesel exhaust emitted from idle garbage trucks and an increase in air pollution from municipal waste.
The stance that the luxury apartment owners in the area held regarding the marine transfer plant is a bit unclear. In 2017, it was revealed that Glenwood management, a prominent construction company, gave 1 million dollars to Pledge 2 Protect to aid them in their cause against the treatment plant. However, an anonymous resident of the Upper East, who began her own rallying group against the marine transport plant, made it clear that she combated both the city councilmen and the apartment building owners during her campaign against the plant.
While the waste disposal system that only transfers waste to low-income areas, the South Bronx and North Brooklyn, is completely unjust, putting over 20,000 lives in danger on the Upper East Side will not rectify the situation or remove the disparity. Instead of continuing with this plan, the city should be evaluating safer ways of disposing garbage that will not harm its citizens. For example, the city should adopt San Francisco’s system that processes and recycles as much waste as possible, and then disposes the remnants in a safe waste-to-energy plant. City Councilmen and the mayor should be recognizing that justice is not when everyone is put in danger, but when everyone is finally safe.
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