Coney civic leaders demand study on air quality, citing breathing problems after Sandy

Coney Islanders say that they've developed respiratory ailments — like asthma and shortness of breath — that can be traced back to Superstorm Sandy.
Photo by Paul Martinka

Coney Islanders are demanding the city study the air quality around the People’s Playground, claiming respiratory illnesses abound in the years following Superstorm Sandy.

“We see more and more people getting respiratory issues,” said Eddie Mark, the district manager of the local community board. “Something is wrong.”

Community board members have asked reps for the Department of Health to study a perceived rise in respiratory illnesses — including asthma, shortness of breath, and persistent coughing — that locals began started complaining about in the wake of the 2012 storm, which kicked up a blizzard of dust and debris that was blamed for the so-called “Sandy cough” that swept the peninsula.

“People got this cough that they couldn’t get rid of,” said Pamela Pettyjohn, a Coney Island resident who has suffered from a persistent cough since the storm struck seven years ago. “These were people that were perfectly healthy before Sandy. What’s happening now?”

Sandy’s 13-foot tidal surges were also responsible for rampant mold outbreaks, and locals also fear that the overflow of the notoriously contaminated Coney Island Creek during the hurricane may have unleashed toxic particles into the air.

The 2012 Super Storm isn’t the only possible cause, and the respiratory illnesses may find their root in ongoing construction projects and the neighborhood’s crumbling public-housing infrastructure, where mold runs rampant.

And another cause could be the area’s high levels of ozone pollutants, which rank consistently as some of the worst in the city, according to an eight-year Department of Health study.

Ozone contamination can cause shortness of breath, asthma, and a slew of other respiratory issues, according to the EPA, and a recent study by the University of Washington determined that living in an area with high ozone levels is the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

But by all other measures, Coney Island’s air isn’t particularly unhealthy — the neighborhood even boasts lower levels of the most harmful air pollutant, fine particulate matter, than the average Brooklyn neighborhood, according to a 2016 study.

Moreover, a pulmonary specialist at the Coney Island Hospital said that he hasn’t noticed an uptick in new patients after the storm or in the years since.

A spokesman for the Health Department did not comment regarding the agency’s plans to conduct a study, but said that other studies have indicated that Coney islanders suffer from lower levels of asthma than the average Brooklynite.

But locals don’t feel healthier than other communities, and say the “Sandy cough” has been going on long enough to warrant the city taking action.

“This has been going on for several years,” said Brighton Beach resident Jeff Sanoff, a member of the community board whose wife has developed asthma. “We haven’t been given any reports on air quality…They keep us in the dark.”

Reach reporter Rose Adams at radams@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–8306. Follow her on Twitter @rose_n_adams
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