What does the data show us?
Part of this work is understanding what the data shows us and tells us about Harlem and what that means for the residents. In this section of the portal, we will talk about 4 sets of data and what kind of future that points for the people living in this area.
This data is not meant to be the end all be all, but will be to spark discussion and think about the limitations of the data.
Our air is dirty
Fine Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) are small particles emitted into the air by vehicles, orad pollution and building boilers. Basically wherever there is some type of combustion, PM 2.5 is released. This is especially worrisome for residents of Harlem given the amount of vehicles and being boxed in by 2 major highways.
Fine Particulate Matter is emitted by vehicles including cars, trucks, buses and boilers found in residential and commercial buildings which can cause health issues.
In figure 1, we can see the mean fine particulate matter that was measured in Harlem during a 12 year span. Air quality is an important proxy measure of health. Poor air quality can lead to:
- Tightness in the chest
- Worsening of asthma
- Reduced lung function
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Low birthweight in newborns
- Although it can affect anyone, poor air quality is generally found in lower-income and Black communities. Thus when we see the data on air quality it may show a high rate, but how is that air pollution exacerbating the underlying health conditions of Black people who are more prone to chronic illness such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and asthma.
Asthma is a respiratory disease where poor air quality can increase the risk of developing or triggering.
Speaking of health conditions, asthma is a detrimental and chronic illness that can be debilitating depending on the severity. A study found that air pollution was correlated with asthma in children. Air pollution is usually the result of air pollutants due to emissions. Emissions can have grave health and climate impacts. I often think about what these types of health impacts do to people. I have asthma and have to carry my inhaler everywhere I go. But it’s not just air pollution it is also due to poor housing conditions that have mold and/or pests which can trigger an asthma attack which can land people in the emergency department and also lead to death.
Quality housing is also an environmental justice issue along with clean air both which are required for a thriving community.
Weather so hot, we melt
The summers in Harlem are often unbearable. The heat is unbeatable and a lack of tree canopy and not having access to air conditioners (2 viable ways to combat heat) are not distributed equitably.
The HVI shows the risk of community-level heat impacts, like deaths, due to extreme heat events.
Extreme heat in NYC is often referred to as urban heat island effect which can cause serious illness and death each summer. Not only do heat waves result in illness and death, they also result in power outages which “include gastrointestinal illness due to food spoilage, carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of generators, and illness and death among the medically frail due to mechanical equipment failure, and inability to obtain medical care, or extreme exertion (such as having to climb many flights of stairs in high-rise buildings due to elevator outages). Lack of air conditioning or home heat may also result in heat- and cold-related illnesses."