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EPA calls Queens air
the city's most toxic

Provoking tremendous concern from the borough president and community activists, a recent federal study revealed that Queens has more toxic chemicals pumped into its air than the other four boroughs combined.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency's annual survey of companies' chemical emissions into the surrounding air, ground and water, 509,870 pounds of toxins were released in Queens in 2000. Comparatively, only 189,164 pounds of pollutants were discharged in Brooklyn, 43,201 on Staten Island, 29,684 in Manhattan and 16,847 in the Bronx.

"Unfortunately, there is no surprise here," said Borough President Helen Marshall. "Queens provides half the power generated within the city, and combined with our two airports and extensive highway system, we have a formula for a toxic air cocktail."

The EPA survey fingered three energy plants as the borough's worst polluters. The New York Power Authority's 825-watt Poletti project in Astoria, KeySpan's Ravenswood station in Long Island City and Orion's generating station in Astoria combined to send almost a half-million pounds of acidic chemicals into the air.

"Western Queens lives under a toxic blanket of air pollution," said Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association in Astoria. "It impacts our health and well-being, and our asthma rates are increasing every year."

Most of the activists' cries for help center on reducing the emissions being spewed from the three power plants on the banks of the East River.

"We need the government to step in and help us get these plants to 'repower,' which would lower their emissions by half while actually increasing productivity," said Anthony Gigantiello, president of the Coalition to Help Organize a Kleaner Environment. "Some are even talking of expanding, and we can't let that happen."

In response to the EPA's study and the rising frustration of people in western Queens, Marshall issued a seven-point plan last week in an effort to lower air pollution levels. She called for an immediate moratorium on the construction of any additional power plants in the borough, an upgrade to make existing ones along the East River cleaner, the end to use of high-sulfur oil in all facilities, and more frequent testing of the borough's air quality, especially in Astoria and Long Island City.

Marshall also pledged to work with city, state and federal legislators to combat the perils of unchecked pollution.

"Our seniors and citizens are particularly at risk of respiratory diseases caused by these emissions," she said. "[The government] and the private sector must address this problem together."

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