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That Lovely New York Air
NY Daily News
An expert finds New York City's air is full of foreign matter, including rubber and rust.
Bits of clothing, fat, carbon, fungus and dead skin cells also flutter through New York's atmosphere
By Victoria Cavaliere / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Saturday, October 6, 2012, 9:41 PM
Updated: Sunday, October 7, 2012, 12:45 PM
Big Apple air is a bizarre brew of bacteria, pollen, clothing fiber, fungus, tire rubber, dead skin cells, cooking fat and carbon emissions. The truth of exactly what New Yorkers breathe comes courtesy of air expert Bill Logan, who grabbed a “spore sucker” of his own design and joined the Daily News for a tour of the city.
The results might surprise you.
Yes, there’s the expected pollution in midtown and the South Bronx, and neighborhoods with lots of trees tend to have pollen and fungus in the air. But each breath you take — about 33,000 a day — also might include spores, bacteria, pollens, tiny bits of glass, starch and fat. “Fat? I’ve never heard of that before!” said a surprised Alexis Lum, 32, in Brooklyn Heights. “It’s kind of gross.”
Actually, it’s kind of normal, said Logan, author of “Air: The Restless Shaper of the World.” Air samples from midtown, for example, had a high number of skin cells from all races — a reflection, no doubt, of the neighborhood’s diversity. Chinatown had noticeable starch and fat in the air — “probably from the cooking of rice and noodles,” Logan said.
A neighborhood’s air is an invisible stamp of its business, lifestyle and even culture, Logan said. That explains the readings in Williamsburg — elevated levels of blue jeans, tire rubber, nail polish and pollen, which Logan dubbed “the hipster sample.”
The range of aerosols found in the air didn’t surprise Judith Zelikoff, a professor in the department of Environmental Medicine at New York University. “A lot of things that are in the air are a kind of a signature of what’s in that environment,” she said.
Scientist and author Bill Logan examines spore samples taken from different neighborhoods in his downtown Brooklyn apartment.
The potential danger of any one aerosol, including black latex from tires or carbon, isn’t clear without a particle count. “Without a concentration, we can’t say if it’s going to be hazardous,” she said. “But we can say, ‘Yes it is there.’ Or even why it’s there and how it got there.”
“It’s everywhere,” Logan said. “We have to wake up to how remarkable this stuff is. The common, everyday stuff.” To take his readings, Logan employs a tiny vacuum cleaner he rigged to pick up only the smallest particles and dump them into an uncontaminated sealed canister.
Picturesque Brooklyn Heights — the corner of Joralemon St. and Garden Place — had the most airborne fat, perhaps from the neighborhood’s many restaurants, Logan said. The city’s first suburb was also full of organic plant matter, such as fungi and bacteria that act as “nature’s recycler.” The area — near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — also had a good amount of tire rubber in the air, as well as cotton fiber, silica glass and powdery mildew.
“Move out of New York if you want to avoid that,” said Rifkie Stark, 28, who comes to Brooklyn Heights for work every day.
Meanwhile, in Williamsburg, there was hair in the air. The corner of Bedford Ave. and N. Seventh St. was the only place in the city where samples revealed bits of human hair — and quite a bit of it, Logan said. Skin cells and tiny “glassy and spherical” paint particles were linked back to a nearby nail salon.
Bill Logan tests the air quality around Garden Place at Joralemon in Brooklyn Heights.[
The sample also included molds, rusts, the fungus ganoderma and “numerous” pollen grains. Tire rubber and carbon were evident, but not overwhelming. In keeping with the “hipster sample,” there were also a fair amount of natural fibers, including blue and green cotton and a silk thread.
On Chinatown’s narrow streets, airborne starch dominated the samples. Logan said the starch was likely the result of cooking rice and noodles and from detergents at some laundermats. At the corner of Mott and Pell Sts., Logan’s spore sucker also pulled in some fat molecules and phytoliths, a kind of mineral plant secretion. The area’s numerous clothing stores emitted many tiny fibers, including one sizable, bright red polyester thread.
At 43rd St. and Eighth Ave., a busy stretch near Times Square and the Port Authority, cars and people have left their mark. Logan’s air samples included “lots of carbon” from bus and automobile exhaust. Soot, shreds of tire rubber and a few drops of fat were mixed in with some plant diversity, including spores, ganoderma — a decay fungus — and “lots of pollen grains.”
The other big mark in midtown: many dead skin cells of every imaginable pigment. That didn’t gross out tourist Papa Sab, 28, visiting from France. “The air has to be better than in Paris,” he said. “It is way more polluted there.”
Urban woe seemed to dominated the samples at Bruckner Blvd. and Leggett Ave. in the South Bronx. “Not much nature,” Logan said. The sample was filled with carbon, remnants of tires and diesel smoke. Such readings likely help explain why asthma rates for school-aged children in the South Bronx are nearly twice the citywide rate. “You can just feel it,” said Franklin Rodriguez, 18, who suffers from asthma that he got “a few months after moving” to the South Bronx from Washington 10 years ago. “I have an inhaler, I just live with it.”
Queens’ famous diversity is mirrored by its air: Samples taked at 94th St. near 23d Ave. in East Elmhurst turned up a huge array of rust spores, a fungus. They could have come from grass, a nearby pine tree, or “something succulent and living,” Logan said. Tiny bits of colorful glass, maybe from airplanes taking off or landing at nearby LaGuardia Airport, also appeared on Logan’s slides — and Elmhurst had its fair amount of carbon, tire rubber, starch and even teeny bits of insect exoskeleton. “That’s crazy,” said David Gomez, 17. “We can breathe that?
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/...#ixzz28dqNfaun