On 40th Anniversary of Civil Rights March
on Washington, Northern Manhattan Activists,
Residents and Officials Accuse MTA of
Environmental Racism in Depot Siting

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Press Release

Date: Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Contact: Christopher Greaves, Communications Director, (212) 961-1000, ext. 304 or Chris@weact.org

Call for response to civil rights charges, greater accountability to community residents

With the MTA buses servicing New York’s urban grid spewing an unduly share of their noxious exhaust in predominately black and Latino enclaves, many residents are saying that when it comes to their civil rights: the air still isn’t clear.

As six of Manhattan’s seven bus depots are located in Northern Manhattan -- an area heavily populated by blacks and Hispanics -- West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT), community residents, and Northern Manhattan elected officials are demanding that the MTA answer to charges of civil rights violations before reopening a bus depot in East Harlem. Toxic emissions from diesel-fueled buses are a known health hazard: possibly carcinogenic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and an asthma irritant.

Undaunted by the fact that Northern Manhattan’s mostly black and Latino residents bear an inordinate share of the burden imposed by the MTA’s toxin-generating bus depots, the MTA is moving forward with plans to expand its operations in the area. On September 7th, the MTA will open a new bus depot in residential East Harlem as it simultaneously closes the Hudson Depot, located in an industrial area of 16th Street. Ironically, the MTA has not yet addressed a civil rights complaint WE ACT filed with the U.S. Dept. of Transportation in November 2000, citing the environmental burden of housing most of the city’s depots in communities of color.

“Despite the fact that toxic diesel exhaust emitted by buses is a possible carcinogen and a known asthma trigger, the MTA -- apparently indifferent to such concerns -- will reopen its 100th street depot in a neighborhood that already leads the city in childhood asthma hospitalizations,” says Peggy Shepard, WE ACT’s Executive Director. “To this day, the MTA has not responded to charges that they are violating our residents’ civil rights.”

WE ACT is asking the MTA to do the following:

  • Respond to the civil rights complaint WE ACT filed in November 2000.
  • Address the health impact of the toxic bus exhaust with the input and oversight of North Manhattan residents.
“We consider this [the MTA’s decision] an act of environmental racism,” says New York State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell. “The fact that the MTA knows the majority of the residents of Upper Manhattan -- Harlem, East Harlem, Washington Heights -- are communities of color. We are already carrying an unfair burden… the decision to open yet another diesel depot in Upper Manhattan rises to the level of a conscious disregard for the health and well-being of the people of our community,” Powell said.

“It is a sad irony that the MTA plans to open yet another bus depot in East Harlem on the very next day after our community’s first historic march against asthma taking place on Saturday, September 6th,” said New York City Councilmember Philip Reed. “All of our leaders must understand this message… Enough is enough!”

It’s time to make a commitment to protecting the health of Harlem’s children by eliminating the toxic diesel exhaust that is making them sick. WE ACT, an environmental justice group based in West Harlem, will continue to organize the communities of Northern Manhattan to demand their fair share of clean air.

Press kits and color illustrations on disk for reproduction are available from WE ACT at (212) 961-1000, ext. 304.


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