But it sure isn't solved. And here's an additional problem: It is difficult to figure out how to report the issue, as a plain old citizen.
I'm still on hold at 311, after 15 minutes, so I'm writing while I'm waiting. I am trying to log a complaint about pollution from 835 Riverside Drive and its neighbors. Watching an especially alarming spew of soot this morning--one that went on for 20 minutes--I took a series of photographs, then laced on the sneakers, and tracked down the building. I got addresses, names of the owners, the management companies, and the superintendent for two of the buildings, but not 835. I met a resident from that address, told him what was going on, and he said, "Ha, they don't care."
The super returns my phone call, and says he has no idea what I'm talking about. Never mind that there is a thick residue of soot around all the stacks. He's never seen smoke.
Next, onto 311--online. Expecting this to be a piece of cake--given de Blasio's recent announcement about air quality as a top priority--I go to the drop-down menu of complaints on the home page. Air Quality? Nothing. Air pollution? Nothing. Smokestack pollution? Nothing. Literally nothing on the 311 home page that makes it clear how to report air pollution. There's garbage, and apartments, transit, graffiti, even. But no air pollution.
Next I go Old School, and phone 311. Eventually, I am sent to the person who will report this issue to the Department of Environmental Protection. He takes down the complaint.
All of this phone calling takes 25 minutes. All told, it took 45 minutes to log a complaint.
I happen to be obsessed with air pollution--it is my job to be, for starters. But what about all the people who hardly have the time or the patience for reporting?
I've learned a great deal about soot and our hearts, and our lungs. Soot contributes to heart disease and stroke. Asthma levels are epidemic in Northern Manhattan. Smaller lungs take a bigger hit.
I know buildings are supposed to be switching from burning filthy #6 heating oil to #4 or #2--and the city overall has enjoyed much cleaner air since this rule went into effect. Except in my neighborhood of Washington Heights. But honestly, I see soot billowing from smokestacks all over the city. Soot pouring over hospital buildings, and wafting across office windows. When I lived in Harlem, I watched it pour out of buildings all around 125th Street.
It is much harder to get smaller buildings to comply with the new regulations, and landlords claim that they will have to pass the costs onto tenants who can ill afford higher rents. Surely there are ways around this with creative financing mechanisms, if necessary. And then there's the foot-dragging, if not plain old cynical defiance of these rules. After all, most building owners don't live under the pollution.
Here's a mantra: You cannot fix a problem if you cannot find the problem.
For those of us who are trying to be good citizens, trying to protect the quality of our air, NYC needs to update its 311 home page to include air pollution, and make reporting much easier. These are problems that usually cannot be seen from the street. They are seen from our bedroom windows, so to speak. And they leave their dirty residue on our windowsills, and, more alarmingly, in our hearts and lungs.
We live in a net of interdependence. Let's make all parts strong, so we can all do our parts to clean up New York City air.