Neighborhoods with the worst COVID-19 death rates and respiratory hazards from air pollution in Bronx, NY – itself the worst county in the nation for COVID-19 and air pollution – are clustered around major expressways, THE CITY reports. A new study from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and ProPublica looked at  COVID-19 death rates and National Air Toxics Assessment respiratory hazard scores, and ranked the Bronx as the worst out of more than 3,1000 counties across the country.

Racist Air Pollution Impacts Along The Cross-Bronx Expressway

Morris Heights – a Bronx neighborhood inhabited almost entirely by Black and Hispanic residents – sits at the highly congested intersection of the Cross-Bronx and Major Deegan Expressways, and suffers from exceptionally polluted air. Research also indicates exposure to air pollution is associated with higher COVID-19 death rates. In four New York City ZIP codes, COVID-19 cases topped 2,000 and 25% or more residents tested positive well into July, according to city health records, and two of those four contained a stretch of the Cross-Bronx Expressway. “We all know someone with asthma, so that says a lot about the air quality,” Dior St. Hilaire, who lives near the expressway just east of Morris Heights and runs GreenFeen, which trains community members on sustainable living and composting. “It’s not until you leave that city that you realize that your air is shitty,” she added. The racist history of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, and its polluting effects, date back to its construction in the mid-20th century when a city board “overrode vociferous and sustained efforts” by the local housewives and the increasing Black and Puerto Rican communities living in the area.

The pollution from the Cross-Bronx Expressway was made even more noticeable by its absence as New York City shut down to stem the spread of COVID-19. Elisha Bouret, who lived in Morris Heights until recently, told THE CITY, her 3-year-old son Miguel “had not had an asthma attack” when “the pandemic started and there were less cars in the street.” Since traffic has returned, however, Bouret said, he “has had to use his pump a little bit more.” Bouret, both of her sons, and her grandmother-in-law all contracted COVID-19 earlier this year. Miguel, fortunately, did not suffer any symptoms, but Bouret’s grandmother-in-law died from the virus on her 86th birthday in early May. “I think [COVID-19] impacted us the most because of the air quality. … We were more susceptible to it,” Bouret told THE CITY. “Whenever anything comes up about COVID [and the impact of the environment on health], I want to do the interviews, I want to speak out, I want to provide as much information as I can,” she added. “’Cause I know she would want me to.” (THE CITY)