XR Takes Action on World Asthma Day

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

Extinction Rebellion Boston (XR), a local group that works to bring about climate and ecological justice, took to the McArdle Bridge on World Asthma Day to draw attention to asthma rates and pollution-related illnesses in East Boston, which the group says is caused by Logan Airport.

Last Tuesday morning, May 7, several activists walked onto McArdle Bridge to attach a banner that read “Toxic Air Zone.” The goal was for the banner to drop when the bridge opened to allow a ship to make its way to Logan Airport.

Unfortunately for the activists, a security guard stopped their banner drop and took it down just as the bridge was about to lift.

Although XR’s demonstration did not go exactly as planned, Jamie McGonagill, XR’s Media and Messaging Director, still seemed to classify it as a success, underscoring the coverage it got from local news outlets.

“I think what makes a demonstration successful is if it creates conversation about the issue that the demonstration was meant to illustrate,” said McGonagill.

As mentioned, the purpose of the abovementioned demonstration was to draw attention to asthma rates and other pollution-related illnesses in East Boston.

“East Boston has an incredibly high asthma rate,” said McGonagill, as she cited findings from studies such as the Logan Airport Health Study conducted by the state’s Bureau of Climate and Environmental Health and the Department of Public Health.

Specifically, the study’s executive summary revealed that “children in the high exposure area were estimated to have three to four times the likelihood of this respiratory outcome [probable asthma] compared with children in the low exposure area.”

“Our takeaway is that Massport is directly responsible for these illnesses, is directly responsible for the asthma that is rampant in the East Boston community, and we knew we wanted to do something to draw attention to that,” said McGonagill.

However, it should be noted that in email correspondence with Jennifer Mehigan, Massport’s Director of Media Relations, she indicated that in the Logan Airport Health Study conducted in 2014, “the Department of Public Health did not conclude there was a linkage between activity at Logan and these conditions, but it did acknowledge that Logan is a very small contributor to urban air emissions, since concentrations of emissions fall to less than 1% beyond the airport perimeter.”

Moreover, Mehigan noted that since 2014, Massport has provided annual funding to the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center as a result of the study. “This partnership helps to expand the efforts of their Pediatric Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Prevention and Treatment Program in East Boston and Winthrop,” she wrote.

That said, activists like McGonagill have a set of demands to quell the abovementioned issues.

First, she mentioned the implementation of an “airport-sponsored community classroom and residential air filtration program.”

“Essentially, they should be installing and maintaining air filters in classrooms, daycares, community buildings, and also some private homes right around Logan Airport,” said McGonagill.

Activists are also asking for a stop to Logan Airport’s expansion, no displacement of planes from Hanscom Airfield to Logan Airport, banning private jets in the state, and more.

“All of these initiatives would help our kids from getting sick,” said McGonagill.

McGonagill says movement has been “very limited” regarding the potential implementation of these requests.

However, it should be noted that McGonagill indicated that Massport responded to a job description for the organization’s CEO position crafted by the Logan Community Clean Air Coalition and AIR, Inc. and printed in the East Boston Times.

Ultimately, McGonagill indicated that there would be more events in the future to raise awareness for these issues.

“I know that Extinction Rebellion Boston is really committed to improving the lives of residents in East Boston,” she said.

“It really is a back and forth between community events to support the residents of the area in understanding more about the risks that they’re facing, understanding more about where their voices can be heard while simultaneously taking more direct action, more civil-disobedience action to pressure the people in power.”

To learn more about future events from XR, visit https://xrboston.org/.

It should also be noted that Mehigan wrote in email correspondence that Massport “acknowledges that airport operations impact the surrounding communities” and that “for the past several decades has worked to reduce that impact as much as possible through a variety of initiatives.”

Mehigan detailed a recent initiative for Massport to achieve net zero by 2031. She wrote that the 2031 goal is “two decades before the industry standard of 2050.”

“Massport is committed to being a good neighbor. We have built and maintain more than 30 acres of parks and open space, mostly in East Boston. We require all new construction on Massport property to meet LEED certification,” wrote Mehigan.

“New construction and renovation projects incorporate energy conservation efforts and the installation of renewable energy sources; are currently replacing airfield diesel-powered equipment with eGSEs (electric ground service equipment); have eliminated millions of vehicle trips each year at Logan with better management of TNCs (Uber and Lyft); and are increasing Logan Express services and encouraging passengers to take public transit, among other initiatives,” she added.

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