Friday, January 10, 2014

Bridgegate and political murder

In Bridgegate news coverage, writers sometimes ask if the bridge closure killed anyone, specifically a 91 year old woman who subsequently died after emergency responders were delayed by the traffic jam.

That's a tough thing to pin down, because 91 year olds do die for myriad reasons, even if emergency care is provided in a timely manner.  You can't measure "excess deaths", the number of people who actually die versus what you would expect in the absence of some "treatment" (denial of care), with a sample size of one.

As a scientist and a mother, I monitor air pollution indices and adjust our family's daily activities accordingly.  Air pollution kills.  Air pollution kills at much lower concentrations than previously believed.  For most people, air pollution isn't immediately deadly, but it makes them feel crappy, leads them to use a rescue inhaler or to the emergency room.  It's a different story for people with cardiac and pulmonary disease.

My advice to Bridgegate watchers is to look more broadly.   Did the closure of the George Washington Bridge lead to more air pollution than the meteorological conditions would have generated if the bridge had not been closed?  A quick look at the AirNOW's NYC Archive would suggest that.  The bridge was closed down September 9, 2013 and reopened September 13.

However, this isn't a smoking gun unless you do a detailed air quality simulation using coupled weather and air pollution models with actual air pollution emissions for those days and compare them with controls performed with emissions inventories of more typical days.  Has anyone done that?  Can you explain that to a jury?

Is this map more easily understood?  That rectangular orange hotspot is Fort Lee.  It 's important to note that "excess mortality" can be detected even at moderate levels of 30 ppm.  We now know that "Moderate" really means unsafe for sensitive groups and "USG" (unsafe for sensitive groups) means unsafe for everyone.  Multiply the increased risk by the number of people affected and if that is not a crime, then perhaps we need to change the laws.

Governor Chris Christie (and/or his staff) committed environmental terrorism against the residents of Fort Lee and possibly the entire NYC metro area--tens of millions of people.


  1. WOW. This is a really insightful and different way to look at the situation.

  2. Yes, that is interesting! You know; I think you could write a column for the newspaper, explaining the scientific approach to local situations like this. Have you considered submitting this piece?

  3. I agree with Clio - WOW. Thank you for researching and writing this.


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