BREATH OF FRESH AIR

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The Lower Washington Heights Neighborhood Association is teaming up with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, abandoning its longstanding beef with the federal agency. The truce comes nearly a decade after John Culpepper, executive director of the Washington Heights group, began pushing the EPA’s regional office to add more air monitoring devices in Washington Heights, a neighborhood that suffers from some of the city’s highest asthma rates. Culpepper particularly wanted a monitor placed outside a school on 155th Street, an area hard hit by traffic from the George Washington Bridge. When the EPA rejected Culpepper’s request, he and colleague Edgar Freud raised funds to purchase their own portable air monitor, and began training students and other residents throughout New York on how to use the machine. The results backed up the group’s worst fears: the level of air pollution was far higher than what the EPA considers safe. The feds initially ignored the results, Culpepper said, but lately seem to have taken notice: Last April, the EPA awarded Culpepper with an award for his work and, in late August, met with the group to develop strategies to reduce air pollution. One of the primary efforts will convert city buses, school buses and sanitation trucks to ultra low sulfur diesel fuel, a cleaner alternative. Culpepper said he’s delighted to have made peace with the feds. “Nobody else has the money, the power or the authority to do what they can,” he said. Still, he’s not quite ready to trust his former foe. “We’re going to be watching them like a hawk,” he said. (C. Feldman) [09/19/05]