Environmental Science Major Surveys Clean Air in NYC

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This story is part of our #BeTheChange series, which highlights small and large contributions that Manhattan College students are making across campus, in New York City and the U.S., and internationally.

Kieran Schnur ’19 is evaluating air pollution in the northwest Bronx and New York City.

There was something in the air last summer while Kieran Schnur ’19 interned at the environmental testing firm, EMSL Analytical, Inc. On the job, the environmental science major examined air samples from various construction sites on Long Island, specifically targeting high levels of asbestos, and other harmful agents. The experience made him take a closer look at how air pollution impacted his daily life.

For instance, when the Manhattan College men’s club rowing team began practicing on the Long Island Sound recently, the team captain noticed the fresh air at his boat’s new launch spot.

“In researching [clean air], you become more mindful of what you’re breathing in,” he said.

Through a School of Science project he’s worked on with Yelda Hangun-Balkir, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Veronique Lankar, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor in the Physics department, Schnur’s interest has piqued throughout the academic year.

Video by: Laura Meoli-Ferrigon and Harriet Carino '20

This spring, Schnur established the pristine Montauk coastline as the baseline for a larger study examining air quality in the Bronx and Manhattan. His results were obtained using air quality sensors measuring carbon dioxide (CO2) and dust that were built by Lankar.

“Air and water should be free and safe,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to be thinking, ‘Is this hurting my body?’”

In Van Cortlandt Park, Schnur found high levels of CO2 (approximately 7770 parts per notation) due to its proximity to the elevated subway train on Broadway, and the Major Deegan Expressway (I-87), which runs close to the park. Vehicles emit carbon dioxide every day as they drive along the highway. On the flip side, though, trees in the park produce oxygen, intercept airborne particulates, and reduce smog, which all improve a community's respiratory health.

Another surprising research finding was in the 42nd Street Subway Station. The terminal, which is one of the most highly trafficked terminals in New York City, had less than 2000 ppn of CO2, in part because of high ventilation that circulates the air underground.

Schnur presented his clean air research this spring at the Eastern Colleges Science Conference. Next year he will begin the Environmental Engineering master’s program at Manhattan, and environmental science major Jovan Gonzalez 19 will be continuing his research. Schnur’s ultimate career goal is to work in air quality research.

By Christine Loughran