UPPER EAST SIDE — Several residents were using their shirts and scarves to cover their faces as they crossed the street at Second Avenue and East 70th Street; some broke into a trot to hurry from the area.
It was just after 4 p.m. on Thursday and the air was thick with dust and an acrid odor from underground blasting for the Second Avenue subway.
Upper East Siders who live in the area have noticed there's been even more dust and odors clogging the air lately, and many have been flooding Community Board 8 with inquires about it. MTA officials said they are trying to control the problem and are looking at changing its blasting schedule.
"We are taking all reasonable precautions to control the smoke and odors from our blasting operations," the subway's construction manager, Amitabha Mukherjee, said according to an email blast Community Board 8 sent in response to community concerns.
Mukherjee acknowledged that the amount of dust and the strength of the odor have increased lately. Workers have had to change their blasting schedule since the MTA promised to stop blasting past 7 p.m., and are now doing several blasts simultaneously to get the work done within the allotted time, he said.
"We are in the process of determining if some of the operations can be re-sequenced in some fashion to allow more time between these blasts to allow more dilution time for the smoke/odor to dissipate, without sacrificing production rates," he said.
"We are closing the doors of both muck houses and watering down the particulates with water sprays both underground and at street level inside the muck houses," Mukherjee said, referring to the massive structures on East 72nd and East 70th streets that the MTA uses minimize dust as it processes the dirt workers have dug up for the subway.
Many residents have said they're developing coughs and have complained about the dust buildup in their homes. They're worried about possible adverse health effects from the blasting.
"There’s no way to cross the street without getting covered in muck," Valerie Mason, who lives on East 72nd Street, said at a Community Board 8 meeting in September. "There are elderly and children and they are in the middle of a construction site. It’s just not right."
The MTA conducted an air quality study, monitoring 10 locations between East 69th and 87th streets from Sept. 11 through Oct. 8.
The transportation authority's preliminary findings after one week suggested that residents should be more concerned about pollution from morning rush hour traffic than dust from blasting, MTA officials said.
The full data set is currently being analyzed, the agency said.