Move to Green Acres was the place to be | NevadaAppeal.com

Move to Green Acres was the place to be

Abby Johnson
For the Nevada Appeal

Soot changed my father’s life which began 100 years ago next month.

Growing up in the melting pot of Brooklyn, N.Y., my late father remembered horse drawn carriages, early autos and soot.

He also remembered being really sick with severe and chronic bronchitis, which kept him home from school in his early years. When the family moved, for health reasons, to Staten Island, still a borough of New York but more like Green Acres for a boy from Brooklyn, everything changed.

Away from the daily soot-ridden pollution of the factories of Brooklyn, he healed. He and his best friend explored the wild woods of the still pristine island on their bikes. He caught up in school and thrived in the suburban neighborly atmosphere.

A family legend is that his mother gave him money to buy a loaf of bread at the bakery. He was a penny short because the baker had recently raised his price. My father offered a compromise. Would the baker cut off one slice so that he could still purchase the bread? The baker was so taken with his negotiating skills that he sold him the loaf for the old price, and told my grandmother about this brokered deal.

This was an early indication of the persuasive abilities that he would use as an attorney and legislator.

After college and law school, he returned to Staten Island and worked in Manhattan for the legal department of Railway Express, a job he retained for his entire career, negotiating with unions for labor contracts and with public utility commissions for rate hikes. He also had an abiding interest in politics, and used his network of Staten Island contacts as a base of support to launch his first campaign. In his 30s, he was elected to the New York State Senate where he served before and after World War II.

These memories were triggered by reading in the New York Times soot particles cause premature death from cardiovascular ailments. The EPA think-tank study finds that “having a condition that is a precursor to deadly heart attacks for people living in soot-laden areas goes up by 24 percent rather than 12 percent as particle concentrations increase.” The study defines soot sources as diesel engines, auto tires, coal-fire power plants and oil refineries.

Ironically, soot changed my father’s life for the better. The life-threatening effects caused my grandparents to find a healthier place to live, which became the foundation for my father to thrive.

It is also ironic that despite the intense government regulation that now controls air quality, soot is still a threat to public health as it was 100 years ago.

• Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City. She consults on nuclear waste and community development. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.