MBNA: Ban BBQing On Manhattan Beach Now!

Traffic safety, property taxes and public transportation all came up at last night’s Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association meeting, but the issue that had the membership most fired up was charcoal grilling in the Manhattan Beach park.

The group voted unanimously to send letters to city agencies demanding that barbecuing be banned and the charcoal pits uprooted from the park, a move that would eliminate one of the borough’s seven parks that legally allow grills, and one of only two in Southern Brooklyn.

The vote was made after the group’s president, Dr. Alan Ditchek, an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist, brought up a recent study linking airborne particulate matter with elevated incidents of stroke.

“I would like to question the city, who wants to legislate against smoking at the beach or smoking outdoors, how could they possibly allow the continuation of barbecue grills here on Manhattan Beach, jeopardizing the health of not only the residents of Manhattan Beach, but everyone on the beach, and everyone in the playground, and everyone on the ballfield,” Ditchek said in front of an audience of about a dozen residents. “If this study mentions particulate matter and risk of stroke – proven risk of stroke – then the city better get down here and shut down these barbecue grills as soon as possible.”

Ditchek presented to the group an article from the current issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, which argues that air pollution – and concentrated particulate matter, especially – elevates a population’s risk of stroke. That’s in addition to previous studies that connect it to cardiovascular and pulmonary illnesses, as well as cancer. Even short-term exposure could drastically increase stroke risk, Ditchek pointed out, and said that elderly patients experienced an increase in stroke hospitalization on the same day of exposure to high levels of particulate matter.

The study did not mention barbecuing, but discussed overall air pollution. Ditchek did not say what defines “high levels” of particulate matter. Measurements of particulate matter around the barbecuing areas in Manhattan Beach have never been made to see how much it affects air quality.

When one resident questioned if this would lead to a ban on barbecuing in people’s private property, another MBNA member responded by saying the thousands of grills in homes across the city were a “small amount” compared to the handful in city parks. Ditchek explained further, saying that it’s different because it’s all concentrated in one spot, and is possibly more dangerous.

“These people are burning fossil fuel – they’re burning charcoal briquettes – which actually may release more particulate matter than you can even imagine. And now just multiply that by 10 or 15 grills going at one time, and a little breeze in the air,” Ditchek said. “I know personally when I’m at the basketball court down at the park and I get a whiff of that, I start choking to death.”

The new research is adding fuel to the community’s argument that barbecuing ought to be banned for the residents’ well-being, an argument they and some members of the Manhattan Beach Community Group have been making for years.

MBNA Executive Boardmember Ron Biondo noted that they had previously asked former-Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Julius Spiegel to look into the matter, but Spiegel explained that families had a right to enjoy barbecuing at the beach. They hope to convince thew new Parks Commission Kevin Jeffrey – as well as the Department of Health – to consider a ban in the community, bolstered by the recent study. They will ask City Councilman Michael Nelson and State Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz to put pressure on the agencies.

If that comes to pass, hundreds of thousands of Brooklyn residents who live in apartment buildings or homes with no usable outdoor space, unlike that attached to most Manhattan Beach residences, will be without options to enjoy barbecuing in publicly-owned spaces. Currently, only seven Brooklyn parks permit barbecuing, and only one other in Southern Brooklyn – Kaiser Park in Coney Island. Winning a ban in Manhattan Beach could set a precedent to wipe out barbecuing in all public parks altogether.

All of those parks limit barbecuing areas to small sections of the property. In Manhattan Beach, grilling is legally confined only to the section northeast of the promenade, next to the parking lot, and also near Hastings Street.

Although the MBNA’s rival group the MBCG has its own concerns about grilling, they’re not yet ready to join them in the crusade to ban the practice. Ira Zalcman, president of the MBCG, said he preferred not to make a judgement on a ban because “it’s a decision that should be made by the community. [But] if there’s health literature, we should take that into account.” He noted that the group looked into such medical research a year or two ago, but found nothing concrete to tie instances of barbecue smoke to adverse health reactions.

More important to his group, he said, is to get the city to enforce their current rules. He said that many people bring their own barbecues and grill in areas outside of the alloted space, with dangerous high-temperature equipment smoldering where children play.

“[There are] things everywhere, and it’s where kids are running around,” he said. “That scares me.”

“Department of Parks should enforce the existing rules that they have on the books now, which is that barbecue is only allowed in the designated areas from Hastings down to the college,” Zalcman added. “They should enforce the rules.”