Protect the Health of New Yorkers from Toxic Industrial Fires
Over the past few days, a huge 7-alarm fire has been burning out of control in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sending a plume of acrid toxic smoke into the air for miles. Residents downwind have been complaining about foul odors, sore throats, headaches, and even the insides of their homes reeking of smoke.
While NYC firefighters have been bravely battling the fire under fierce conditions, city environmental and public health agencies were slow to respond to this disaster; one of the worst fires in NYC since 9/11.
It took the city’s health department over 15 hours after the fire began to issue a public health advisory urging those in the North Brooklyn area to keep away from the smoke, stay inside and close their windows. Community members have been requesting a better response from our environmental and public health agencies for quite some time with no real response.
WE, resident advocates of North Brooklyn, think this lack of action is unacceptable and urge you to sign our petition. We are calling on the Mayor’s Office to work with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the New York City Department of Health (DOH) to establish a more robust environmental and public health emergency plan to respond to major commercial and industrial fires. The city must develop more effective monitoring and reporting practices designed to protect public health in the event of major commercial/industrial fires that may affect air quality. Our health is at stake. We are calling on the city to implement changes within the next twelve months.
Over the past year, three major industrial fires have occurred in the increasingly populous communities of Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick. Aside from the most recent fire in Williamsburg, most of these events have gone under-reported and little to no public information was released regarding the potential health and safety hazards presented by these fires.
Historically, these communities have been overburdened by pollution from toxic waste sites, waste transfer stations, a sewage treatment plant, the Greenpoint oil spill and numerous state and federal Superfund sites. In addition, many presently operating businesses rely upon the usage or presence of specific chemicals on-site. When there is a fire on a property containing chemicals or a toxic legacy, there is an exponential increase in the likelihood of neighborhood exposure to the chemicals on-site, including chemicals which are potentially hazardous to human health.
Toxic chemicals like dioxins and furans, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and elevated particulate matter are some of the potentially hazardous chemicals that can be released in the event of a fire. Specific health effects linked to exposure to these chemicals and pollutants include asthma and other respiratory problems, headaches, cancer, birth defects, learning and developmental disabilities. Undoubtedly the public -- and the City-- have a right to quantifiable information wherever possible; measuring exposure enables more effective environmental and public health responses.
Mayor De Blasio, we are calling on your administration to lead and implement the following measures in response to this week’s fire within the next twelve months:
1. Investigate the City’s response to the three major industrial/commercial fires in North Brooklyn that have taken place over the past year, particularly evaluating how the city has monitored air pollution and health concerns for areas downwind of these fires, and informed the public and workers about potential hazards and health risks.
2. Evaluate the City’s emergency response plans for responding to commercial and industrial fires in NYC, with recommendations on how the city can improve its environmental and public health response, as well as public communications.
3. Direct the NYC DEP and DOH to develop an emergency ambient air monitoring program for responding to major commercial and industrial fires. Air sampling should address particulate matter, VOC’s, and other chemicals and toxic byproducts that may be released during uncontrolled commercial and industrial fires. Air monitoring should take place both near the fires as well as areas downwind. Community stakeholders that have been impacted should be consulted in the development of such a program.
4. Direct the NYC DEP, DOH, and FDNY to publicly release any and all environmental sampling data from the three recent fires in North Brooklyn, post them online and in ways that is accessible to all members of the community.
5. Require the DEP to sample the CitiStorage site for dioxins and furans in the ashes, soot, soil, and puddles on site, particularly as this site is adjacent to the East River. The East River already has a NYS DOH fish consumption advisory for crabs contaminated with dioxins. DEP should also test ashes and soot from the fire in people’s backyards, and on vehicles nearby. If the DEP is unable to, it should request the assistance of the DEC and EPA.
6. Require the NYC DOH to evaluate the potential health hazards that residents and workers face(d) from exposure to pollution from the ongoing CitiStorage fire, particularly those most vulnerable such as infants, young children, women of childbearing age, residents with asthma, and elderly residents.
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