Families and Educators Deserve to Know

Council Members Levin and Johnson Introduce Bill to Strengthen Reporting on Toxic Clean-Up in City Schools


NEW YORK CITY—Council Members Stephen T. Levin and Corey Johnson introduced legislation that would strengthen and extend reporting on detection and remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in New York City public schools.

“New York families and educators deserve to know when PCBs are found in their schools and to be assured that the City is taking swift action to protect their health and well-being,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Intro 1434 expands and extends critical reporting measures on City progress to remove PCBs-contaminated materials and keep schools safe. I thank New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for their steadfast dedication to amplifying this serious health concern.”

“There’s nothing more important than ensuring the highest standards of health and safety for our children,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “Every parent has the right to know when PCBs are detected in the classroom, and every Council Member needs to be equipped with this information so we can assist in the abatement process. Simply put, this legislation is going to keep us on track to create safer, healthier learning environments for our kids. I thank Council Member Stephen Levin, Rachel Spector and her team at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for their outstanding leadership on this issue.”

Until PCBs were banned in 1979 because they were found to be a dangerous neurotoxic substance, they were commonly used in construction materials, such as light fixtures and caulking. Although no systematic testing has been done to verify the presence of PCBs, they are suspected to be present in caulking, lighting ballasts, and soil at hundreds of New York City. 

Exposure to heightened levels of PCBs may result in adverse health effects, especially for young children at a critical period of neurological development. Both the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency consider PCBs a known carcinogen. PCBs bind to nucleophilic cellular macromolecules in the body, such as DNA, RNA, and protein, which may elevate long term cancer risk through accumulated exposure. 

Intro 1434 would amend Local Laws 68 and 69 of 2011, legislation also sponsored by Council Member Levin, which created parental notification requirements when PCBs were detected in children’s schools and also required the City to report to the Council its progress in removing light fixtures contaminated with PCBs. The City’s removal of all PCB-contaminated light fixtures will trigger the expiration of the existing law, although many sources of PCBs are thought to remain. The newly introduced bill:

  • Maintains the current reporting requirement that the Department of Education must notify parents upon the discovery of PCBs in their children’s schools; and
  • Requires annual reporting to the City Council of all PCBs detected throughout the school system from sources including caulk, soil, and heating ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems, as well as reports of steps taken to remove or remediate PCBs after detection.

The 2011 legislation was introduced after the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) filed a lawsuit on behalf of New York Communities for Change, resulting in remediation of lighting containing PCBs in 883 schools and protecting over 500,000 New York City children and educators. 

“While the City has made critical progress in removing PCBs from schools as a result of our lawsuit, there is still more work to be done,” said Rachel Spector, Director, Environmental Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “The presence of PCBs in caulk remains a widespread problem, and the City must keep parents informed about when these harmful chemicals are discovered in their children’s school and what steps they are taking to address it. The health of our children is at stake.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now overseeing the development of a long-term plan to address remaining PCBs from caulk and other materials in New York City schools. The EPA plan is unlikely to require testing or removal of all sources of PCBs, and will focus on mitigating risks of exposure. Future tests of soil, caulk, air, or other school building materials may reveal elevated levels of PCBs.

City Council Enacts First Ban in the Nation on Oil and Natural Gas Waste Products

CITY HALL—Today, New York City became the nation’s first municipality to ban the use or discharge of natural gas and oil waste products, including from hydraulic fracturing. 

Intro 446-A protects New York City communities from toxic pollutants and safeguards our water. The waste associated with hydraulic fracturing (“hydro-fracking”) and other natural gas and oil extraction processes frequently contains naturally-occurring radioactive elements such as radium, carcinogens such as benzene, and other chemical additives. Without adequate protections in place, these pollutants could leach into our local ecosystem and drinking water.

Lead Sponsor, Council Member Stephen Levin said, “The New York City Council breaks new ground today by passing what we believe to be the first comprehensive municipal ban on the discharge or use of waste products associated with all methods of oil and gas extraction. This crucial bill will protect New York City communities from toxic pollutants and ensure cleaner water for generations to come—and I hope that other legislative bodies will follow suit. I have been honored to work with Chairman Constantinides and a team of dedicated advocates to build momentum around this bill and I thank them for their steadfast commitment to protecting our environment.”

Although the State of New York banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing in 2015, the briny byproduct is vastly under-regulated at the state level and has been used to remove ice and control dust on roadways, but used in this way, or disposed of in wastewater treatment facilities or landfills, the pollutants could run off onto adjoining land and contaminate our rivers, streams, and aquifers. 

Intro 446-A, introduced by Council Member Stephen Levin, directly addresses these public health and safety concerns as it will:
Prohibit the discharge of any oil or natural gas waste to any surface water bodies located within the City or to any wastewater treatment plant located within the City.

Ban the application of any oil or natural gas waste upon any road, real property or landfill located within the City.

Require all City bids or contracts for the construction or maintenance of a City road to include a provision stating that no materials containing or manufactured from oil or natural gas waste shall be utilized in providing the service. 
"Intro. 446 will ensure that fracking and oil extraction waste byproducts will not be used or disposed in our city,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Council's Environmental Protection Committee. “This type of hazardous substance does not belong in our landfills. This legislation helps us keep our environment clean and maintain our public health. I thank Council Member Levin for his leadership on this important issue."

"We are obligated to do whatever we can to protect our environment," said co-sponsor Council Member Daniel Dromm. "Our children deserve access to clean drinking water.  When passed, this legislation will establish protections that will safeguard our city's water supply for many generations.  I am proud to work alongside Council Member Levin on this important issue and thank him for his leadership."

"Despite New York State's strong stance against fracking, its harmful byproducts can still end up in the city,” said Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick. “We need to close this loophole-- and that's why Intro 446-A is so critical. It will keep these dangerous materials from entering our environment and protect public health across the five boroughs."

As the 2015 NY State Law did not ban wastewater use and disposal, 15 New York counties have taken similar steps to ban byproduct disposal. The threat is real: New York state continues to allow more than 12,000 low-volume fracking wells and road-spreading of briny wastewater is permitted in at least 15 New York counties. 

“This legislation is a milestone in the fight to protect our water and public health from the dangers of fracking waste,” said Riverkeeper Staff Attorney Sean Dixon. “In the absence of a statewide ban, several New York’s municipalities have stepped up, prohibiting these toxic oil and natural gas wastes in their wastewater treatment plants, water bodies and landfills, and have banned its use to de-ice roads. Now, we applaud the New York City Council for extending these same protections to its 8.5 million residents and their roads, parks, waterways, and environment”

“Even though high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing is banned in New York State, New Yorkers are not protected from the harmful effects of toxic and radioactive fracking waste. Since there are no federal and state laws regulating the disposal of fracking waste, we commend the New York City Council for the passage of Int 446-A and wish to thank Council Member Levin, Chairman Constantinides, and all the council members who sponsored this bill for protecting the people of New York City from being exposed to toxic waste that could contaminate our air and water," said Ling Tsou, Co-Founder of United for Action.
“The League of Women Voters of the City of New York praises and thanks the City Council for writing and passing the comprehensive waste bill, Int 446-A,” said Mary Anne Sullivan of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York. “This bill protects the health of New Yorkers from possible exposure to radioactive elements causing cancer, and from endocrine disrupting chemicals among other unhealthy chemicals and metals. We thank Council Member Levin for leading this effort with Council Member Constantinides.”

In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) has taken similar action to protect our waterways, creating a new rule to prevent disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing at public sewage plants. Such facilities are not typically outfitted to extract high concentrations of the solids and pollutants found in oil and natural gas waste.The EPA cited that untreated, wastewater could negatively affect drinking water, aquatic life, and irrigation. 

“Our statewide fracking ban, enacted in 2014, was a watershed moment for health and public safety in New York. But in terms of protecting residents from the numerous hazards associated with fossil fuel extraction, it wasn’t the end of the story. Councilman Levin knew this, and we’re grateful for his tireless work to ban all oil and gas drilling waste from our city,” said Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region Director at Food & Water Watch. “With this law, New Yorkers can feel safer knowing they will forever be protected from the serious harms that toxic, radioactive oil and gas drilling waste pose to communities big and small."

“As a science based environmental health nonprofit, we highly commend Council Member Levin and the City Council for introducing and enacting legislation to protect the health and safety and precious water resources of NYC residents,” said Ellen Weininger, Director of Educational Outreach at Grassroots Environmental Education. “In the absence of state and federal regulations, the largest city in the nation has now stepped in with strong precautionary measures to ensure the protection of millions of its residents from dangerous toxic exposure, sending a strong message that it is imperative to protect the public from pollutants.”

Intro 446-A now awaits a signature by Mayor Bill de Blasio and will take effect 90 days after it becomes law.

Keep it Clean! Rally to Protect Our Water

Join Council Member Stephen Levin, community stakeholders, and environmental advocates for a rally in support of a bill to ban the use or discharge of natural gas and oil waste in our city—including from hydraulic fracturing. 

This crucial legislation has three key elements and would:
•    Prohibit the discharge of any oil or natural gas waste to any surface water bodies located within the City or to any wastewater treatment plant located within the City.
•    Ban the application of any oil or natural gas waste upon any road, real property or landfill located within the City.
•    Require all City bids or contracts for the construction or maintenance of a City road to include a provision stating that no materials containing or manufactured from oil or natural gas waste shall be utilized in providing the service. 

The Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Sanitation are responsible for enforcement and penalties for violation range from $2,500 and $25,000. 

The first bill of its kind in the nation,  Intro 446-A is sponsored by Council Member Stephen Levin and has 32 co-sponsors. The City Council will vote on the bill at the 1:30 PM Stated Meeting.

Riverkeeper Sweep Recap

This year's Riverkeep Sweep was a resounding success. Thousands of volunteers removed tons of trash and debris from our waterways. The annual event's 5th iteration took place in more than 100 locations throughout the city, including many along the Brooklyn coast. Our volunteers provided some photos in the hope it will encourage even more people to take part next year.