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Velazquez Fights for a More Just Environment

Velázquez Fights for a More Just Environment
April 20, 2007
Press Release

WASHINGTON – In recognition of Earth Day, Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) today reintroduced the Community Environmental Equity Act, to protect working families in New York City, and across the nation, from being exposed to a disproportionately high concentration of pollution-producers that result in high asthma rates and other illnesses, in their neighborhoods.

"No one community should bear the brunt of environmental degradation,” said Congresswoman Velázquez.  “Yet too many of our neighborhoods - particularly those that house working families– suffer more than their fair share of factories, heavy traffic, and trash dump sites.  Residents of these communities have been stricken by high rates of chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease, cancer, and birth defects. This bill empowers communities to fight back."
New York has unacceptably high asthma hospitalization rates compared to other states.  1.1 million adults and 370,000 children are affected by this respiratory illness, resulting in over 42,000 hospitalizations due to asthma in New York State during 2004 alone.  The NYC Department of Health reports that Hispanic adults have the highest prevalence of current asthma.  The Community Environmental Equity Act will protect communities from being disproportionately exposed to an array of contaminants.  The legislation empowers all levels of government to measure whether a certain neighborhood is more affected by environmental hazards than other communities.  Under the bill, a working group of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues a report to Congress every two years on the progress of the implementation of this environmental justice legislation.

“The explosive rate at which New Yorkers are contracting illnesses caused by polluter companies is quite simply criminal,” said Congresswoman Velazquez.  “When asthma becomes a price our children pay for the neighborhood they live in, someone needs to be held accountable, and communities must have the ability to prevent further harm—this legislation is the first step in doing just that.”

H.R. 1972 has been enhanced to provide more tools to environmental stewards. To accurately measure consequences of new projects by polluter companies, this bill mandates that the government generate community Health Impact Profiles. These profiles will be developed through community-based organizations and local health centers.  This information will assist health policy makers who evaluate the health impact of future growth or redevelopment of existing and perspective companies, to protect high risk areas from increased exposure to specific dangerous substances. 

“Many of our communities that suffer from the highest asthma rates are also home to the worst sources of pollution.  Short term and long term exposure to these pollutants has serious health consequences, including increased asthma attacks, hospitalizations and even premature death,” said Louise Vetter, CEO and President of the American Lung Association of the City of New York. “We applaud Congresswoman Velazquez for her commitment to improving the lung health of all communities and protecting our most vulnerable populations from the dangers of environmental pollutants and poor air quality.”

Congresswoman Velázquez’s district encompasses sections of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, and is home to the highest number of waste transfer stations in the country.  Currently, there are 17 land-based waste transfer stations in Brooklyn, and 23 Toxic Release Inventories.  As of 2005, Brooklyn contains 211 EPA Right to Know Facilities, and RADIAC, a hazardous waste storage facility, and six power plants in or near the low-income, minority communities.