Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan: Earth Day Package Protects Public Health, Environment

Assembly legislation aims to cut down on BPA and decaBDE; protects wetlands and communities impacted by environmental hazards
April 26, 2010

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Queens) announced the Assembly passed a package of bills designed to address some of New York’s most pressing environmental health issues, including limiting or banning the use of dangerous compounds in manufacturing, expanding and improving recycling and disposal of hazardous materials, protecting New York’s wetlands, and implementing policies that promote environmental justice for disadvantaged New Yorkers.

“Earth Day is an opportunity for us to focus on the health of New Yorkers and our environment and to pass legislation that makes a difference not just today but for future generations,” Assemblywoman Nolan said. “The bills included in this package make significant headway in eliminating dangerous elements from our homes and the environment and protecting our natural resources.”

Controlling pollution and addressing the threat of global warming

The Assembly passed the New York State Healthy and Green Procurement Act, a measure that would establish a preference for the purchase of commodities, services and technologies by the state that minimize adverse impacts on public health and the environment (A.7038-A).

“Choosing the safest, most sustainable commodities, services and technologies will help to ensure a higher quality of life for New Yorkers,” Assemblywoman Nolan said. “It will also put New York businesses in an economically advantageous position. A major benefit of safe and sustainable procurement is increased efficiency and reduced overall costs to government, taxpayers and society as a whole.”

The Assembly also passed the Global Warming Pollution Control Act in a move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the advancement of global warming (A.7572-A).

“Global warming poses a serious threat to our public health, natural resources and economic well-being,” Assemblywoman Nolan said. “Global warming will have detrimental effects on some of New York’s largest industries, including agriculture, tourism, recreational and commercial fishing and forestry. By acting now in developing non-polluting technologies like solar, wind and geothermal power, New York can be a leader in new, clean energy production and spur the federal government and other countries to action.”

Reducing exposure to dangerous chemicals, contaminants and pesticides

Two bills in the package would eliminate the use of certain unsafe compounds – bisphenal-A (BPA) and decabrominated diphenyl ether (decaBDE) – in the manufacture of materials used in some common household items.

The Bisphenol-A-free Children and Babies Act would prohibit the sale of certain products containing BPA intended for use by children under the age of 3 (A.6919-C). The measure would also preempt local laws that regulate BPA in products for children 3 and under.

BPA is widely used in food and drink packaging, including many products intended for use by young children, like food cans, bottle tops, jar lids, infant formula containers, sippy cups, pacifiers and juice boxes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 93 percent of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their bodies, and studies have found that babies have higher levels of BPA than adults because of greater exposure and reduced capacity to metabolize BPA. Research links BPA to a host of serious health problems for people of all ages, including heart disease, immune system disruption, brain deterioration, type-2 diabetes, cancer and obesity.

“It can be a struggle to get the proper nutrition into our kids, especially little ones. Even if we are giving them the right food, with BPA in the packaging we might be doing our children harm,” Assemblywoman Nolan said. “This legislation is so important because it will eliminate BPA from packaging for products meant for children and will thus eliminate or minimize our kids’ exposure to this dangerous compound.”

Other bills in the package would:

  • prohibit the manufacture, process or distribution of decaBDE, a flame retardant commonly used in drapery, upholstery fabric and carpeting (A.7573-A);
  • discontinue the use of certain pesticides by the state and adopt a largely non-chemical pest-control policy (A.5848-B); and
  • require testing of drinking water from private wells upon transfer of property (A.4557-A).

Expanding and enhancing recycling programs and requirements

The Assembly’s Earth Day package includes several measures that would improve recycling policies and procedures throughout the state, including bills that would:

  • specify materials to be separated for recycling, thereby clarifying the obligations of waste haulers regarding the handling of recyclable materials (A.1319). The measure would prohibit private and municipal waste haulers from delivering recyclable materials to landfills or incinerators;
  • discourage the use of disposable, difficult-to-recycle Styrofoam food service containers and study the feasibility of a Styrofoam ban in New York State (A.428-A);
  • ban the disposal of used rechargeable batteries, which contain dangerous levels of cadmium and lead, from the solid waste stream and require manufacturers to provide collection sites through retailers to recycle rechargeable batteries that are sold or disposed of in New York (A. 6813-C); and
  • establish a safe collection, disposal and recycling program for out-of-service mercury-containing thermostats (A.10160-C).

Protecting freshwater and small, isolated wetlands

The Assembly’s package includes two bills designed to protect New York’s valuable freshwater and small wetlands. One measure would apply to freshwater wetlands the same enforcement provisions used in protecting tidal wetlands, including fines for damage to wetlands (A.4807). The second measure would provide the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with regulatory authority over freshwater wetlands that are one acre or larger in size, or other wetlands of significant local importance (A.6363).

Minimizing environmental impact, protecting at-risk environments

Three bills in the Assembly’s Earth Day package aim to better protect areas of the state that are most adversely affected by existing environmental hazards. One measure requires the DEC to publish every two years a list of “high local environmental impact zones” (A.8489-A).

Historically, geographical areas with existing environmental hazards are often selected for the placement of new projects, presumably due to the belief that the adverse impact would be less in such an area than in an area with no existing environmental problems. Unfortunately, this process can lead to a concentration of environmental hazards within a small geographic area, and an increased risk to residents of those areas.

“This bill will help to ensure that New York State recognizes the existence of overburdened communities and that future siting decisions are made only after considering the potential adverse impacts on these communities,” Assemblywoman Nolan said.

Another piece of legislation passed by the Assembly would establish a five-member Permanent Environmental Justice Advisory Group within the DEC and an Environmental Justice Interagency Coordinating Council, and would require state agencies to adopt and abide by effective environmental justice policies (A.8490-A).

“New York should serve as a leader and role model for practices that will create and maintain a healthy environment and promote the health and welfare of its citizens,” Assemblywoman Nolan said. “The bills included in this package take significant steps toward this goal, while also helping restore the health of our economy.”