Sunday, December 28, 2008
STOP INTRO 650 Which Would Require a Permit to Monitor Air Quality in NYC
Peter Vallone, Jr., Chair of the New York City Council Public Safety Committee, needs to be reprimanded for introducing a bill that will violate the right of individuals to monitor air quality in NYC without going through the police department scrutiny. If this bill, INTRO 650-B, passes, and you try to get a police permit as you will be required to do in order to monitor environmental air quality, you most probably will be prevented by the NYC Police Department, which at the present time is overreaching their mandate and are violating citizen rights.
We suggest that you protest the pursuit of this bill by writing it's supporters and telling them that this bill is unacceptable. You can also use your voice to protest the actions of the following members (supporters of INTRO 650)who are not, in our opinion, protecting the public but are catering to the Mayor's attempts to control all agencies and information in defiance of transparency and open government:
Mr. Peter Vallone, Jr., Chairperson
Public Safety Committee
The New York City Council
250 Broadway 17th Floor
New York, NY 10007
and at his office
Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr.
Lewis A. Fidler
Vincent J. Gentile
Michael C. Nelson
Domenic M. Recchia, Jr.
David I. Weprin, Jr.
Thomas White, Jr.
STOP INTRO 650 NOW!
Intro 650 (Permits for Atmospheric, Biological, Chemical, and Radiological Detectors) is a City Council bill, introduced at the request of the Mayor, that will require police permits for possession and use of environmental air monitoring devices by public health groups, labor unions, environmentalists, community organizations, and university programs.
Intro 650, if enacted, will restrict, and could prevent altogether, independent environmental monitoring. Intro 650 also raises a serious threat to our civil liberties.
An initial hearing on the bill was held January 8. Strong opposition was raised by numerous speakers representing a broad range of groups. (See links below.)
Read the bill: Intro 650 is the bill that was the subject of the January 8 hearing held by the New York City Council, Public Safety Committee. Intro 650-B is a revised version of the bill. It was drafted in response to testimony and comments made during the January 8 hearing.
Testimony given at January 8 hearing
Statement of Richard Falkenrath, Deputy Commissioner, Counterterrorism, New York City Police Department
Joint testimony of NYCOSH and New York City Central Labor Council
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer
Ellie Engler, Assistant to the President and Director, UFT Safety and Health Department, United Federation of Teachers
Jack Caravanos, Associate Professor of Environmental Health and Acting Program Director of Urban Public Health and Track Coordinator, Hunter College
John B. Glass, Jr., Senior Vice President, The Hillman Group; Chair, Environmental Issues, Special Interest Group, New Jersey Local Section, American Industrial Hygiene Association
Statements, Resolutions opposing Intro 650
New York State Public Employees Federation, AFL-CIO, letter to Peter Vallone, Chairperson, Public Safety Committe, New York CIty Council
Joint Boards of the Mount Sinai Center for Occupational Health and Environmental Medicine
New York State Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick statement
New York City Council Member Alan Gerson, District 1
Community Board 1- Manhattan: Resolution in opposition of Intro 650
American Industrial Hygiene Association letter to Mayor Bloomberg
Riverkeeper, New York/New Jersey Baykeeper, Long Island Soundkeeper, Newton Creek Alliance letter to Mayor Bloomberg
News stories about Intro 650
New York Times, City Room.com, 1/8/08
Downtown Express, 1/8/08
Village Voice, 1/15/08
Gotham Gazette, 1/18/08
January 8, 2008, 6:26 pm
A License to Check for W.M.D.’s?
By Sewell Chan, City Room
Individuals and companies have increasingly expressed interest in buying detectors to warn them in case of a biological, chemical or radiological attack. But now a City Council committee is considering a proposal that would require New Yorkers to get a permit from the Police Department to buy or use such detectors.
The legislation — which was proposed by the Bloomberg administration and would be the first of its kind in the nation — would empower the police commissioner to decide whether to grant a free five-year permit to individuals and companies seeking to “possess or deploy such detectors.” Common smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors would not be covered by the law, the Police Department said. Violations of the law would be considered a misdemeanor.
Why does the administration think such a law is necessary? Richard A. Falkenrath, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, told the Council’s Public Safety Committee at a hearing today, “Our mutual goal is to prevent false alarms and unnecessary public concern by making sure that we know where these detectors are located and that they conform to standards of quality and reliability.”
The law would also require anyone using such a detector — regardless of whether they have obtained the required permit — to notify the Police Department if the detector alerted them to a biological, chemical or radiological agent. “In this way, emergency response personnel will be able to assess threats and take appropriate action based on the maximum information available,” Dr. Falkenrath said.
The Police Department would work with officials in the Departments of Fire, Health and Mental Hygiene and Environmental Protection, Dr. Falkenrath said, to “develop the appropriate standards for evaluating the applications, regarding not only the technical specifications for the detectors but also the applicant’s emergency response protocols.”
Not everyone is enamored of the legislation, however.
The Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, said in a statement that he was “concerned that in its current form this bill is too broad and will unfairly obstruct the independent collection of scientific data.”
Mr. Stringer said that he could not “think of any evidence or events from our recent past involving ‘false alarms’ that would create any urgency for this sweeping legislation,” and that on the contrary, the law “may undermine public freedom and add unnecessary red tape.” In the statement, he asked:
If enacted, would we have the absurd result of making it illegal for patients to test whether their kids are being exposed to second-hand smoke, mold, radon or other common pollutants unless they first get a permit from the city? How about air-quality testing by environmental advocacy groups in East Harlem, prompted by alarming statistics that children in El Barrio have the highest asthma rates in the nation?
Ellie Engler, a safety and health official at the United Federation of Teachers, said that “universally requiring permits for atmospheric, biological, chemical and radiological detectors places an undue burden on personnel conducting routine construction-related activities in New York City.”
And the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, a labor-backed advocacy group, was even more adamant in his opposition. In a statement, the committee said the bill “is aimed at fixing a problem that does not exist”;
“would make it more difficult for the public, and for government agencies, to obtain environmental sampling data in a timely manner”;
“would make it more difficult for the public to obtain independent environmental sampling data and to assess the accuracy of government statements”;
“would inappropriately and impossibly task N.Y.P.D. with assessing the capabilities of air monitoring instruments and of the individuals, agencies and organizations that utilize them”; and
“would immediately make illegal scores of thousands of safety devices already in place in homes, schools, businesses and public buildings.”
At the hearing, Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., a Queens Democrat who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the Council has been asked by the Bloomberg administration to “move as expeditiously as possible” on the bill. He and the speaker, Christine C. Quinn, support the bill but want to see the concerns about its broad language addressed.
“The consensus is that the goal of the bill is very reasonable, but we need to tailor a little more specifically so as not to hinder legitimate private uses of these detection devices,” Mr. Vallone said in a phone interview this afternoon. In principle, the Police Department should be able to know who has such devices, he said, but household detectors like smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should not be included in the legislation.
“The technology in potential weapons and in detection devices is constantly evolving and needs to be examined by experts, not legislators,” Mr. Vallone said.
NY TIMES op-ed, January 30, 2008
January 30, 2008
By STEVEN CHILLRUD, GREG O’MULLAN and WADE McGILLIS
AT the suggestion of the federal Department of Homeland Security, New York City Council members have drafted legislation requiring anyone who has or uses a detector that measures chemical, biological or radioactive agents to get a license from the Police Department.
The purpose of the bill is to reduce unwarranted anxiety and damage from false alarms of terrorist attacks. Proponents say police officers need to know where detectors are and make sure they’re reliable. But the bill, which appears to be the first of its kind in the country and a model for other cities, could stifle the collection of environmental information vital to the public good.
The problem is that the bill as written would cover all “environmental sensors,” and in the extreme interpretation even laboratory analyses, used by students, teachers, researchers, activists, unions and many other groups. Their work has far more to do with ecology, education, public health and worker safety than with terrorism. These sensors allow them to measure things like greenhouse gases in order to document air pollution.
There are many examples of nongovernmental groups collecting important environmental data based on laboratory analyses. Indeed, the original identification of PCB contamination of the Hudson River did not come from the government but from a study by Sports Illustrated magazine that included data on striped bass collected from the river by a private citizen, Robert H. Boyle.
When a steam pipe exploded in Midtown Manhattan last year, scientists were able to quickly allay fears that asbestos was in the air. In the wake of 9/11, private groups using both hand-held particle sensors and samples that were analyzed in laboratories enabled us to better understand the health risks of the disaster. Future environmental and public health research will rely increasingly on sensors that immediately measure contaminant levels.
The hassle of getting a license that the police could deny or delay on any grounds — or simply not have time to process — could hamper or stop the flow of environmental data. It certainly wouldn’t be a wise use of our tax dollars to have them spent on issuing permits for monitors that have nothing to do with identifying terrorist activities.
Reducing false alarms may be a worthy purpose, but pushing through this legislation without clearly defining standards and policies doesn’t make sense. For example, the bill defines a biological agent as any microorganism or product of a microorganism that can cause “death, disease or other biological malfunction in a living organism, deterioration or poisoning of food or water, or deleterious alteration of the environment.” Such biological agents flood into local waters when rain storms make sewers overflow. So, conceivably, a high school class wanting to measure the presence of fecal matter in river water would need a license. These definitions are simply too broad to be useful.
This bill relies upon judicious enforcement to counterbalance the all-encompassing language. Even though we believe that the current city administration would use the law rationally, once such a vaguely worded statute is passed, it opens the door for abuse. If it passes here, Homeland Security will probably use it as a model for other cities.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the nation has looked to New York City on security issues. We must set the example. Restriction of environmental information is rarely in the public’s interest. The ability of scientists and citizens to gather data quickly and efficiently should be fostered, not suppressed.
The City Council should seek more public input and take its time in refining this legislation. It should expand the definition of detectors into different classes and make it clear that the legislation is applicable only to the class of real-time detectors that measure biological, chemical and radiological agents that would pose a danger to the public from terrorist activities or weapons of mass destruction. All other types of detectors should be exempted.
Indeed, one could consider not having any permits at all, even for those designed to detect terrorist attacks. And instead the legislation should focus on reporting procedures that would keep false alarms from snowballing into panic. That, after all, is what proponents say the purpose is.
Steven Chillrud, Greg O’Mullan and Wade McGillis are research scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia.