The Council of the City of New York
Office of Council Member Costa Constantinides

For Immediate Release
March 11, 2015
Contact: Shachar Sharon

Johnson, Constantinides Introduce Bills to Protect Air Quality

New York City Hall – City Council Members Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) and Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea) today introduced two companion bills that would protect the city’s air quality. The bills would require the city to conduct annual air-quality surveys, and to open the city’s cooling centers on days when poor air quality may put us at risk of harm.

Constantinides said, “We must do more to test our local air quality to ensure we are protecting the respiratory health of all New Yorkers. Codifying our city’s cooling center program into law will ensure that they stay open whenever necessary. Opening our cooling centers on low air-quality days would help keep our vulnerable populations out of harm and improve our overall public health. A permanent online listing of all city cooling centers will give our residents the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe. I commend our Health Committee Chair Corey Johnson for his leadership working to ensure that we codify how we can better understand the complex air quality issues in our communities and protect the respiratory health of our most susceptible New Yorkers.”

“We must use all tools at our disposal to protect the health of New Yorkers,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Health Committee. “Children and seniors in particular are vulnerable to environmental pollutants. ‎These ‎measures will save lives by helping to prevent the development of serious respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. I thank my colleague Costa ‎Constantinides for his partnership and his leadership on this issue.”

Johnson’s bill, INT. 712, would require that the Health Department conducts an air-quality survey annually and submit that survey to the Council. It would ensure that the Department analyze how pollution patterns vary based on location and make recommendations for improving air quality.

Constantinides’ bill, INT. 703, would expand the use of cooling centers to open during days with low air-quality. The bill would require that the Health Department post a permanent online list of the cooling centers and also conduct a public education campaign to increase awareness of the centers and the risks associated with heat-related emergencies and poor air quality.

Currently, the city’s cooling centers open only during heat-related emergencies and there is no permanent citywide online database that lists the cooling center locations.

Staying cool and dry during days with low air-quality brings public health benefits. One in eight children in the city have been diagnosed with asthma. That rate is higher in neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Poor air quality also brings higher rates of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses such as emphysema and COPD. Young children and seniors remain the most vulnerable to these effects.

The top reason children are absent from school is due to asthma-related illnesses, and these affected children generally miss between 10 and 30 days of school a year. A recent study by NYU Medical Center showed that the fine particulate matter in New York’s air can constrict blood vessels in the brain and raise the risk of stroke by up to 25%.

Testing air-quality regularly and opening cooling centers on days with a low air-quality index would help keep the city’s vulnerable populations out of harm and improve overall public health.

Council Members and advocacy groups voiced their support for the legislation.

“On days with poor air quality, our seniors and most vulnerable need a place to go. I am proud to support this bill to improve access to clean air and commend Council Member Constantinides for his leadership on this issue,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, a co-sponsor of the legislation.

Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy & Communications of the American Lung Association of the Northeast said, “The American Lung Association remains committed to improving the air all New Yorkers breathe. We applaud Councilmembers Constantinides and Johnson for their efforts to help achieving this goal. The Community Air Survey program may end up being one of the most important legacies of the PlaNYC program. The data collected from CAS is a vital tool to help decision makers target solutions to cleaning up our air and we look forward to seeing this program codified into law so future generations could continue reap its benefits. New York City’s most vulnerable residents are often the most susceptible to the health effects of days with high levels of air pollution.Providing access to cooling centers on high ozone days is a common sense approach to reducing exposure to unhealthy air.”

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) New York State Director Beth Finkel said, “It’s still winter, but hot summer days are not that far away and AARP applauds Council Members Constantinides and Johnson for their foresight in moving to protect both older city residents and children when those days inevitably bring poor air quality and its associated dangers. As the Council members note, the oldest and youngest among us are most vulnerable to emphysema, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and other respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses triggered by air pollution. These bills take common sense steps to help protect all of our residents.”