Four months after BKYLNER revealed a large, unreported oil spill in Gravesend, city officials are pushing to ensure future spills can’t be kept secret.
City Council Member Vincent Gentile, with the support of Council Members Costa Constantinides, and Jumaane Williams will be introducing two bills later this week to improve such reporting, called jointly the “Shorefront Notification Package,” they exclusively told BKLYNER.
“Earlier this year, a 27,000 gallon oil spill off the coast of Southwest Brooklyn was nearly swept under the rug, if not for the vigilance of environmental advocates and the media,” Gentile said. “By failing to notify any local elected officials, the State potentially jeopardizes the health and safety of our constituents.”
While they cannot do anything to improve reporting by State and federal Agencies, the Council Members would like to require that the City agencies such as Office of Emergency Management, Department of Environmental Protection, and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, notify the Council, affected Council Members, and affected Community Boards as soon as they find out that there is an environmental issue that could adversely affect the health of New Yorkers.
The Bayside Fuel spill in Gravesend — which we revealed with overhead photographs after a tip from a neighbor and denials by the company (which threw our reporter out of the facility) — isn’t the only local environmental crisis that’s gone basically unreported. Back in October of last year, officials apologized that over 200,000 gallons of untreated sewage a day (possibly for years) were being dumped by Beach Haven Apartments in Coney Island Creek with no notice, and just a month after the Gravesend spill, 30,000 gallons of oil were spilled near Con Ed Transformer station in DUMBO with unknown amounts seeping into East River.
The new legislation consists of two bills. One bill specifically targets notifications after oil spills, requiring specific, public, online reporting on monthly basis.
The other targets a broader set of pollutants and would require the Department of Environmental Protection to notify local officials when oil spills, combined sewage overflow, or harmful chemicals make water (beaches, creeks, rivers, canals etc) unsafe for human contact as soon as they become aware of such information. Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would also be required to notify the Council and affected Community Boards when beaches are closed or under advisory.
“New Yorkers deserve to know if our waterways are unsafe due to hazards including oil spills, sewage, or harmful chemicals,” said Constantinides, who chairs the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee. “This legislative package will ensure that local representatives and community boards are notified about these types of hazards in our waterways.”
A co-sponsor of the bill, Council Member Jumaanee Williams, expressed shock that the city isn’t required to notify citizens when the water is unsafe to swim or fish in.
“Given the severe environmental impacts of oil spills, it’s surprising to me that City agencies are not required to publicly announce the release of any oil in the City,” he said. “New Yorkers should have access to this type of information considering chronic, long-term exposure can have detrimental effects on the environment and public health.”
The bills, if passed, will make it possible for local officials to inform the communities they serve of changes in water quality. “Local elected officials are better equipped to disseminate this information to residents than officials in Albany,” said Council Member Vincent Gentile.
“Environmental justice requires an informed community. Residents have a right to know what they are being exposed to and what precautions they must take to protect themselves. Water pollution from oil spills or combined sewage overflow poses a serious threat to public health and safety and the City must notify the public in a more systematic way. NYLPI urges the City Council to enact these bills to protect our residents – especially those who reside near our waterfronts – and preserve our environment,” said Christine Appah, Senior Staff Attorney at the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
The measure also has the support of top environmental advocates.
“Environmental justice requires an informed community,” said Christine Appah, Senior Staff Attorney, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “Residents have a right to know what they are being exposed to and what precautions they must take to protect themselves.”
“Many New Yorkers still don’t know that approximately 20 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into our waterways every year, as our antiquated sewer system overflows when it rains,” said Waterfront Alliance President & CEO Roland Lewis, who said that his group “salutes Council Members Gentile, Constantinides, and Williams for proposing a notification process to alert key local officials to incidents that impair water quality.”
“We still have a long way to go for ‘fishable and swimmable’ waters,” he said.
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