Brooklyn Residents Call on Mayor de Blasio to Examine the City’s Environmental
and Public Health Response to Williamsburg Fire
Advocates Launch Change.org Petition, Call on Mayor to Monitor Site for Toxins & Develop a Robust Air Monitoring Program for Future Commercial/Industrial Fires
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN— While a seven-alarm industrial fire in the popular and growing residential waterfront of North Brooklyn continues to burn, a coalition of local neighborhood activists are demanding the City be more vigilant, and have launched a new petition on Change.org.
The petition calls on the De Blasio administration to take the lead in developing and implementing a more comprehensive environmental and public health plan as a response to the fire and future commercial/industrial fires like it. “Mayor de Blasio promised his administration would focus on at-risk residents,” said Emily Gallagher, a 10-year Greenpoint resident, community activist and board member of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG), one of the organizations behind the coalition. “Responsibly caring for and cleaning up toxic communities is a part of that.”
New York City Council Member Stephen Levin stated “Last weekend’s 7-alarm fire has raised serious health concerns for residents in North Brooklyn and it is crucial that the City does everything in its power to address these concerns. We are thankful for the response by the City – especially our brave firefighters who are working tirelessly – to put out the fire and protect the immediate neighborhood from grave harm, but there needs to be a more thorough, and coordinated effort to address the broader community impacts of fires of this magnitude. Our communities have historically been forced to deal with significant health and environmental risks and we must ensure their health and safety in the wake of this fire, as well as those that may occur in the future.”
Assemblyman Joe Lentol said, “Right now we need to look at the direct effects of this devastating fire. Luckily, no one was harmed during the fire, but we need to make sure there are no environmental or health conditions to worry about and I urge all relevant agencies to address this issue as soon as possible. I have written a letter to the commissioners of the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection requesting their support and I look forward to their assistance.” Lentol added, “I would also add that if there are no long lasting contaminants at the site then the community would benefit from additional open space, and I would like to have that conversation in the near future.”
“New Yorkers need to have confidence that when there are major disasters, like the fire in Williamsburg, the broad impact is handled with the same urgency as the event itself” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. “I look forward to better understanding the process of public engagement in crises, and working together with NAG, the community, the City and my colleagues on improvements.”
“It no secret to people living in these communities the volume of, and proximity to, toxic and hazardous sites. Many of these plots or buildings have been included in state or federal cleanup efforts, but until they are fully remediated they remain a danger, especially in the event of a fire or similar disaster. Immediate response and notification of any impending danger to first responders and nearby communities must be a priority,” said State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan.
Over the past year, three major commercial or industrial fires have occurred in the communities of Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick. Aside from the most recent fire in Williamsburg, most of these events have gone under-reported and little to no public information was released regarding the potential health and safety hazards presented by these fires. Historically, these communities have been overburdened by pollution from toxic waste sites, waste transfer stations, a sewage treatment plant, radioactive waste storage site, and Superfund sites. In addition, many presently operating businesses rely upon the usage or presence of specific chemicals on-site. When there is a fire on a property containing chemicals or a toxic legacy, there is an exponential increase in the likelihood of neighborhood exposure to the chemicals on-site, including chemicals which are potentially hazardous to human health. Toxic chemicals like dioxins and furans, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and elevated particulate matter are some of the potentially hazardous chemicals that may be released in the event of a major commercial/industrial fire.
“Why did it take 15 hours for the NYC Health Department to issue a warning for residents in the surrounding area to stay indoors to protect themselves from toxic smoke inhalation? By that hour, most of the community had unfortunately already been exposed to the smoke and many smelled it in their own homes,” said Mike Schade, a Greenpoint resident and environmental health advocate. “There was a slow response for an event of this magnitude, as the fire is one of the worst in NYC since 9/11. We hope the Mayor will take a close look at this and identify ways to improve how NYC environmental and health agencies responds to fires like this in the future.”
Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning (GWAPP) President Richard Mazur said “GWAPP fully supports this petition to investigate past disasters and protect our community from future ones. North Brooklyn is no stranger to the impact of toxins – whether from spills or fires – and we must continue to hold the de Blasio administration’s feet to the fire when it comes to full disclosure of associated public health risks.”
Willis Elkins, Program Manager for Newtown Creek Alliance, said “Again and again communities situated near industrial areas are subjected to disproportionate health risks and receive inadequate information and attention in the wake of incidents like the recent large fires in North Brooklyn. We urge the city to make monitoring of environmental conditions, such as air and water quality, and the impact on community health a clear priority in cleanup efforts and emergency response going forward.”
Attention Reporters: The new petition to Mayor De Blasio is available online at www.change.org/