City Council Considers Ways to Protect New Yorkers from Breathing Dangerously Polluted Air

City Council Considers Ways to Protect New Yorkers from Breathing Dangerously Polluted Air

By Yehudit Garmaise

Last month's Canadian wildfires not only turned New York City's skies a hazy orange, but the heavy smoke contained dangerous air pollution that had the potential to wreak devastating illnesses chas v'shalom.

The fine particulate matter called PM2.5, that the wildfires spread can delay development in children and cause serious health issues, such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, cancer, and other respiratory diseases.

While City legislation has been in the works for a year, last month's Canadian wildfires increased lawmakers' feelings of urgency to pass new protective measures relating to air quality into law.

Today the NYC City Council is discussing a report that Public Advocate Jumaane Williams conducted. The report provides the basis for his concrete recommendations for the City to better protect New Yorkers from breathing dangerously polluted air. Williams suggests the creation of a citywide network of air monitoring systems that trigger warning notifications.

Williams also proposed creating places where city dwellers can breathe clean air during low air quality emergencies. He suggests the City open "clean air centers,"  similar to the "cooling centers" available during heat waves. 

Williams proposes the City create "clean air centers" by improving the HVAC systems in public schools and libraries.

The proposal recommends allowing some City workers to work remotely during times when the air quality exceeds 150. (In early June, when NYC's air quality index exceeded 200, the City briefly ranked as the world's most polluted city.)

On Thursday, lawmakers will consider two bills requiring the City to create standards to measure, monitor, report, and enforce air quality inside schools and municipal buildings.

New York City officials would have 18 months to create new air quality standards that are more detailed and rigorous than current city building and health codes.

Two additional bills would create programs to analyze air quality in residential and commercial buildings. If passed, those bills would go into effect four months later. 

The City's new proposals follow updated guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which stated in May that airborne germs can be reduced by changing the air in rooms five times per hour.

While the new programs would be voluntary for many residential and commercial buildings, buildings whose owners or developers receive financial assistance from the City would be required to participate.

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