New York State Legislature Passes Two Bills Reducing Exposure To Toxic Chemicals

June 11, 2021

WE ACT for Environmental Justice (WE ACT) is celebrating the passage of two bills by the New York State legislature.

The bills will reduce the levels of toxic chemicals that residents of low-income communities and communities of color are routinely exposed to.

WE ACT and its coalition partners, Lead-Free Kids New York and JustGreen Partnership, had been advocating for these bills as part of its commitment to addressing the disproportionate, cumulative burden of exposure to toxic chemicals and other environmental impacts that these communities are burdened with due to systemic racism.

The bills passed include:

The Family and Fire Fighter Protection Act (S. 4630-B/A. 5418-B) will prohibit the use of the highly toxic chemicals found in many flame retardants used in furniture, mattresses, and electronic enclosures.

Studies show that exposure to these chemicals causes endocrine and thyroid disruption, neurological and immune system disruptions, cancer, and adverse fetal and child development.

We thank New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky and New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright for their sponsorship of this legislation, and our JustGreen Partnership – a statewide coalition we co-chair that is working for environmental health and justice – for leading the advocacy effort.

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“Children are most vulnerable to the toxic impacts of these flame retardant chemicals because their brains and bodies are still growing,” explained Sonal Jessel, M.P.H., Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “And studies have shown that people of color and their children are more likely to have higher levels of these chemicals in their bodies.”

Lead in School Drinking Water (S. 2122-A/A. 160-B) updates the Safe School Drinking Water Act to reduce the lead action level to 5 PPB, which gets New York closer to the 1 PPB level recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics – through lead is such a highly toxic substance that there is no safe level of exposure.

The bill will also increase the frequency of required tests of public school drinking water, cover the cost of remediation if a lead is found, and ensure that the results of those tests are made available to the public.

We thank New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera and New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried for their sponsorship of this legislation, and Lead-Free Kids New York – a statewide coalition we are a part of, working to end childhood lead exposure – for leading the advocacy effort.

“Children are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead, which can impair the development of their brain and nervous system and lead to permanent and profound health issues,” added Jessel. “And studies show that Black children are the most vulnerable – nearly three times more likely to have highly elevated blood-lead levels.”

While the passage of these bills marks a significant step in reducing exposure to toxic chemicals for New Yorkers, we still need New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to sign them into law.

While we push for his signature, WE ACT and its coalition partners will continue to pursue legislation that reduces the level of exposure to lead and other toxic chemicals, especially in communities of color, which studies have shown are disproportionately exposed to more toxic chemicals and other environmental hazards, resulting in cumulative adverse impacts on their health and well-being.

WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.

WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C.

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