Garbage trucks on parade.

Lawmakers advance bill to tackle air toxins in South Bronx

Bronx lawmakers are working to reduce the amount of harmful contaminants in the air — an issue particularly important in a borough with some of the highest death and hospitalization rates for asthma in the country due to swells of industrial pollution. 

Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblywoman Amanda Septimo passed the Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee Tuesday and was sent to the full Senate for consideration. It would establish standards and limits on toxic air emissions in “environmental justice communities” like the South Bronx.  

An environmental justice community is defined in the bill as “an economically distressed or minority community,” including locations designated as environmental justice areas by the state.

The bill would also establish a community benefit fund. Monetary penalties imposed on operators who violate regulations would fund environmental benefit projects in communities impacted by pollution. 

“Communities of color, like the South Bronx, have been bearing the brunt of environmental racism for decades,” Septimo said in a statement. “Reducing harmful emissions is not only an environmental justice issue, but also a racial justice issue.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation would be required to implement standards for air contaminants like benzene, vinyl chloride and mercury. Operators and owners of major air contamination sources within a mile radius of areas designated as “environmental justice communities” would need to install and operate monitoring systems to measure contaminants in the air. 

“The Bronx has suffered from some of the highest asthma death and hospitalization rates in the country, largely stemming from air pollution pouring into our neighborhoods by industrial plants and corporations,” Biaggi said.

The bill would not just reduce harmful air contaminants but also hold corporations accountable for emitting them in particularly vulnerable communities, she added.

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