Protecting Public Health

September 6, 2023

July:AugMag-ProtectingPublicHealth-1.jpgFor 1199ers living in New York and Florida—and everywhere in between—this summer has been the hottest in memory. And in New York, members have also been faced with too many days of extremely poor air quality caused by smoke particles from forest fires in Canada.

The scientific community is all but unanimous in attributing the notable increase in extreme weath- er events to the effects of global warming, which in turn is caused by decades of dangerous emissions resulting from our reliance on burning fossil fuels.

In a bid to tackle the growing problem of extreme weather in the U.S., the Biden administration has come up with a plan to drastically reduce coal and natural gas pollution over the next two decades— and potentially save up to $85 billion in public health and climate change mitigation costs.

When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held public hearings on their proposed new standards which would slash car- bon dioxide from fossil fuel-fired power plants by 617 million metric tons, 1199SEIU was asked to testify about the public health benefits of such an initiative.

Maurice DePalo, an 1199 Delegate who works at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx as a Registered Pharmacist explained to the federal body why these new standards are crucial for the health of his community.

“Working at a hospital in the Bronx, I see firsthand that the rates of asthma in the community are out of control. The South Bronx and parts of upper Manhattan have one of the highest death and disease rates in the country. In a school-based study sample, 15.5 percent of children 4- to 5-years-old were identified as having asthma compared to 9.2 percent in the rest of the city; and the citywide rate is already higher than many other cities.

“We know that fossil fuel-fired power plants are one of the largest sources of carbon pollution driving climate chaos. This leads to poor air quality, respiratory disease, heart disease and other illnesses. As I am preparing this testimony, I am wearing an N95 mask because NYC is experiencing the worst air quality in the world due to the Canadian wildfires. Never has this been seen before here.”

July:AugMay-ProtectingPublicHealth-2.jpgComing from the Bronx and being a health care professional for one of the largest medical centers in the country, DePalo well knows how desperately this legislation needs to be implemented.

“Here in the Bronx we are suffering from extreme climate injustice,” he told the federal body, “We have crisscrossing highways, old building heating systems, private waste transfer stations and large industries such as Fresh Direct Diesel trucking, and the Hunts Point market situated in the South Bronx where the health of our Black and Brown communities have very high illness rates and hospitalizations. It seems polluting sources are always placed in these communities. Affluent neighbor- hoods should not be the only lives that matter. We all are entitled to live a healthy life.”

The South Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven has been dubbed “asthma alley” because residents are suffering with some of the worst pollution in the city.

NYC is no stranger to extreme weather. “We all remember the dam- age Hurricane Sandy caused in our city,” DePalo told the EPA. “Flooding basements from rainwater was non-existent on my street where I live ten years ago—and now, 50 percent of basements get flooded because the sewer systems can no longer handle the deluge rainfalls.”

The Biden Administrations plan is designed to prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of respiratory illnesses and reduce dangerous climate chaos-fueled weather disasters. The goal is to help cut climate pollution in half by the year 2030.