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NY City Council Hears Feedback on Draft "Green" Legislation

Hackensack, NJ, February 15, 2005 - “Switching to safer cleaning products using the least level of toxicity is one of the simplest, most cost-effective steps New York City can take to make our buildings safer for everyone,” Deirdre Imus told the Environmental Protection Committee of the New York City Council at a public hearing February 15.

A New Yorker and champion of children’s environmental health, Mrs. Imus spoke in support of the Greening Our Cleaning Act (Intro. 552) that would amend the administrative code to require buildings managed by the City to use less toxic cleaning and other custodial products.

No Need to Wait

“New York’s most vulnerable citizens are children, who, pound for pound of body weight, take in more air, food and water than adults. Unfortunately, this means proportionally our children absorb more toxins than adults,” Deirdre Imus emphasized during a presentation to the New York City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee.  She points out that schools and other facilities don’t have to wait for new legislation to start “Greening the Cleaning.”

On the same panel testifying were: Scot Case (left) director of procurement strategies at the Center for the New American Dream, and Mayor of Croton-on-Hudson Robert W. Elliott who spoke in support of wind farming to boost energy efficiency.

The draft legislation, sponsored by Council Member Eva Moskowitz, Speaker Gifford Miller, Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee James F. Gennaro and Council Member Christine C. Quinn, was one of a package of six drafts introduced Feb. 15 aimed at reducing the City’s use of toxic and hazardous products in schools and more than 6,000 city-owned or contracted buildings.

Mrs. Imus is the founder and director of the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology® – part of Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC), a not-for-profit corporation in Hackensack, NJ – that developed the award-winning “Greening the Cleaning®” program.

"The Greening Our Cleaning
Act will specifically make
a positive and lasting impact
on all who work and learn
in our City’s public buildings."

-- Deirdre Imus 

She is also co-founder and co-director of the Imus Ranch, a 4,000 acre working cattle ranch in northern New Mexico, which provides the experience of the American cowboy to children suffering from cancer and various blood diseases, and to the siblings of children who have been victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

The specific mission of the Environmental Center is to identify, control, and ultimately prevent environmental factors that may cause adult, and especially, pediatric cancers. When the Environmental Center is profitable, after tax profits will go towards research for the environment and cancer related subjects or projects like the Imus Ranch that deal with children with cancer and other illnesses.

“Greening the Cleaning” means eliminating, where possible, all cleaning agents and chemical substances whose components include toxic materials and replacing them with environmentally-friendly, high-quality, non-toxic cleaning agents.

Through the "Greening the Cleaning" program, the Environmental Center guides institutions in establishing non-toxic cleaning programs, from education to implementation. “Greening the Cleaning" is simple, it’s better for children’s health and the environment, and we’ve found that it costs less, and often a lot less,” Mrs. Imus testified.

More than 40 healthcare facilities and many businesses have implemented the "Greening the Cleaning" program since 2001 with reported savings of 3 to 75 percent in cleaning costs. Hackensack University Medical Center was the first hospital in the country to adopt the program and achieved a first-year cost savings of 15 percent. Others adopting the program in the New York metropolitan area include the New York Housing Authority (Liberty), Jacobi Medical Center, Newark Airport, half a dozen schools “and a dozen other places in New York City.”

Children Most Vulnerable

She emphasized that the final language in the bill should say ‘least toxic’ cleaning alternatives rather than just ‘less toxic.’ “Anybody can say ‘less toxic’ just by taking out chlorine or ammonia. That’s why our definition of greening goes much further,” she said later.

Intro 552, would apply to more than 6,000 city buildings whose cleaning services are contracted through the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. The cleaning of New York City schools, however, is governed by state regulations, according to Marla Simpson, the City’s chief procurement officer and director of Contract Services.

“Governor George Pataki asked me to attend his most recent State of the State Address, and in introducing me announced that inspired by our Greening the Cleaning® program, he was issuing an Executive Order requiring all state agencies and authorities to begin using non-toxic cleaning products that are free of harmful chemicals. We are also presently working with the Governor to help submit legislation requiring all schools in the state, public and private, to do the same,” Mrs. Imus said.

Simpson told the committee that Mayor Michael Bloomberg shares many of the Council’s goals as represented by the proposed legislation, and seeks to integrate practices that support sustainability throughout City government. However, in reviewing the six Intros., she said a “one size fits all” approach is not practical in the City’s procurement world, and that the office is constrained “by a complex web” of local, state and federal law that govern the procurement process.

For janitorial and cleaning products and services, the City must purchase from a list of preferred vendors maintained by the State under competitive bidding rules and regulations. For its part, the Office of Contract Services requires maintenance personnel to be trained in handling cleaning products, and makes decisions to minimize their impact on city employees, for example, stripping floor wax after hours.

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services, a division of Municipal Supply Services, is primarily responsible for City purchasing, while the Office of Contract Services negotiates contracts and helps ensure that purchasing regulations and administrative processes are followed.

Easy to Implement

“Of all the Intros., the Greening Our Cleaning Act looks like it will be the easiest to implement,” Steve Boese, New York State director of Healthy Schools Network (HSN), commented after the meeting. Speaking in favor of the measure, Boese noted that health standards for children’s exposure to indoor environmental contaminants do not exist.

“Industrial strength cleaning products used by many schools actually add to indoor air pollution…and are risky to use around children, especially those with asthma, sensitive airways, or other health problems,” he said in a prepared statement.

A review of scientific literature recently commissioned by HSN “shows that students are uniquely vulnerable to school environmental exposures, which in turn causes health problems and stifles learning and development.”

Those testifying in favor of Intro. 552 also included: Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D., senior scientist of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Cameron S. Lory, senior associate of INFORM, Inc.; and Scot Case, director of procurement strategies at the Center for the New American Dream.

“Examined together, this legislation represents the most significant advance in environmental health in recent memory,” Case told the committee. “The administration’s concerns are real issues. But very talented people in your position across the country have faced the exact same challenges and have found ways around them,” he said.

Impact Beyond NY

Several committee members spoke in favor of Intro. 552, including committee Chair Gennaro. The primary sponsor, Council Member Moskowitz, said Greening Our Cleaning was an opportunity for the City Council to positively impact human health, particularly children’s health, in New York and beyond as other cities and towns across the nation follow the City’s example.

The drafts will be reviewed based on input from the hearing and discussed again before a bill is presented to the full City Council.


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