Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Heavy Breathing

The NY Times is reporting on a city council pilot program to combat asthma by making residential buildings more environmentally friendly: "For decades, public health experts have tried — and mostly failed — to contain an asthma epidemic that afflicts many New Yorkers living in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. But now, the City Council hopes to significantly curtail the spread of the lung disease by forcing landlords at some of the most badly maintained buildings to clean up their premises."

So, let's get this straight. The city council is finally seeing the wisdom of a pilot program to control asthma-by adding mandates to the private sector-when it sandbagged in 2005, an even more environmentally friendly food waste disposer pilot that would have removed organic waste from neighborhood stores and restaurants. As the council now recognizes, the asthma epidemic has been closely linked to the vector problem-and eliminating the food supply for the rodents and insects is the best way to do this.

Council Speaker Quinn has become ferocious on this public health menace-and that's an abrupt change from her acquiescence to the DEP's intransigence on seeing if we can make entire neighborhoods cleaner with the elimination of food waste: "The City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, said swift action was needed to stop the public health crisis caused by asthma, which affects more than 400,000 New Yorkers, many of them children. “It is in no way shape or form getting better, and it is something we need to get addressed,” Ms. Quinn said in an interview. “Not every landlord is a good landlord in the city of New York. We need to have stricter laws to deal with those bad apples.”

And it is in low income neighborhoods where the asthma problem is particularly severe: "If the bill passes, the city will probably focus on buildings in high-poverty areas, where asthma cases are most prevalent. For residents in those areas, the sights are familiar: walls and ceilings overtaken by mold, hallways strewn with trash, rats and mice nipping at everything in sight."

As we said over three years ago-citing an article in the now defunct NY Sun: "In today's NY Sun the paper's Grace Rauh, new on the city council beat, writes on the issue of food waste disposers and raises the question of why this potent garbage disposal methodology isn't being used to help food stores and restaurants cope with the persistent rat infestation that has caused such a stir over the past two weeks." And we went on to relay the comments of Louis Nunez of the Latino Restaurant Association: "It is left to Luis Nunez of the Latino Restaurant Association to make sense of this "emperor's new clothes" situation: "We have tons and tons of solid, wet garbage...Garbage in restaurants is the no. 1 prime reason why you begin to have a rodent or roach infestation." In the case of this city, however, the concern for flora and fauna in the estuaries trumps the real seriousness of the health impacts of vermin infestation all over New York's neighborhoods."

And the NY Daily News' Errol Louis underscored the food waste/asthma connection over four years ago-in his excoriation of the city's lackluster asthma prevention effort: "In calling for an ambitious assault on asthma Errol focuses on the issue that the Alliance has been harping on for the past three years: the control of food waste. He approvingly cites the Alliance's efforts to get DEP permission to install commercial food waste disposers (FWDs) in the city's supermarkets, restaurants and bodegas; "an alternative to our current practice of storing garbage in dumpsters, where rats and roaches feast on it." In doing so Louis endorses Intro 133, a bill that seeks to establish a pilot program for FWDs. As he says, "We should let the store owners try a three-year pilot program with the grinders and see how many garbage-filled trucks they can get off the streets."

So now we have the confluence of two related policy issues-disposal of organic waste and combating the asthma epidemic. And it is only with food waste disposers that we can comprehensively tackle the twin problems. Composting food waste and regulating landlords is at best a piece meal approach to the problem-it's time to bring back the pilot program for food waste disposers; it's the healthy thing to do.