Recovering from the Flatiron Steam Pipe Explosion
On Monday evening, I joined residents and business owners in the Flatiron District for a community briefing with several NYC government agencies, elected officials, and Con Edison on the impact of last Thursday's steam pipe explosion. I spoke with residents, business owners, CERT volunteers, and workers affected by the explosion and its aftermath, and also arranged for the New York State Department of Financial Services to provide assistance for those filing insurance claims at a temporary reception center at the Clinton School at 10 East 15th Street.
The latest information from government agencies, Con Ed, and other organizations assisting in the recovery effort includes the following:
From New York City's government website (https://www1.nyc.gov/nyc-resources/service/8065/steam-pipe-explosion-on-5th-avenue):
"Emergency crews are still on scene assessing the situation. As of July 23, the air samples analyzed have been negative for asbestos though some debris samples contained asbestos.
You should expect traffic delays, road closures, and the presence of emergency personnel in the area in the vicinity of West 21st Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
You should stay away from the affected area.
BRIEFING ON STEAM PIPE EXPLOSION: On Monday evening, I spoke with residents, business owners, workers, and community leaders about the steam pipe explosion at Fifth Ave. and 21st St. Here, I joined Erik Bottcher, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson's Chief of Staff, and Jennifer Brown, President of the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership, about the ongoing cleanup and recovery effort.
- People with asthma and other respiratory conditions can experience breathing difficulties from exposure to the initial plume of debris and steam. Exposure to this plume may also cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. If you are experiencing any symptoms, contact your doctor.
- There is no routine medical test to detect exposure to asbestos. Short-term exposure, like this one, is very unlikely to lead to asbestos-related illness. Illness generally occurs after many years of exposure to asbestos. Asbestos-related illness, once it occurs, can be detected by medical tests like chest X-rays and lung function tests.
- People who live or work within the affected area should keep windows closed until cleanup is completed. Window air conditioners should be set to re-circulate interior air.
- If you see or have debris from the steam pipe explosion, you should notify your landlord, building owner, or building manager. Debris should not be disturbed. New York City agencies are working to determine what contamination is present and the extent of impact.
- The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and City agencies will continue to provide updates as new information is made available.
- If you were exposed to debris from the steam-pipe explosion you should remove all clothing and shower. Heavily soiled clothing should be sealed in a plastic bag and dropped off at the following Con Ed decontamination location, between 8 AM and 8 PM: 19th Street and Broadway.
Affected tenants or building managers should set up inspections at reception center located at The Clinton School at 10 East 15th Street between the hours of 8 AM and 8 PM. Inspections are needed for clean up and to let people return to their buildings. Department of Health personnel will be available.
Re-occupying Home or Business
City agencies, Con Edison, and buildings owners are working together to complete the following:
- Cleaning the outside of the building;
- Re-inspecting the outside of the building after cleaning;
- Inspecting the roof and common areas for debris;
- Removing any debris from the roof and common areas of the building;
- Replacing heat, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) filters if the building has a central HVAC system;
- Analyzing indoor air quality.
Building owners will receive a letter from the Health Department and the Department of Environmental Protection when their building is ready for re-occupancy. For any other concerns you should visit the reception center during their hours of operation. The center offers information only.
If you have additional questions about air quality, asbestos, or building status, please contact the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 595-5610. The following buildings are open for re-occupancy:
- 10 East 21th Street (which includes 915 Broadway)
- 11 West 19th Street (which includes 17 West 19th Street, 10 West 20th Street, and 16 West 20th Street)
- 11 West 20th Street
- 119 5th Avenue (which includes 3 East 19th Street)
- 12 West 21st Street
- 123 5th Avenue
- 125 5th Avenue
- 142 5th Avenue (which includes 1 West 19th Street, 5 West 19th Street)
- 146 5th Avenue
- 15 West 20th Street
- 16 West 21st Street
- 16 West 22nd Street (which includes 15 West 21st Street)
- 162 5th Avenue (which includes 1 West 21st Street)
- 164 5th Avenue
- 166 5th Avenue
- 17 West 20th Street
- 18 West 21st Street
- 19 West 21st Street
- 22 West 21st Street
- 29 West 21st Street
- 30 West 21st Street
- 4 West 21st Street (which includes 10 West 21st Street)
- 5 East 20th Street
- 5 West 20th Street
- 5 West 21st Street
- 6 West 20th Street
- 7 East 20th Street
- 7 West 19th Street
- 7 West 20th Street
- 7 West 21st Street
- 9 West 19th Street
- 9 West 20th Street
- 927 Broadway
The following buildings are still affected:
- 129 - 131 5th Avenue
- 133 5th Avenue
- 135 5th Avenue
- 137 5th Avenue
- 139 5th Avenue
- 141 5th Avenue (which includes 145 5th Avenue)
- 144 5th Avenue
- 149 5th Avenue (which includes 921 and 925 Broadway)
- 155 5th Avenue
- 160 5th Avenue
- 3 West 20th Street (which includes 156 5th Avenue)
- 4 West 20th Street (which includes 150 5th Avenue)
Claim forms from Con Edison can be obtained at: https://www.coned.com/en/services-and-outages/claim-form.
The ASPCA has set up a hotline for pet owners affected by the explosion at 1-800-738-9437.
Assembly Passes New York Health Act - "Improved Medicare for All" Bill
My bill - the "New York Health Act" (A. 4738-A /S. 4840-A) - passed the Assembly in June by a 2-to1 margin for the fourth year in a row. The bill, carried in the Senate by Gustavo Rivera, would establish "improved Medicare for all" health insurance coverage in New York. That means universal, complete health care for every New Yorker, without premiums, co-pays, deductibles, or limited provider networks. It has 31 co-sponsors in the State Senate, just one vote shy of an outright majority.
Taking insurance companies out of the picture would bring New Yorkers net savings of $45 billion a year, by eliminating insurance industry administrative costs and profit and cutting the billions in administrative costs doctors and hospitals spend to fight with insurance companies. New York Health would also be able to negotiate much lower prices with drug companies.
The reduced cost of coverage would be paid for by a broad-based tax - progressively graduated, based on ability to pay - on payroll income (paid at least 80% by the employer) and taxable income like capital gain, dividends, and interest. Better coverage; lower cost; paid for more fairly.
No New Yorker should have to go without health care, and no one should have to suffer financially to get it. Critics of the New York Health Act - mostly allies of the insurance companies - don't want to openly disagree with that simple principle. But they never offer an alternative that achieves those basic goals.
People say a single-payer system makes perfect sense, but "it could never happen." The Assembly's action and the growing support among the public and in the State Senate are changing that conversation. If you have questions about the New York Health Act or want more information, write to me at GottfriedR@nyassembly.gov.
Assembly Health Committee News
This year the Assembly Health Committee, which I chair, reported dozens of bills, including the New York Health Act that I sponsor (see related article), expanding the medical marijuana program, protecting adequate home health care, and reducing NY's maternal death rate. The Committee held hearings this spring on legalizing the adult use of marijuana; medical aid in dying; access to opioid overdose drugs; New York's outdated "surrogate parenting" laws; and CVS' potential purchase of Aetna.
Adult Use of Marijuana - In January, the Assembly Committees on Codes, Health, and Alcoholism and Drug Abuse held a hearing on allowing, regulating, and taxing adult use of marijuana. I cosponsor a bill to do that; it is carried by Senator Liz Krueger.
The term "recreational use" hides the reality that it's about a punitive criminal justice approach that destroys tens of thousands of lives a year.
Medical Aid in Dying - The Health Committee held two hearings on the Medical Aid in Dying Act, legislation I co-sponsor. It would enable terminally ill patients with decision-making capacity to request and receive medication to end their lives. Similar legislation has been enacted in several states. Over 70 witnesses for and against the bill provided over 17 hours of combined testimony in Albany and New York City, speaking as medical and legal experts, ethicists, religious leaders, advocates, patients and family members telling their personal stories.
I believe this is about patient choice and human dignity. For over a hundred years, New York law has already recognized that adults with mental capacity have the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment. Morally and legally, they should have the right to end their suffering through medication if that is their choice.
Preventing Opioid Overdose Deaths - With the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee (chaired by Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal), we held a hearing on access to opioid overdose drugs such as naloxone, which can reverse opioid overdoses. New York laws expanded access to these drugs and allowing non-medical personnel to administer them.
But gaps remain. Locations such as college campuses and homeless shelters do not have universal access. A recent New York Times article showed that many pharmacies do not offer it.
Surrogate Parenting - Surrogate parenting is an increasingly important issue, especially for same-sex couples. The Health and Judiciary Committees held a hearing on the issue. Witnesses including legal experts, fertility clinic representatives, and LGBT advocates spoke to the ethical and legal aspects of the issue.
In 1992, New York State outlawed paid surrogate parenting. There have been significant medical, scientific, cultural, and social changes since then, including enactment of marriage equality. I believe it's time to reconsider New York's outdated restrictions.
CVS/Aetna Merger -CVS Health plans to acquire Aetna, Inc., which would create a huge unprecedented health conglomerate. The Assembly Health and Insurance Committees held a hearing on the potential impact on New Yorkers and what New York State regulators should do.
I am deeply troubled by the merger's creation of what economists call "vertical integration" in health care. Having a major insurance plan, pharmacy chain, and pharmacy benefit manager in one company - at the same time it is expanding into broader health care delivery - will increase insurance company control over patient care and unfairly threaten competing health care providers, including the traditional family doctor. Witnesses including Consumers Union also raised significant concerns about patient privacy. The State Health Department and Department of Financial Services must act to protect us and our health care.
Curbing Gun Violence
New York has the strongest gun control laws in the country - especially the 2013 "SAFE Act" that I co-sponsored. But there is a lot more to be done.
I'm a member of the New York Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention. We're working for a broad collection of bills to strengthen New York's gun laws. Strong bills pass the Assembly, and in the aftermath of the Parkland murders, they have significantly more support. But while our own State Senators strongly support them, they still don't get action in the Senate.
Among the measures we've passed are bills to make background checks more effective by expanding the time to conduct a check from three days to ten days (because many background checks cannot be completed in three days); ban "bump stocks," which allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles; require safe storage of guns at home; require all guns to micro-stamp an identifying number on shell casings; and others. A new law that was passed as part of the State budget prevents persons convicted of domestic abuse from possessing rifles, shotguns, and handguns, and prohibits individuals who are wanted for a felony or other serious offense from obtaining or renewing a firearm license.
We passed legislation to establish "extreme risk protection orders" - court orders to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a serious threat to themselves or others. States with stricter gun laws, like New York, have less gun-related violence than those that don't.
STONEWALL PRIDE: Every year I walk in the Heritage of Pride March to celebrate New York's vibrant LGBTQ community, and offer a special salute to the brave men and women who launched the modern movement for LGBTQ equality in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.
Rent Guidelines Board Fails to Protect Tenants
Before the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) acted in June, I submitted joint testimony with Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and other legislators urging the RGB to freeze rents, as it did in 2015 and 2016. Instead, the RGB approved Rent Stabilization increases of 1.5% on one-year leases and 2.5% on two-year leases for rent-stabilized apartments. It's the steepest hike for one-year leases since 2013.
In the last quarter century, the RGB has approved increases for rent-regulated units that are significantly greater than increases in both rent-regulated tenants' incomes and building owners' operating expenses. This new round of rent hikes will inflict further financial hardship on many tenants, particularly seniors and persons with disabilities living on fixed incomes, and contribute to a rise in evictions and homelessness.
"Fast Forward" Better Subway and Bus Service
In May, Andy Byford, the new President of the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA), announced "Fast Forward," a sweeping new program to improve subway and bus service. I support the plan - and its full funding. It is estimated to cost about $19 billion. Key elements include:
- Speed up putting in new subway signals. The outdated signaling system causes delays because trains have to move slower and stay farther apart. Under Fast Forward, many subway lines would have new systems within five years, and most within ten years, a vast improvement over the 40-year timeline previously planned.
- Redesign and overhaul the bus network. Buy 2,800 new buses, including 200 electric buses. Reevaluate and redesign of the entire bus network.
- Increase accessibility for people with disabilities. Speed up adding elevators and other infrastructure to make more subway stations meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), with at least 50 more stations becoming fully ADA-compliant within the plan's first five years.
The "City" transit system is actually run by the MTA, a State entity controlled by the Governor, not the Mayor. Considering how much the transit system is tied to life and work in New York, I believe the Mayor should have a significant voice in planning and carrying out the plan.
After many years of under-funding, our subways and buses are in crisis. The Fast Forward plan deserves our strong support.
MTA Offers New "MYmta" App, Website with Real-Time Arrival Info, Trip Planning Features
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has launched "MYmta," a comprehensive new app, along with a new mobile-optimized website, which you can find at new.mta.info. Both the app and the website bring "wayfinding" for all of the MTA's mass transit properties under one roof.
Within the MYmta app, the MTA is also building in special functionality for Paratransit customers, in a part of the app that will be known as "MY Access-A-Ride" [or MYAAR]. It will enable paratransit users to plan and manage their trips, book rides, track the real-time location of their driver, and give the MTA feedback on what's working and what isn't, all from a mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. MYAAR is slated to launch later this summer.
Existing MTA apps, including Subway Time, Bus Time, LIRR Train Time and Metro-North Train Time, and The Weekender will remain operational. The new "MYmta" app is currently available in the Apple and Google Play app stores.
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