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For Release: Wednesday, July 18, 2012

After Successful Pilot, DEC Expands Innovative Pollution Prevention Program to Overburdened Communities Across the State

After a successful pilot program that saw dramatic increases in compliance with environmental laws in small regulated facilities, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation today expanded the program to communities from Buffalo to Long Island, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens announced today. Operation ECO-Quality combines enhanced outreach, consultation and environmental community policing activities to help prevent pollution in some of New York's most environmentally burdened communities.

"By bringing smaller businesses into compliance, DEC is improving environmental health in some of New York State's most vulnerable communities," said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. "We are committed to preventing pollution whenever and wherever possible, especially when there is a school, playground or church nearby."

"A healthy environment is a cornerstone of good health. DEC's Operation ECO-Quality has led to greater compliance with State environmental laws which, in turn, helps to ensure communities have clean air and water," State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., said. "We commend DEC for expanding this important pollution-prevention initiative that will further protect public health by helping prevent diseases that result from environmental exposure."

Operation ECO-Quality was successfully piloted in three Westchester County communities in 2010. In the City of Yonkers, the compliance rate more than doubled, jumping from 42 percent to 91 percent. In Mount Vernon, the rate climbed from 36 percent to 86 percent, and in Peekskill, it rose from 45 percent to 83 percent. DEC's report on the pilot program can be viewed on DEC's website.

DEC is expanding Operation ECO-Quality to Western New York, the Capital Region, New York City and Long Island. The program focuses on encouraging greater compliance with environmental laws to address potential environmental health and quality of life issues. The communities into which the program will expand include the South Bronx in New York City, Wyandanch on Long Island, and specific neighborhoods in the cities of Buffalo and Albany. DEC expects to add more communities to the program in the coming months.

From Buffalo to Long Island, DEC's Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) will conduct enforcement activities such as diesel truck emission checks where officers address truck traffic-related issues like idling and excessive exhaust. Officers will also conduct community patrols where they will visit neighborhoods to determine if any enforcement action is needed to address potential environmental and health issues in low-income and minority areas.

Operation ECO-Quality takes a more flexible, community-centered approach to outreach and enforcement. Through education and enforcement, follow-up visits to facilities that were issued warnings have shown a dramatic increase in the level of compliance.

DEC's Office of Environmental Justice and Division of Law Enforcement developed the program to prevent violations of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law that impact the health and quality of life of low-income and minority communities. Informed by relevant public health data, such as asthma hospitalization rates, and community input about local environmental problems and priorities, the effort will expand to other overburdened communities over the next several months.

Senator Mark Grisanti, chairman of the State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee said, "The DEC is moving in the right direction by expanding the innovative pollution prevention program, Operation ECO-Quality, to include Buffalo among other parts of New York. By taking a community-centered approach to outreach and enforcement, true improvements can be made in compliance with the Environmental Conservation Law. This program will help our low-income and minority neighborhoods stop the rise of asthma hospitalizations by determining if there are any potential environmental and health issues. I am pleased the DEC is working to prevent pollution from affecting the health and quality of life for the people of Buffalo."

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney chairman, of the State Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee said, "This is an important opportunity to improve the quality of the environment in the Wyandanch community with a focus on sensitive areas such as schools, playgrounds or parks. Areas where children play, learn and grow should be prioritized. Chronic diseases of environmental origin are an increasing problem for children. These include: asthma, cancer, birth defects, developmental disabilities, autism and ADHD. Children are at increased risk from pollution, and this program will help in protecting them from unnecessary health risks."

Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo said, "I am proud to join DEC in announcing the expansion of Operation ECO-Quality. This innovative program will proactively and fairly work with local businesses to comply with environmental regulations, improve the quality of life for our families and respond to the still pressing environmental justice needs of the South Bronx. I commend DEC and look forward to our continued efforts to improve our environment while prioritizing compliance assistance before enforcement."

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said, "We need to protect those who are vulnerable. Operation ECO-Quality will help do that by making sure that communities with significant minority and low-income populations do not suffer from environmental health and quality of life issues because of where they live. By talking to residents, educating businesses on compliance issues and enforcement through community policing, the Department of Environmental Conservation has the right combination to achieve the best results."

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said, "I commend the state Department of Environmental Conservation for launching Operation ECO-Quality. I strongly believe our residents would highly benefit from this new law enforcement initiative, which aims to reduce air pollution by taking steps toward making our smaller operations and facilities more environmentally-friendly and health conscious. My administration offers its full support for this initiative and looks forward to helping improve health outcomes in the Bronx and across the state."

City of Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said, "Buffalo is pleased to support the DEC and Operation ECO-Quality, an important pollution prevention program that will help continue to improve the health and quality of life for the people of Buffalo. Encouraging small businesses to be even more compliant with environmental laws to address potential health and quality of life issues will lead to a healthier environment for Buffalo and the entire region."

City of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings stated, "As the City of Albany continues its commitment to becoming more sustainable, I applaud the efforts of DEC for their new initiative, 'Operation ECO-Quality.' This agency's resources, coupled with those on the local level, will help to ensure that health and quality of life concerns will remain a priority for all concerned."

Town of Babylon Supervisor Richard Schaffer said, "We in the Town of Babylon are grateful that the New York State DEC and Commissioner Martens have chosen to expand Operation ECO-Quality into the Wyandanch community. The revitalization of Wyandanch has been a main priority for the Town and it wouldn't be possible without continued support from agencies like the DEC, and the implementation of innovative programs such as this one."

Michael Brotchner, executive director of the Sustainable South Bronx said, "We are thrilled to be a community partner for the New York State DEC's Operation ECO-Quality Initiative. Sustainable South Bronx fully supports this innovative effort to reduce the impact of truck emissions and to ensure the responsible operation of the neighborhood's industrial businesses. Given the DEC's commitment to working with local organizations, we are optimistic that this initiative will have both a short-term and long-term impact on public health in the South Bronx."

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