The Right to Breathe Free

Unions and others may need permits to check safe air and water

Volume CVIII, No. 3March, 2008


“Had Intro 650 been in effect on Sept. 11, 2001, it would have been illegal for the City Council and other elected officials to bring in technical experts from outside the city to test downtown residences.”

—Testimony by NYCOSH and the New York Central Labor Council

A new law proposed by City Council would make it illegal to test the air without a permit. Its proponents say that the bill would prevent “false alarms and unnecessary public concern,” in the words of Richard Falkenrath, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for counterterrorism. But Local 802 and other arts unions are blasting the bill, saying that it would make it impossible to monitor air quality in environments like Broadway.

The bill — Intro 650 — would make it illegal to own or use an unlicensed air tester. Licenses would be granted — or denied — by the Police Department.

But dozens of human rights and environmental groups are up in arms. Anti-asthma groups that monitor the air quality around schools are wondering if they would need a permit to continue their work of protecting kids. And would Local 802’s theatre rep risk jail time if she showed up at a Broadway show and took air samples?

“Musicians must be protected against unsafe special effects,” said Local 802 President Mary Landolfi. “This bill could prevent us from testing the air in a timely fashion. That’s dangerous to musicians and to all workers.”

Besides musicians, set workers are also concerned about this bill.

Barbara Miller, the president of the United Scenic Artists (IATSE Local USA 829), wrote an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg.

“On our worksites, we typically have only a short time to determine there is a problem,” Miller wrote. “When needed, we call in an environmental testing lab to perform the sampling, or we take bulk samples on site and deliver them to the lab.”

Miller added, “The city must not restrict our tests or make us wait for a permit while our workers are exposed to hazardous materials. The city is seriously compromising our right to protect our members to the best of our ability. It will criminalize the environmental sampling activities that we routinely conduct without permits.”

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health has also come down hard against the bill. “Intro 650, if enacted, will restrict, and could prevent altogether, independent environmental monitoring,” stated NYCOSH on its Web site. “Intro 650 also raises a serious threat to our civil liberties.”

In an op-ed column in the New York Times, three research scientists from Columbia University came out against the bill. Steven Chillrud, Greg O’Mullan and Wade McGillis made the following points:

  • The original identification of PCB contamination of the Hudson River included data collected from a private citizen.
  • When a steam pipe exploded in Midtown last year, scientists were able to quickly allay fears that asbestos was in the air.
  • In the wake of 9/11, private groups using both hand-held particle sensors and samples that were analyzed in laboratories enabled us to better understand the health risks of the disaster.

All of this private data collection could be threatened under the new bill.

Local 802 urges musicians to call their City Councilmembers and tell them to vote “no” on Intro 650. To find your councilmember, go to and click “Find My Council Member” from the right-hand menu bar. Or call Joel LeFevre, 802’s organizing director and assistant to the president, at (212) 245-4802, ext. 101.