Gennaro chairs environmental committee

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Jumping out of the gate after being selected to chair the City Council’s committee on environmental protection, James Gennaro (D-Jamaica Estates) last Thursday said the most pressing environmental concern facing the city today is contamination at the World Trade Center site.

A day after being chosen to guide the Council’s environmental policy, Gennaro attended a news conference on the steps of City Hall with U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) to call on the Environmental Protection Agency to take more care in the clean-up effort.

“The EPA has not been as diligent as it can be in mandating and facilitating the testing of residences in Lower Manhattan,” he said. “There’s a lot of asbestos dust that may still reside in these residences.”

Gennaro said the EPA went to “great strains” to clean its Lower Manhattan offices at 290 Broadway but did not use the same careful approach in ensuring residences in the area were safe.

“For the short term, job one as chair of the Environmental Protection Committee is to make sure all environmental issues associated with the tragic events of Sept. 11 are dealt with appropriately by city, state and federal government,” Gennaro said.

Moving on from the Twin Towers site, Gennaro said he planned to focus on ensuring the city’s water supply remains safe and on decontaminating 5,000 to 6,000 defunct “brownfield” properties into safe, economically viable developments.

But addressing such issues as clean air in western Queens and toxic waste in Jamaica, the councilman also outlined some of the environmental concerns that more directly affect his home borough.

Joining Gennaro on the Environmental Protection Committee are Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) and Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), representatives of Queens neighborhoods facing significant environmental challenges.

Gennaro said building new power plants alone will not rid Long Island City and Astoria of air pollution. “As you build new facilities, you have to take old facilities off line,” he said. “Replacing older dirtier capacity plants with cleaner capacity ones doesn’t do anything if you don’t take the older ones off line.”

Southeast Queens will also be on the Gennaro environmental watch. “We’ve got problems with toxic [sites] in Jamaica, toxic cleanups that have to be monitored,” he said.

One of the Jamaica sites that Gennaro will undoubtedly focus on is the former West Side Corporation site, where dry cleaning chemicals leaked through the soil into the area’s groundwater. Investigators are looking into whether contaminated groundwater could have caused what residents contend are elevated cancer rates. A recent state Health Department study did not show increased cancer rates.

“We want to make sure those entrusted with making sure toxic chemicals don’t pose peril to people of Queens are doing what they’re supposed to do,” he said.

Gennaro, the former environmental policy adviser to the City Council, was nominated by Council Speaker A. Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), with whom he has worked for six years in the Council.

An environmental policy professor at Queens College, Gennaro was approved by his colleagues to run the committee, which comes along with a $10,000 stipend.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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