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Your Stories:EPA@40

2010 December 20

By Sharon Jaffess

As a child in 1970, I played along the shores of Jamaica Bay in Far Rockaway, New York and collected water samples to look at under my microscope. I wrote a letter to EPA and was excited to receive a response. Just like Derek Jeter knew he wanted to be a New York Yankee as a child, I knew I wanted to be an EPA scientist.

I started with the agency as a summer intern in NYC in 1985. Thinking about EPA@40, I’m proud of all the work we’ve done to clean up sites, but what mostly comes to mind are my relationships with people, the citizens, co-workers and collaborators I’ve met over the years.

I remember Mrs. L who lived next door to the Tabernacle Drum Dump Superfund site. I’d sample her tap water for safety testing, then help feed her pigs and buy her green eggs, which had a light green shell from a South American breed of hen. There was Christina P. from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), who helped EPA clean up many sites but passed away before we could acknowledge her important contributions. Lisa B. was one of my “Sisters of Sediment.” Along with Rick W., Eric S. and Jon B. at NJDEP, we were instrumental in forming the interagency partnership to clean up the Passaic River. I remember the Newark Junior High School students we took out on the Passaic River, who were so excited to go out on the boat and learn; and the people in Battery Park City, St. Tamminy Parish, Louisiana, and Marshall, Michigan, who were all so appreciative of our efforts to clean up their towns. And I recall the Coast Guard Ensigns who I woke up at 2:00 a.m. to help me retrieve a canine body out of the Hudson River at Ground Zero. Seeing how upset I was, they took me for a speed ride on their boat, supposedly to “ungunk” the engine. It was the first time I smiled in a month.

When I think of EPA@40, it is more than just about the clean up work — it is about the citizens and the close friends I’ve made. I’m also startled to realize how I’m still thinking about contaminated water. Forty years ago, I couldn’t do much about it. But, over the past twenty-five years, I have.

About the author:  One of Sharon’s dreams came true in 1985 when EPA’s New York office hired this University of Rochester trained geologist to clean up hazardous waste in NY and NJ. Sharon re-focused her attention to the equally important work for the citizens in the Great Lakes Region, graduated from the Partnership for Public Service’s Excellence in Government Leadership Program, and was recently charged to manage and lead the Superfund Division’s Site Assessment Program.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. marlen permalink
    December 20, 2010

    So beautiful it is the same in my country. Some people do not recognize the need of cleaning the Hazardous of the ground surrounding our place.

  2. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    December 21, 2010

    I can remember the time when there was no EPA and no CalEPA. That was a time back in the 1960s when you could go to the beach and it was common to see black tar balls mostly penny and dime size washed up on the beach at Huntington and offshore oil wells just off shore. If you passed a refinery, you would see the flame where excess fumes were being burned off. You could smell the fumes from oil fields, refineries, and tank farms as you went by. You could see oil sheens on the water of rivers that passed by tank farms and refineries. I can also remember a small brook that flowed about a block from where we lived in Orange and that provided a home for fresh water snales, crustacians, dragon flies, and etc. When the Orange Freeway went in, the brook was eliminated and completely concreted and paved over because this was also before the time of environmental impact reports. But before the brook was destroyed, it was already experiencing dieoffs of aquatic life from the chemical pollution finding its way into the water from nearby orange groves and nurseries.
    The 1960s was also a time when agricultural chemicals were king and chemicals were tested and put on the market based entirely on their abilities to kill weeds or insects with no further regard given to environmental concerns. In fact, I knew someone who was in the agricultural chemical business at that time who told my uncle who was a small Indiana farmer, to just sprey a certain chemical on the ground and it would work as well as plowing for weed control. The chemical sprayer was urged as a replacement for the plow. No one told my uncle about toxic harm from chemicals. So he just scooped the leftovers out of the sprayer tank with his hands and washed the tank out with the hose letting the contaminated water fall on the ground. The person I knew that was giving advice to my uncle on using chemicals in his farm operation died of a very rare form of cancer.
    EPA has made huge progress in environmental protection in the past 40 years. Today, many of the things I saw as a child growing up in Orange County in the 1960s are illegal. Large fines can be assessed today for deliberately degrading the environment and putting public health at risk. Alot of positive steps have been taken and things are much better today than in the 1960s. But there is still a long way to go yet, especially with chemicals and on greenhouse gas emissions. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  3. Jackmax permalink
    December 22, 2010

    Rock on Cuz!!!

  4. Dawn Junkins permalink
    January 3, 2011

    I’d like to know what coal and formaldehyde insulation have in common and what source it comes from. I would also like to know if there was a release of fiber optics and stray voltage in region 1 in the fall of 2007. Maybe Verizon. What happens when too much energy is sent to the grid, where does it go? Does it create a thermal environment?

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