By Cecilia Echols
Sometimes you just can’t guess what might be behind that closed door.
My work as a Community Involvement Coordinator (CIC) requires me to be a liaison between the agency and the community. And, as a CIC, in the New York Metropolitan area, I have met people of every race, class and religion; every lifestyle imaginable; every ethnic group and every demographic. I get to explain to all of them how the agency plans to clean up a hazardous waste site in their community. That’s very gratifying to me.
One of my specialties is conducting door to door visits. These visits may occur during the morning, the afternoon or at night. But when I’m visiting apartments and coops, big houses and modest houses, one thing I never do is enter a home alone; it’s always a team effort.
Spending time with owners and tenants is at the core of our work. These visits are often needed to “gain access,” to permit us to come into a home or yard to sample their drinking water from an indoor/ outdoor pipe, to test their indoor air or the air beneath their home or to test the soil in their yard.
While I’ve met many different types of people and families, I’ve also been confronted with some very unusual circumstances. Frankly, some of the more unusual living conditions want to make you “run for the hills.” Not too long ago, I visited some homes in one of the boroughs and got quite a shock.
While most of the homes in this particular neighborhood were immaculate, one residence was occupied by a “hoarder.” It actually scared me. I remember thinking, “Is something or someone going to jump out of this clutter and do me some harm?” This home smelled horrible and was filled with what I can only describe as garbage. We had to navigate around piles of trash to reach the resident to have a conversation.
Fortunately, these experiences are few and far between, but as a CIC you always have to be cautious. You never know what to expect. The living conditions for some people are just so radically different from your own.
Regardless of my feelings, my job is to explain our work and allay the fears of residents as we test and analyze.
I love the work that I do as a CIC and I always try to be pleasant regardless of conditions. I’m proud of our work and my role in communicating that work – even if the room I’m standing in makes me squeamish.
About the Author: For more than 20 years, Cecilia has worked on some of the most challenging Superfund sites in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is a long-time EPA employee and a resident of Brooklyn.