CAPECO

Citizen Science in our Region

By Patricia Sheridan

EPA Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, kicks off a Citizen Science Workshop.

EPA Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, kicks off a Citizen Science Workshop.

Citizen Science. Two words that worked their way into the EPA Region 2 vernacular in 2009. Highlighted by the massive explosion at the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation (CAPECO) oil storage facility near San Juan, Puerto Rico leading the community downwind to actively conduct air monitoring in their neighborhood; and the grassroots community-led air monitoring effort in Western New York using a bucket brigade to successfully champion an enforcement action to reduce benzene emissions at the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, citizen science found a home. Citizen Science became one of the Regional Administrator’s top priorities in 2010 to help engage and empower communities to collect their own data and advocate for their own health concerns.

Shortly after, the EPA established a regional Citizen Science Workgroup to drive this effort. Informational interviews were conducted with community groups, environmental justice groups, non-governmental organizations and academia to identify community needs and concerns setting the stage for the inaugural EPA Citizen Science Workshops held in the New York City and New Jersey regional offices in June 2012.

Feedback from the workshops focused on two areas: having citizen science data taken seriously while providing tools to do so, and funding opportunities. The region hosted an EPA MyEnvironment (GIS-based tool) webinar in early March 2013. This was followed by a quality assurance training seminar series on producing credible data held in the regional offices and Buffalo, New York in late spring. As an outgrowth of the workshops, regional grants and national funding sources were identified and secured to support state volunteer monitoring efforts. This was highlighted by four community organizations, two in New York and two in New Jersey, being awarded grants in 2013. The projects involved using sampling equipment loaned from EPA to monitor pathogens and water quality on tributaries of the NY/NJ Harbor.

The region continued its outreach throughout the remainder of the year creating the Region 2 Citizen Science Website to aid community groups and citizen scientists. In 2014, EPA turned its focus to bringing the Citizen Science Program to its territorial and academic partners in the Caribbean where resources are limited and often insufficient to address the immense health and environmental needs of the area. Partnering with EPA’s Caribbean Science Consortium, a two-day workshop was held in late summer at the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras Campus. The workshop brought EPA experts, government, academia and community groups to discuss current science activities in the Caribbean, and explore how communities can seek solutions to environmental and public health issues.

The EPA Regional Citizen Science Program welcomes our citizen scientists in an effort to better understand and protect our environment. By involving the community and providing the tools to increase the quality of the data collected and assist in its interpretation, we can work together to achieve our common goals. The key to the success of any and all Citizen Science projects lies in the effective and open communication and coordination between all partners.

About the Author: Pat currently serves as the citizen science coordinator in Region 2, and has been with EPA Region 2’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment as an Environmental Scientist in the Superfund and Brownfields Program for over 26 years.

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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Fire in the Sky: Emergency Response

A loud thump woke me up. I looked at my startled husband as he yelled, “Let’s go get the kids.” I stood as our concrete house shook, and grabbed an iron post from the bed to keep my stance. “An earthquake,” I mustered as we exited our room and noticed the hour:12:25 a.m. In the hallway, my eldest daughter hugged me while asking what was going on. Fortunately, our youngest children did not wake up. In our dining room, the window screens were on the floor and the chandelier was swinging from side to side. My brother-in-law phoned to say there was fire in the sky. My immediate thoughts were about an airplane accident. I opened our dining room side door to find the sky changing colors from red to orange to violet. We looked for a radio and soon learned the cause of such chaos: fire at the Caribbean Petroleum (CAPECO) tank farm less than a mile from our home.

image of fire at petroleum plantWhat was a long awaited weekend all year long – we were holding our Halloween party – turned into an emergency response for me. Within ten minutes of the explosion, I called our Response and Remediation Branch Chief who in turn called the National Response Center.

As a public affairs specialist in the San Juan office of EPA, I had dealt with minor emergencies; this, however, was a real environmental threat since various drums containing jet fuel, Bunker C, diesel and other petroleum derivatives were on fire. The CAPECO facility is located on Road #28 in an area that encompasses three towns: Guaynabo, Bayamon and Cataño and is next to Fort Buchanan, a large military base. The San Juan Bay is two miles away and wetlands and minor water bodies are nearby. The reason this emergency hit home is because, aside from living nearby the facility, I drive down this very same road at 5 am to go to the gym at Fort Buchanan. The tanks are visible from the road.

The first few hours were frantic as federal, state and municipal agencies tried to contain the fire and activate all emergency protocols to ensure the citizens in this largely populated area were not affected. An Incident Command Center was established within 18 hours at a sports facility in San Juan, and we were deployed to work. The media and citizens needed accurate information. We worked hard to provide it.

I must say I have learned more from this experience than I have before in my seven years at EPA. While the fire is out, now the real work begins. I will keep you posted.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

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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Incendio en el cielo: respuesta a una emergencia

Un fuerte estallido me sacó de la cama. Miré a mi sorprendido esposo que gritaba, “vamos a buscar a los nenes”. Me paré mientras nuestra casa de concreto se estremecía y agarré el pilar de hierro de la cama para no tambalear. “Un terremoto”, logré decir mientras salíamos de nuestra habitación y noté la hora: la 12:25 de la madrugada. En el pasillo, mi hija mayor me abrazó mientras preguntaba lo que estaba pasando. Afortunadamente, mis hijos menores no se despertaron. En nuestro comedor, las mallas metálicas que cubrían las ventanas cayeron todas al piso y la lámpara colgante se jamaqueaba de lado a lado. Mi cuñado llamó por teléfono y nos dijo que había un incendio en el cielo. De inmediato pensé que se trataba de un accidente aéreo. Abrí la puerta lateral de la casa y vi cómo cambiaba el cielo de colores de rojo a anaranjado y violeta. Buscamos una radio y nos enteramos enseguida de la causa del caos: un fuego en la instalación de tanques de almacenamiento de petróleo de la compañía Caribbean Petroleum (CAPECO, por sus siglas en inglés) que queda a menos de una milla de nuestro hogar.

image of fire at petroleum plantEl fin de semana que tanto habíamos anhelado durante casi un año—la celebración de nuestra fiesta de Halloween, se convirtió para mí en una respuesta a una emergencia. A los diez minutos de la explosión, llamé al jefe de nuestra oficina de respuesta y remediación de emergencias quien a su vez se comunicó con el Centro Nacional de Respuesta a Emergencias.

Como especialista en asuntos públicos en la oficina de la EPA en San Juan, he tenido que trabajar en emergencias de menor escala. Sin embargo, esta se trataba de una verdadera amenaza ambiental ya que varios tanques contenían combustible para aviones, Bunker C, diésel y otros derivados de petróleo que estaban ardiendo en llamas. La instalación de CAPECO está localizada en la Carretera #28 en un área que abarca tres pueblos: Guaynabo, Bayamón y Cataño y se encuentra frente a una base militar grande, el Fuerte Buchanan. La Bahía de San Juan está a tan sólo dos millas de distancia y varios humedales y cuerpos de agua de menor escala se encuentran alrededor. Por esa razón, la emergencia me tocó muy de cerca, a parte del hecho de que vivo cerca de la instalación, sino también porque viajo por esa misma carretera a las cinco da la mañana cuando voy al gimnasio en el Fuerte Buchanan. Los tanques son visibles de la carretera.

Las primeras horas fueron frenéticas mientras las agencias federales, estatales y municipales trataron de contener el fuego y activaron todos los protocolos de emergencia para asegurar que los ciudadanos en esa región altamente poblada no fueran afectados. Un Centro de Comando de Incidentes fue establecido a las 18 horas del evento en un centro deportivo en San Juan y fuimos desplegados allí para trabajar. Los medios y la ciudadanía necesitan información exacta. Nosotros trabajamos arduamente para brindarla.

Tengo que decir que aprendí más de esta experiencia de lo que había aprendido en mis siete años con la EPA. Aunque apagamos ya el fuego, ahora el trabajo real comienza. Los mantendré informados.

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.