community involvement

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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Life is Better under the Sea!

by Waleska Nieves Muñoz

I was 10 when I went snorkeling for the first time. I was immediately mesmerized with the variety of species living in the ocean, but I was also surprise to see trash on the ocean floor. That moment of wonder and confusion of seeing something so beautiful polluted with trash, motivated me to study Environmental Technology at the Inter American University at San German Campus in Puerto Rico. I later pursued a Master Degree in Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University in VA. I successfully applied for a job opportunity at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While working at the Agency, I also felt the need to serve the Hispanic community to make better decisions about their environment.

Community involvement is key for communities to make informed decisions about their health and the environment. Since language can be a barrier to many individuals with limited English proficiency to make these informed decisions, I started to translate environmental information related to the Superfund program in to Spanish. You may ask how is Superfund related to the marine environment? Well, if we don’t protect and clean up our land, the beaches and the marine environment, the marine conditions could easily be degraded to the level of a site as those regulated by the Superfund program! By translating these outreach materials was able to provide the opportunity for the Hispanic communities to become empowered to develop a healthier neighborhood and community.

As people become better informed, they will not dump trash that pollutes our beaches. We all will be able to dive, swim, snorkel and surf in a safe place, see reefs and the wonderful diverse marine life while enjoying the beach, So, what can we do? You and your family can organize a beach cleanup this summer. Or how about simply picking up after yourself when going to the beach? Educate your family and friends to use reusable utensils at the beach. Don’t leave plastic bags and trash around… You can make a difference by protecting the coastal watershed. For more information, check Protecting the Beaches, the Coastal Watershed Factsheets on The Beach and Your Coastal Watershed and Marine Debris Prevention and let’s help to keep our oceans clean for our family, our community, and our future.

About the author: Waleska Nieves-Muñoz has been working as an environmental scientist for over 12 years at EPA. Currently, she works in the Office of Civil Rights Title VI, External Compliance Program.   The mission of Title VI is to ensure that recipients of EPA financial assistance and others comply with the relevant non-discrimination requirements under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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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Warbler Heaven

By Kevin Kubik

Springtime is an amazing time for birdwatching and if you’re lucky enough to live near a favorite location of migrating birds then it’s that much better.  Sandy Hook, NJ which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area is one of those spots visited by so many species of migrating birds.  Recently, while birding there, we happened upon Professor Thomas Brown of the College of Staten Island, who was busy netting and banding birds in the back woods at the park.  Professor Brown has permits from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that allow him to net, band and release the birds.  He was nice enough to spend time to explain the entire operation, which was both educational and really cool.

A banded Magnolia Warbler (Photo courtesy Jan Green)

He showed us the nets which reminded me of huge volleyball nets – only they extended right to the ground.  These nets were placed even deeper into the wooded area.  Professor Brown and his students would remove the netted birds, transfer them to collapsible net cages and bring them back to a table where they would systematically catalog and band each bird.  Data recorded included species, age, weight, body fat and length.  The birds were then released.

There was an abundance of birds that day, but the species-of-the-day was warblers.  These birds, which were only 3 – 4 inches long were as varied as they were colorful.   One after another, warblers  were removed from the net cages and added to Professor Brown’s file.  We saw Magnolia Warblers, and Common Yellowthroat Warblers and Canadian Warblers and Northern Parula Warblers and American Redstarts.

A warbler gets weighed (Photo courtesy Jan Green)

In glancing at the professor’s log we noticed that many other warblers were caught and released, including Cape May Warblers and a Blackburnian Warbler which apparently was a prized catch.  Also caught and released that morning were a box turtle and a vole.

It’s amazing how quickly the species change during the migration season.  Each week there seems to be a completely different group of birds at the park.  All you need are binoculars and a little patience and an extraordinary world is available to you.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik serves as the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center.  He has worked as a chemist for the Region for more than 29 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.

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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Community Involvement + Superfund+ An Environmental Delegation from Delhi

By Melissa Dimas

New York City receives millions of visitors every year.  They come to see the Statue of Liberty, the Great White Way and the towering skyscrapers, but I’d like to think, and maybe it’s because I live here, that the people who reside in New York City and the communities they form are reason enough to visit New York City.

Last week, a delegation from India’s Ministry of Environment and Forest in Delhi, as well as the Pollution Control Board in West Bengal and Kolkata visited EPA Region 2 to tour three of our Superfund sites and the communities that surround them. In India, they are currently designing all aspects of their Superfund program and working on four pilot projects funded by the World Bank. During their tour, we highlighted the important role communities play in EPA’s Superfund process and we wanted the delegation to meet some of the New York City superfund community members.  At Newtown Creek, we met with Christine an active member of the community advisory group (CAG), at the Passaic River we met Darryl, a community member working on the actual clean up who received his job through EPA’s superfund job training initiative (SJTI), and at the Gowanus Canal we met Katia, a resident and blogger that helps keep the community informed about all things Gowanus.

The delegation was surprised to see how much EPA Region 2 interacts with the community throughout the Superfund process.  They were surprised that EPA’s cleanup process doesn’t just focus on removing contaminants, but also insures the impacted community has a voice in the process.  EPA’s Community Involvement Coordinators Wanda Ayala, David Kluesner, and Natalie Loney work hard to make sure the community is informed and the community’s voice is heard.  Working with amazing community members like Christine, Darryl, and Katia makes working in New York City as a Community Involvement Coordinator that much more satisfying.

So wherever you live, New York City, Delhi, or Djibouti think about how you participate in your community and how you can play an important role in bettering your community.

About the Author: Melissa Dimas is the International Affairs Program Manager in Region 2. She works with environmental ministries in Latin America to increase public participation and access to environmental information. Melissa joined EPA in 2006. Prior to working at EPA, she received a Masters of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the beautiful country of El Salvador.

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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Sensors for Air Pollution – There’s an App for That

Two views of the maps displaying noise data collected.

By Kevin Kubik

This week, I had the pleasure of attending a webinar on Apps and Sensors for Air Pollution sponsored by EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards and EPA’s Office of Resarch and Development.  The webinar was designed to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas for those involved in the cutting edge research surrounding air pollution sensors and applications (Apps) that use those sensors.

I found it fascinating to hear about all of the research going on related to sensors and smartphones.  The nerd in me loved hearing presenters (other nerds) speaking about the Beer-Lambert Law, micro gas chromatographs, nanotechnology being used in sensor technology, laser-based, particulate matter sensors and so much more.  But the one presentation that stuck out was about a Brooklyn-based organization called Habitat Map.  I belong to my own community volunteer monitoring group in Monmouth County, NJ.  But we are not nearly as organized or advanced as Habitat Map.  I’m sure the fact that they were local to the Region attracted my attention, but so did their organization and sophistication.

To quote from Habitat Map’s webpage:

“HabitatMap is a non-profit environmental health justice organization whose goal is to raise awareness about the impact the environment has on human health. Our online mapping and social networking platform is designed to maximize the impact of community voices on city planning and strengthen ties between organizations and activists working to build greener, greater cities. Utilizing our shared advocacy platform participants can:

–          Alert the public to environmental health hazards

–          Hold polluters accountable for their environmental impacts

–          Highlight urban infrastructures that promote healthy living

–          Identify future opportunities for sustainable urban development

–          Promote policies that enhance equitable access to urban resources”

If you are affiliated with a community-based organization or you are a high school or college educator, you might want to contact Habitat Map.  They conduct community mapping workshops and teach and develop curricula for high school and college students.

But the coolest part of the Habitat Map presentation was Aircasting!!! More

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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The Door to Door Visit

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. 

(From left) CIC Wanda Ayala and Greening the Apple's own Sophia Kelley caught in action during a home visit.

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. More

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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Inside Insight: Cultural Clues from a New Yorker in St. Croix

By Natalie Loney

One can never underestimate the power of a strong voice. It can be clear like a bell with the right timbre and resonance, or booming and vibrant like a bass drum. Either way, the power of my own voice was tested on a recent trip to St. Croix, USVI.

I was in St. Croix in support of EPA’s emergency response to an air release from the HOVENSA refinery. Part of my responsibilities included going door to door in impacted areas to talk to residents about our sampling results. So, with the support of local Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) reps, our team set out to reach out to residents. I was comfortable with this task, I’ve done community outreach countless times before. Walk up to the door, ring the bell, wait for someone to answer, then, start your mini-presentation, simple, right? Wrong! First of all, you can’t just walk up to someone’s door. Most of the residents’ homes were set back from the road behind a fenced or sometimes walled lot. My DPNR colleague pointed out that opening someone’s gate and entering their property without permission would be seen as improper. I definitely didn’t want to introduce myself to a resident by insulting them. What to do? More

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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Making a Difference in Your Community Through Service

There you are, heading to school and you see something that practically screams, “People do not care about their environment.” Perhaps you notice there are cups and bottles along the route your school bus takes. Or, you go on a hike and see a stream with garbage dumped in it. Or you realize several students at your school live near you, but you all drive your own cars instead of carpooling.

This is an important moment. Will you act on what you notice, or ignore it and hope it changes by itself? Let’s hope you choose to act. But, what can one person really do? The answer to that question is: a great deal. One person can act alone or join with others to change the way things are.

After you decide to do something about a problem, find out why it is happening. You may have to talk to others – classmates, parents, teachers or community leaders – or do some research.

Once you understand the problem, the next step is figuring out how to get people to stop doing whatever is causing it. You’ll soon discover that people act according to what they know and think. If people think it’s OK to take their used car oil and pour it down a storm drain, that’s what they’ll do. But if they learn that oil can cause a water pollution problem, they may dispose of it properly, which is to take it to a service station.

Figure out how to teach people about what causes a problem and how to solve it. Who are you trying to get the word out to? What is the best way to reach that audience? This might be a project that needs more than one person. Get organized. Find out who can help and team up. You can form partnerships and work with others who will give you support or ideas. Get your team together, set up a timeline of when you are doing what. Then, go to work and get the project done.

As you read this, you may think: “Well, sure, it sounds simple, but doing something isn’t that easy.” True. But, following up on the decision to do something will help your community and develop your ability to act on what you think , plan ahead and lead others to accomplish a goal. Even if it is something you do by yourself, the results are the same.

Take that first step. Decide to solve that environmental problem. Once you take that first step, you’ll understand that you can make a difference.

For more information/ideas:

About the author: Terry Ippolito is the Environmental Education Coordinator for EPA’s region 2 office in New York. Terry came to EPA in 1988 after being a science teacher, grades 1 through high school, and school administrator. Her work at EPA enables her to combine experience in education with a commitment to the environment.

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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La EPA llega a la comunidad

image of Beyond Translation logoPor casi cuatro años, la Agencia de Protección Ambiental ha realizado un esfuerzo de alcance público para las comunidades multilingües llamado “Beyond Translation” (Más allá de las traducciones). El primer foro con líderes hispanos de Más allá de las traducciones se efectuó en San Antonio, Texas en el otoño del 2006 como una iniciativa de alcance público a fin de aumentar la concienciación ambiental entre líderes hispanos. Mediante la gran labor de empleados de la EPA, esta iniciativa rindió frutos y ha culminado en un esfuerzo que realmente logra una comunicación efectiva entre la EPA y partes interesadas hispanas provenientes de organizaciones de base comunitaria, pequeños negocios, académicos, y funcionarios públicos. Como el título sugiere, el principal objetivo consiste en ir más allá de los mecanismos tradicionales para alcanzar a los hispanos en los Estados Unidos. Mientras todavía es necesario, la traducción de folletos al español sólo produce resultados limitados para crear conciencia medioambiental entre partes interesadas hispanas. El propósito de estos foros radica en lleva a EPA a las comunidades donde el pueblo vive, trabaja, aprende y juega a fin de sostener un diálogo productivo y sostenido sobre sus preocupaciones y retos medioambientales. Mediante esta importante herramienta, la Agencia eficazmente promueve el ambientalismo entre las comunidades hispanas en un idioma que pueden entender y en el cual pueden participar activamente en el proceso de toma de decisiones de la Agencia.

Este año, EPA está llevando nuevamente su mensaje a la comunidad en una serie de foros de Más allá de las traducciones. El primero se celebrará en las oficinas de EPA en el Parque de Investigaciones del Triángulo (RTP, por sus siglas en inglés) en Carolina del Norte el 7 de octubre. El tema del foro de RTP este año es: “EPA y la comunidad hispana: creando conciencia ambiental en comunidades rurales.” Le instamos que participe sea en persona o por vía cibernética. Quédese sintonizado a nuestros blogs porque pronto brindaremos mas detalles sobre el próximo en la serie. Juntos podemos hacer una diferencia a favor de la protección ambiental.

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

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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