Staten Island

Sparking an Interest in Science

By Jim Ferretti

Jim Kurtenbach from EPA demonstrates collection of stream water quality parameters.

Jim Kurtenbach from EPA demonstrates collection of stream water quality parameters.

In its 19th year, the Green Horizons Conference on Careers in Natural Resources and the Environment for Middle Schools is an annual event that introduces middle school students to careers in science. Green Horizons is part of the Environmental Education Advisory Council of New York City. The Green Horizons Conference is rotated among the five boroughs of New York City and includes environmentally diverse locations such as Central Park, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden and Queens Botanical Garden. This year the event was held on October 16, 2014 at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island.

A total of 163 students from various middle schools throughout Staten Island had the opportunity to select two science disciplines from over 19 stations established throughout the Snug Harbor complex in areas ranging from land planning, composting, entomology, natural resource restoration, and plant propagation. There were over 50 professionals and educators involved in this year’s outdoor conference. Nancy Wolf from the Magnolia Tree Earth Center of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Inc. is the coordinator for this program and touts many benefits for the kids, but the overriding one is the opportunity to introduce young people to all of the different types of careers in science. All of the stations were geared towards hands-on demonstrations and applications of a diverse collection of science and natural resource topics.

EPA employees participated this year with a station on water quality and a stream insect community demonstration which included hands-on measurement of basic water quality parameters and the ability to identify aquatic insects (and an American eel) obtained from sampling a stream at Snug Harbor (eventually flows into the Kill Van Kull). The students were amazed at this complex ecosystem right below the rocks of a small wadeable stream.

About the Author: Jim Ferretti is a team leader for the Sanitary Chemistry and Biology Team for the Laboratory Branch in the EPA’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment. He has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and a BS Degree in Water Analysis Technology from California University of PA. Jim has a diversified background in environmental studies and biological laboratory testing. He has been employed at the EPA since 1990, starting out in the water program in headquarters and moving to New Jersey in 1992.

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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Exploring the Former Fresh Kills Landfill via Kayak

By Murray Lantner

Kayaking at Fresh Kills Park

Kayaking at Fresh Kills Park

On a grey, windy and cool day a group of over 20, including EPAers from several Region 2 divisions, including our Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, and their friends and family took to the estuarine inlet within the former Fresh Kills Landfill site for a one-of-a-kind paddling trip. The trip was organized by Maureen Krudner, Regional Green Infrastructure Coordinator and Staten Islander – through the EPA Region 2 Emerging Leaders Network – and was hosted and outfitted by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation which provided kayaks and an amazing guide, Chris, who provided an informal informational tour. We started the trip with a short visit to the NYC Department of Sanitation Visitor’s Center at the former landfill where we learned about the decades-long effort to transform the Fresh Kills landfill into a 2,200 acre city park some three times the size of Central Park.

The plan for the park is to combine state-of-the-art ecological restoration techniques with extraordinary settings for recreation, public art, and facilities for many sports and programs. While nearly 45 percent of the site was once used for landfilling operations, the remainder of the site is currently composed of wetlands, open waterways, and unfilled lowland areas. We also learned that the methane gas that is generated in the landfill is collected, purified and sold to the gas company where it is transmitted to over 20,000 Staten Island homes. This landfill gas collection process not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions by converting methane into fuel but also has generated approximately $3-$5 million a year in revenue for the city over the last decade. The Fresh Kills Park is a great example of how New York City is embracing sustainability, both through mitigation and climate adaptation strategies.

Out on the water, the tides were quite high so the restored Spartina alterniflora or saltmarsh cordgrass was partially submerged and only the tops were visible, and in some cases we could paddle right over it. The city has a nearby nursery that grows plugs of cordgrass for use in salt marsh restoration projects, which did seem to be taking root here – a great sign for the park.

The Fresh Kills landfill paddle was truly a treat – open waters, salt marsh, surrounded by mostly vegetated hill slopes (the former garbage dumps) – making for a surprisingly peaceful and natural experience. This is a fantastic area to explore and, once there, it’s quite easy to forget the past use of the site and to look forward to the fascinating restoration and parkland that is being created on top of the landfill. To help facilitate the park creation process Region 2 ELN raised about $200 that was donated to the Fresh Kills Park Alliance. Thanks again to Maureen, EPA ELN, NYC Parks and Recreation and the NYC Dept. of Sanitation for a wonderful experience, I encourage you all to check out the park, and explore future opportunities for educational adventures along the Fresh Kills.

About the Author: Murray Lantner is an Environmental Engineer in EPA’s Water Compliance Branch who conducts enforcement of wastewater and stormwater permits under the Clean Water Act at EPA’s Manhattan office. Murray has worked for the EPA for 20 years, and started in EPA’s Chicago office. Murray enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and paddling. Murray holds a B.S in Civil Engineering and a Masters in Environmental Engineering from the Johns Hopkins University and a Masters in Conservation Biology from Columbia University.

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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Counting and Calculating while Practicing Conservation: Hubert H. Humphrey School, PS 57, in Staten Island, NY

By Marcia Anderson

Courtyard at PS 57

Courtyard at PS 57

As part of my job with the EPA, I visit a lot of schools promoting Integrated Pest Management, environmental initiatives and sustainability. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Hubert H. Humphrey School, PS 57, in Staten Island, NY, as part of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School awardees’ tour. This school has been recognized locally, regionally and nationally for innovative practices and partnerships in environmental education, energy conservation, climate change, ecological restoration, composting, recycling and gardening.

Environmental and sustainability concepts are integrated throughout the curriculum emphasizing the importance of net zero environmental impacts and the relationship between the environment and personal health.

Lunchroom recycling at PS 57

Lunchroom recycling at PS 57

Composting and recycling are important parts of student life from pre-K through 5th grade at PS 57. Approximately 30 percent of the school’s solid waste has been diverted from landfills. Gardening and composting lessons are regularly integrated into science, math, ELA, nutrition and health classes. Student Recycling Teams collect and weigh recyclables daily. Teachers use data collected by students in computer, math and literacy lessons. These efforts have kept more than 10,000 pounds of paper and milk cartons out of landfills. Their composting program enables the students to take a limited amount of approved lunch scraps, feed them into a vermi worm system and use the final compost in school and community gardens. These composting and recycling programs have won the students and staff the Sanitation Golden Apple Award, Super Recyclers, DEC Water Steward Award, and Ecology Day Awards.

PS 57’s award-winning garden

PS 57’s award-winning garden

Gardening: As participants in Grow NYC, Grow to Learn, and Green Thumb programs, PS 57 students spend six months out of the year planting and growing fruits and vegetables for their school’s cafeteria in their 7,350 square foot outdoor garden. In 2011, the students built a greenhouse in PS 57’s garden from 1,500 recycled two-liter plastic bottles with help from numerous community organizations. The students have won the Green Thumb Award, the NYC Grows Award, and the Garden Cabbage Contest four years in a row.

This school utilizes Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to identify pests which might be of concern. They have developed action thresholds for pests, perform routine cleaning, maintenance, and structural repairs to control pests, and require routine monitoring and documentation of areas of pest concern. One way that students and staff worked together to reduce the use of pesticides and maintenance costs was to use artificial turf in their high use courtyard area. Students designed the outdoor space and then landscape architects and contractors engineered the drainage and built the courtyard. Planting beds were installed for students to plant and maintain ornamental native plants. Maintenance crews do not have to mow the grass or apply pesticides, which makes maintaining the courtyard much less costly and time consuming.

The greenhouse

The greenhouse

Energy conservation: PS 57 students also participate in national programs, including Eco-Schools USA, Cool the Earth and the GSA Green Cup Challenge, through the NYC DOE Sustainability Initiative, that focus on educating students about climate change and energy conservation. The school’s Green Team consists of 40 students, including 4th and 5th graders and special education students. These students are constantly working on energy conservation themed projects. For example, the students analyzed energy readings and discovered that upgrading the school building from incandescent bulbs to LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs, would be the best way to save on energy costs. They worked with school staff to replace 104 300-watt incandescent bulbs with 12-watt LEDs in the cafeteria, auditorium, and hallways. Since 2008, the school has reduced its environmental impacts, cut its GHG emissions, and saved up to 28 percent on energy usage. The fourth grade classes and the school’s Green Team regularly conduct energy audits using kilowatts meters to record and display the amount of energy that their school uses. From the readings they are able to determine where even more energy reduction is possible.

Climate Change: In this region devastated by Hurricane Sandy, we found that the students had been actively researching and designing sea wall barriers and wave pools after studying storm surge and flood maps, since 2009. The 5th graders’ plans to build a sea wall around Staten Island’s low-lying coastal areas won them an invitation to Washington, D.C. to present their proposal to legislators who followed up by investing $500,000 into a study to address beach erosion caused by rising sea levels.

Water Quality: The teachers have also incorporated water and soil testing, plant and tree identification, macro-invertebrate and animal habitat research into the student curriculum. The students use hands-on investigation to analyze and interpret data and to solve environmental issues. This year, as part of an EPA Environmental Education grant, students are working on a 14-month project collecting water quality data from neighboring Eibs Pond.

In addition to the Green Ribbon School’s Award, PS 57 was also recognized with the Green Flag by National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program for exceptional achievement in conserving natural resources and integrating environmental education into the curriculum. PS 57 is the first school in New York City, and only the 10th in the country, to achieve “Green Flag” status. http://www2.ed.gov/programs/green-ribbon-schools/2013-schools/ny-hubert-h-humphrey-ps-057.pdf

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 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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Fresh Kills Park: A Kayaking Adventure

By Maureen Krudner

Fresh Kills Park launch site

Fresh Kills Park launch site

What do a great blue heron, Victory Boulevard, mussels anchored in mud below the high tide line and an apartment building have in common?  They can all be seen from a kayak in the waterways of Fresh Kills Park. The tour, organized through NY/NJ Baykeeper and led by the NYC Parks Department,  was an amazing three hour trip through the wetlands, surrounded by rolling hills of former trash, now covered with lush greenery and not a foul odor in the air. We passed a 2.1 acre wetland restoration in progress, where goats were used to clear phragmites and native wetland plantings will soon begin. We spotted an osprey nest; two babies were visible in the nest, but so was blue frayed roped and netting material. Several other birds were seen, including at least 15 snowy egrets and as a special treat, a great blue heron swooped down to grab a bite to eat.

For many years, Fresh Kills was probably the most well known location on Staten Island, housing the largest landfill in the world. In March 2001, the last barge delivered trash to the landfill and an amazing transformation began.

Paddling in Richmond Creek

Paddling in Richmond Creek

The New York City Parks Department now has responsibility for implementing the plan to develop the 2,200 acre park. The new Fresh Kills Park will provide many opportunities for outdoor recreation including kayaking, biking, skating and birding. The park has also been designed to accommodate cultural and educational programs. While completion of the park is expected to take 30 years, some sections are currently open and others will be opened in phases over the coming years. A Sneak Peak is scheduled for September 29, 2013. This promises to be a great event.

For more info visit: http://www.nycgovparks.org/park-features/freshkills-park.

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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