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The National Symbol

2014 April 7

By Kevin Kubik

Bald Eagle (credit –

Bald Eagle (credit –

I’ve been commuting home, south on the Garden State Parkway for almost 32 years and I’ve seen many things, some common, some not. I’ve seen accidents and flipped-over cars and car fires. I’ve even witnessed state troopers with their guns drawn after chasing down “suspects.” I’ve seen deer and ground hogs and various hawks and ospreys. But it wasn’t until last Thursday’s commute home that I saw a bald eagle.

I’ve mistaken ospreys for bald eagles at a distance in the past because, while somewhat different, they both have white heads. But last week as I was just entering the estuary section of Cheesequake State Park, (just south of mile marker 123 on the GSP), a bald eagle was just taking off with a branch in its claws to my right and flew over the Parkway as it was gaining altitude and I assumed, heading for its nest. When it passed over my 4Runner, it couldn’t have been more than 15 feet off the ground.

As soon as I arrived home, I Googled “bald eagle and Cheesequake State Park” and sure enough there were many, many “hits.” The one I found most interesting included pictures of a pair of nesting bald eagles.

I know that there are bald eagles in New Jersey and the New York Metropolitan area. I’ve seen pictures of them nesting and raising offspring at the Manasquan Reservoir and at Duke Farms and even on webcams. I understand that there may be more than 100 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the state and that they are recovering from the effects of DDT. I’ve seen bald eagles swoop in, out of seemingly nowhere to steal an osprey’s catch while in Yellowstone National Park. But to see one up close and personal was truly spectacular.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik serves as the region’s Acting 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 31 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance 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.

Celebrating Women as Storytellers and Science Popularizers: Women’s History Month at EPA

2014 March 27

By Abbey States

Profiles of Women Employees at EPA

Profiles of Women Employees at EPA

March is Women’s History Month and while it’s been more than a century since the first International Women’s Day in 1911, for those in scientific career fields it can also be an annual reminder that women in science are by and large still underrepresented and underpaid. Now that it seems progress has stalled on closing this gender gap, it’s more important than ever to seek inspiration from the women that have been leaders of change in science and legislation in America for decades.

Women have played a critical role in the environmental movement since long before the EPA existed.  Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” galvanized the public in favor of environmental conservation, spurring the federal government to take action on pesticide regulation and water quality in the 1960s. Hazel Johnson’s crusade against urban pollution led to the passing of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 in 1994; she was also one of the first champions of sustainable community development. Of particular significance in the region is Lois Gibbs, a housewife from upstate New York whose activism against the hazardous waste polluting her Love Canal community inspired the creation of the EPA’s Superfund program, used to locate and remediate toxic waste sites throughout the country.

In planning for this year’s Women’s History Month, I was struck by the power of these women not only as environmental activists, but also as storytellers. Their leadership and communication skills are why they are remembered because they were the vehicles for the important environmental issues they worked to advance.  In this vein, our events focus on women storytellers and science popularizers that are making waves today.

The book club of the Women in Science and Engineering Council, started last year in  our region, selects  recently published science books written by women, many of whom are journalists first and science enthusiasts second. “ Full Body Burden” by Kristen Iversen, “Gulp” by Mary Roach, and “Breasts” by Florence Williams are a few great titles that combine personal anecdotes with scientific literature and a bit of history to create compelling reads that also succeed in conveying important information.

This month we also hosted a viewing of the three-part PBS documentary series Makers: Women Who Make America.  This film, produced by women, celebrates the last century’s social revolution through the stories of some of the key figures in the women’s rights movement, as well as those it impacted.

Income parity for scientific careers across gender lines will improve when more women are inspired to enter and stay in these jobs, changing the culture from within.  It is more important than ever to recognize those that inspire us to do so through their storytelling and popularization of important issues in science.

For more inspiration, check out these profiles of featured women EPA employees and the Department of Labor’s Women’s History Month book selections.

About the Author: Abbey States has been a Physical Scientist with the Superfund Program Support Branch since 2010 and is the current Women in Science and Engineering Special Emphasis Program Manager for EPA Region 2. She studied chemistry at Tufts University and has a graduate degree from the University of Auckland. Prior to joining the EPA, Abbey worked as a field sampler on Superfund sites, a laboratory analyst, and a chimney stack tester.

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.

Eco-Friendly Weekend Activities: NYC

2014 March 13

The weather is supposed to be warmer this weekend, so there’s no excuse for staying home! Check out our sustainable suggestions and let us know if we missed something in the comments section.

Family Art Project: Make mobiles of birds returning to the north for spring. Free until noon. Wave Hill House, Saturday, March 15, 10 a.m. – noon.

Heart of the Park Tour: Take a free walking tour of the highlights of Central Park. Saturday, March 15, noon – 1:30 p.m.

Introduction to Birdwatching: Tour and learn about the 250 species of birds that live in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Audubon Center at the Boathouse, Prospect Park. Saturday, March 15, noon – 1 p.m.

Leprechaun Hike: Dress for hiking and searching for the elusive leprechauns of Staten Island. Suitable for children ages 7 and up. Sunday, March 16, 1 p.m.

QueensWay Bike Tour: Join along for an education ride through Central Queens and learn about a community effort to transform abandoned railway into a bike path and park. Various starting times and locations, Saturday, March 15.

Stay Well Exercise: Mature adults, 50+ are invited to participate in gentle exercise classes at the Kingsbridge Library, Friday, March 14, 10 a.m.

Volunteer Pruning Day: Head out to the Queens County Farm Museum and learn the basics of tree pruning in their apple orchard. Sunday, March 16, 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.

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.

Participate in the 2014 Long Island Sound Volunteer Alewife Survey

2014 March 4

By Victoria O’Neil and Mark A. Tedesco

The alewife is an important source of food for many valued fish and birds.

The alewife is an important source of food for many valued fish and birds.

The winter of 2014 has been a cold and snowy season, but spring is almost upon us. Soon the temperatures will begin to rise, and the northeastern United States will awaken: the snow will melt away, the ground will begin to thaw, and the early spring blooming plants such as Forsythia and Amelanchier will emerge from hibernation to produce their showy blooms. As much a signpost of spring is the annual migration of the alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) to local rivers and creeks.

The alewife is a member of the herring family whose species range from the Canadian Maritimes to the Carolinas. Alewives, also known as river herring, are anadromous fish that, like salmon, spend the majority of their lives out at sea and only enter freshwater systems to spawn. A relatively diminutive fish (adults average 12 inches in length), these silvery, iridescent creatures are built for speed, with a sleek and slender frame allowing them to move quickly through the water.

Over the next few weeks, from mid-March through May, thousands of these tiny fish will begin their journey from the open ocean to our Long Island Sound estuaries, rivers, and creeks. Their journey from ocean to estuary to freshwater river will take several weeks and they will cover hundreds of miles. Along the way, they will serve as an important high energy food source for tuna, whales, cod, dolphins, harbor seals, ospreys, eagles, river otters, herons, raccoons, and egrets. Upon reaching the same rivers and creeks from which they hatched, the alewife adults will spawn millions of golden-green eggs. While the adults leave the rivers soon after spawning to return to the ocean, the eggs will hatch into juveniles that will stay and grow in the freshwater systems throughout the spring and summer. As the temperatures begin to cool in the early fall, the young alewives too will leave and migrate to the open ocean. In three to five years, this cohort will mature and return to their natal river to spawn.

Over the last hundred years, alewife populations have decreased throughout their range, including New York. Spawning runs in Long Island Sound tributaries have been lost or severely diminished due to overfishing, habitat degradation, poor water quality, and, most importantly, the installation of impassable structures, such as dams, weirs, and culverts, that prevent fish from reaching their spawning grounds.

Citizen scientists can collect valuable data on the migration of the alewife to Long Island Sound rivers and creeks to spawn.

Citizen scientists can collect valuable data on the migration of the alewife to Long Island Sound rivers and creeks to spawn.

Alewife runs were probably once a common phenomenon along the north shore of Long Island. Without a comprehensive survey in recent decades the current extent of the spawning run on Long Island is uncertain. The Long Island Sound Volunteer Alewife Survey aims to fill this knowledge gap by providing biologists, managers, and researchers with basic information on the alewife runs. The survey helps determine if and where a run exists, the timing and length of the run, and how many fish are making the run.

The Volunteer Alewife Survey effort on Long Island began in 2006 through the Environmental Defense Fund and the South Shore Estuary Reserve. The effort was initiated to support a major multi-stakeholder effort to restore diadromous fish (i.e., fish that spend their lives in fresh and saltwater) to Long Island’s south shore. Today, the effort is headed up by Seatuck Environmental Association and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and monitoring has expanded to sites in the Peconic estuary and Long Island Sound. Data collected by citizen scientists in this program has assisted with the installation of fish passage projects around the island.

To become an alewife citizen scientist, volunteers with no prior alewife monitoring experience, attend a one-hour training session to learn about alewife life cycle, ecological importance, identification, and survey protocol. At the session, volunteers can choose or be assigned to a creek to monitor near their home. These citizen scientists are then encouraged to make observations from set vantage points downstream of the first significant impediment to migration along the waterbody. From mid-March through late-May, volunteers will visit their designated waterbody at least once a week for a minimum of 15 minutes at a time. During their visit, they will record the date, weather conditions, water temperature, if fish are present or not, an estimate of how many fish are present, duration of their visit, and any notable evidence of alewives (i.e., scales or carcasses left on the creek bank by a predator). Citizen scientists are encouraged to bring a camera or phone with them to take photos and videos of any alewife they may see. All of this information is then uploaded to an online database that is later accessed by biologists and researchers.  For more information visit:

About the Authors: Victoria O’Neil is the New York Habitat Restoration Coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study. She works for the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission and is housed in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Habitat Protection in East Setauket, NY.

Mark Tedesco is director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office. The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by the EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator, in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public. Mr. Tedesco has worked for the EPA for 25 years. He received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

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.

Celebrating Diversity

2014 February 26

By Elias Rodriguez

February is National African American History Month and I’ve been reflecting on my distinctly mixed heritage as a Nuyorican. Before relocating to New York City, my immediate forbearers were both born on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico or Borinquen, as the natives originally referred to it. Although born in the Big Apple, it wasn’t until I lived in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico that I discovered the wide diversity of colors, shapes, shades and hair texture of my extended family and related cousins. From ebony to ivory from brown-eyed to green-eyed, the genetic mixture of my family was both wondrous and intriguing to behold. You see, Puerto Ricans benefit from un Sancocho (a stew) of African, Spanish and Taíno bloodlines. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived they encountered the island’s friendly Taínos who spoke Arawakan, the most commonly known native tongue of all South American and Caribbean natives at that time. As generations passed, the peoples mixed and a prodigious progeny was birthed.

My aunts, uncles and grandparents were light skinned, dark skinned and somewhere in between. They were equally beloved and I always asked for their Bendición (blessing). I proudly derive a crucial part of my identity from this generic diversity and rich tradition. My second language is Spanish and I thoroughly enjoy listening to Salsa music with its unmistakable African beat. The nexus between island natives and Africans is historically significant. Who could have looked at the great late Roberto Clemente and not assumed he was black? The famous fort San Felipe del Morro was built with slave labor. Juan Garrido, who made landfall in 1508, is believed to be the first person of African descent to voluntarily arrive on the island when he arrived with Juan Ponce de Leon. The Espiritismo practiced by my maternal grandmother was surely influenced by traditions from across the Atlantic. One look at my childhood photographs and I can surmise that my mother’s taste for dressing me in psychedelic clothes did not come from the Plymouth Rock pilgrims.

The threads of African culture within my own heritage are enriching and enhance my awareness of cultural differences in my work as a federal representative. I teach my children to appreciate this multiculturalism. After all, the U.S. Census Bureau instructs us that “People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race.” As a native New Yorker, I celebrate the melting pot that gives our nation its strength and resiliency.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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.

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

2014 February 18

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.

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 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.

The Bronx’s Via Verde Wins a Well-Deserved Smart Growth Achievement Award

2014 February 3
The exterior of Via Verde, showing off its stepped roof

The exterior of Via Verde, showing off its stepped roof

By John Martin

For people old enough to remember, it’s hard to believe how far the Bronx has come since the 1970s.

Between 1970 and 1980, the South Bronx lost over 300,000 residents, as crime spiked and people made way for the suburbs. The borough became synonymous with urban decay, a stigma it continues to fight decades after it began its dramatic rebound.

Today, the Bronx is flourishing, as the public and private sectors continue to make the borough a healthier and more pleasant place to live. It’s hard to find a better example of how far the borough has come than Via Verde— the mixed-income housing development in the Melrose neighborhood that opened in 2012. Since then, it has earned international acclaim for its bold design and its focus on creating a green urban environment for its residents.

The project, which sits on a cleaned-up former rail yard, provides 222 units of living space, views of the Manhattan skyline, and healthy-living amenities galore. A string of green roofs dot the building’s terraces, as do solar panels, which provide electricity to all the building’s common spaces. Residents have access to shared gardening beds, a children’s playground, a fitness center, and an outdoor amphitheater. Throw in the building’s easy access to subway and bus lines and it becomes easy to understand why Via Verde has been held up as a model for environmentally sustainable development.

As of today, we can add the EPA to the list of those who have officially recognized Via Verde’s accomplishments. This morning, the EPA announced that Via Verde received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the category of Built Projects. Of the 77 Smart Growth Achievement applications the EPA received from across the country, Via Verde was just one of seven to be recognized.

For a borough that has come so far and fought so long to create livable, thriving communities, Via Verde is a crowning achievement and an inspiration to urban areas everywhere.

To read more about Via Verde and the other projects receiving National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, visit:

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.

Solar Company Complications

2014 January 28
Construction work on the solar barn.

Construction work on the solar barn.

By Cyndy Kopitsky

With all of the solar panel company advertising, the information and talks at the EPA on solar power, and as a concerned citizen who tries to conserve energy and be a smart shopper, it makes perfect sense to explore solar power. At least, that is what my husband and I thought in the summer of 2010. Have you ever considered purchasing solar panels for your home?

We started this journey contacting several companies that serviced our area. They were quick to respond and we had three appointments to discuss the options and the costs. To our surprise, each company had a much different plan ranging from ‘your roof is good for the panels if you cut a few trees down” to “you cannot use your roof, there is too much shade even if you cut down the trees.”

After many shade reports, many site visits to our home and many phone conservations, we decided to trust and explore the company that said we could use our roof. The next move before construction began was to cut five trees that provided shading to the home in the hot summer months and privacy along the side of the house. I tried to convince myself that this sacrifice of cutting mature oak trees was to help save the earth, but somehow I still had regrets.

Within days after the trees were cut, the solar company’s senior engineer and three reps came to the house for the final inspection before we signed contracts. Within minutes after they were on the roof, my husband and I heard some loud voices that quickly escalated. We were presented immediately with the problem they were facing.

The roof was not strong enough and would NOT support the solar array!

All I could think of was those trees and all the birds that had to find new locations for their nests, all the wood that had to get cut, how we would have no privacy, how the house would be so hot, and how we killed perfectly beautiful, thriving trees for no reason!

After we adjusted to the disappointments and after much more research, we decided to build an above ground solar barn measuring 40 x 16 feet and 16 feet high. Winter approached soon thereafter and our priorities shifted to recovering from our house fire (another environmental story.) This followed with two more company opinions and money spent in vain on another “I can do this” solar company we hired to build the barn and install panels. At that point, we were finally ready for the state to inspect in the fall of 2012.

To our surprise, we failed the inspection for 32 points and were advised to remove all the panels and make the repairs. We refused to give up. Frustrated, over-invested, and still determined to save the earth, we looked for yet another company to save us.

It is now 2014 and our solar panels have been up and running since September 2013. We have been impressed with the utility savings and the carbon emissions reduced by going solar. My recommendation to you would be, if you’re considering solar, watch what you ask for!

About the Author: Cyndy Kopitsky works in the Clean Water Division as coordinator for the national Urban Waters Small Grant program. Her many personal interests include, caring for rescue parrots and macaws from unwanted homes. This includes baking “birdie breads”, preparing special hot birdie veggie dishes, and purchasing foraging toys. She loves to cook and bake (even for people), eat healthy foods, take many vitamin supplements, and she tries to respect to the environment with her life style choices.

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.

Superfund in the Big Apple

2014 January 6

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City may soon notch a third site on the EPA’s Superfund list of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites. The candidate is the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site, a defunct business that processed and sold minerals containing thorium from the 1920s to 1954 in Ridgewood, Queens. Wolff-Alport imported monazite sands, rich in thorium, from central Africa. The site is currently radioactively contaminated, although the risks from this residual radioactive contamination do not represent a health concern in the short-term, it could pose a health risk under certain long-term exposure scenarios. Additional investigation and remedial work is needed, so the EPA is proposing that Wolff-Alport be added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites.

A lot of work has already been done at the site. The EPA installed protective shielding on portions of the site that will prevent nearby residents, employees and customers of area businesses from being exposed to elevated gamma radiation from below the surface. The shielding material included concrete, lead and steel, depending on the area.

Reporters often ask me to compare the cleanup work at the two other NYC Superfund sites, the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.  The Gowanus Canal was built in the 19th century to ease the transport of goods and services. After its completion in the 1860s, the canal became a busy industrial waterway including manufactured gas plants, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities, tanneries, chemical plants, and oil refineries. Sadly, it also became a giant receptacle for untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and runoff. EPA’s $506 million Gowanus cleanup will require the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of pollution from ruining the cleanup.

Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal share a legacy of urban and industrial pollution as major arteries in the City’s transportation system. In the late 1800s and throughout most of the 1900s, Newtown was replete with sprawling oil refineries, petrochemical plants, factories, plants, sugar refineries, canneries, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. Similarly, the creek is negatively impacted by discharges from combined sewer overflows and sewer treatment plants.

Where the Superfund sites differ significantly is in the status, or better said, where they are situated on the Superfund Roadmap.  In 2013, the EPA issued a Record of Decision for the Gowanus cleanup. This milestone document explains what cleanup alternatives the Agency has decided are the best choice to clean up a Superfund site. In the case of the Gowanus, the decision document came after the EPA held a 120-day period to receive public comments and hosted two formal public meetings. Prior to the Record of Decision, the Agency evaluated more than 1,800 e-mails, letters, postcards and petitions about the cleanup. Conversely, Newtown Creek is a few years away from a Record of Decision. Currently, the creek is undergoing assiduous sampling and study as part of the EPA’s Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study. During this phase, the EPA will determine the nature and extent of contamination. This scientific work is expected to be completed in 2018 and would be followed by a proposed cleanup plan for the public’s consideration.

Another NYC site, the Radium Chemical Company site at 60-06 27th Avenue, Queens was on the Superfund list from 1989 to 1995 when the EPA led a successful cleanup of a radioactively-contaminated plant that no longer poses a threat to public health or the environment. It has since been delisted.

Naysayers claim that placing these sites on the Superfund list creates a stigma and is “bad for business.” Protecting human health and the environment is EPA’s first concern, but there is ample evidence to suggest that a Superfund cleanup can help communities and be a boon to local commerce by creating economic opportunity and using innovative technologies to mitigate contamination in a cost-effective manner. A cleanup also gives rise to redevelopment of an area that was once blighted, thus returning a contaminated property to the community and the tax rolls.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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.

Making a Green City Even Greener

2013 December 30

By Jeff Maurer

Polystyrene Food Container

Polystyrene Food Container

New Yorkers don’t like being second-best; whether its sports, food, or the arts, we strive to lead, not follow. One of the newer facets of New York’s character is a desire to be a leader in environmentalism and sustainability. This is huge; making the big apple a green apple will provide a model for other cities to follow. Recently, Mayor Bloomberg took two important steps in that direction by banning polystyrene foam (commonly called Styrofoam) containers and requiring the city’s largest food waste generators to separate their food waste.

When it comes to being bad for the environment, polystyrene foam is a repeat offender.  Polystyrene foam used to be regularly manufactured using ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, and even today it is impossible to confirm that all polystyrene foam is “ozone safe.” Styrene, the basic building block of polystyrene, is classified as a possible carcinogen by EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The manufacture of polystyrene requires large amounts of petroleum and chemicals. When polystyrene foam goes to a landfill, it stays there: it can take more than a million years for a polystyrene product to decompose.

Polystyrene foam is about as bad for the environment as a product can get; that’s why Mayor Bloomberg’s ban is a welcome development. Better alternatives are available; companies including Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Red Lobster, and Arby’s have already stopped using polystyrene foam. The City Council passed the ban unanimously. This is a change whose time has come.

Another important step towards becoming a more equitable and sustainable city came in Mayor Bloomberg’s requirement that the city’s largest food waste generators separate their food waste. This will result in more food being composted or given to the needy; less will go to landfills. We should be taking every measure to avoid wasting food, especially when more than 14 percent of New Yorkers – almost 3 million people – don’t have enough to eat. When food goes to a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. This measure will encourage New York’s largest producers of food to keep food on our tables and out of landfills.

New York has a lot of competition for the title of “greenest city;” nearby, cities including New Paltz and Newark are putting ambitious programs in place to make their cities greener. I’m glad to see Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council take these steps to bolster New York’s reputation as a leader in environmental protection and sustainability.

About the Author: Jeff is a speechwriter and public affairs specialist. He started in EPA’s Washington, DC office in 2005 and moved to EPA’s Region 2 office in New York in 2011. Before joining EPA, Jeff served in the Peace Corps in Morocco. He is an avid soccer fan and part-time standup comedian, and can periodically be found performing at clubs around New York.

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.