By Bonnie Bellow
Each year around Earth Day we are reminded to take stock of the incredible natural resources the planet provides and think about what we are doing to protect them for future generations. Last week, EPA staff heard from a determined young man who represents the future – a fourth-grader from Douglaston, New York who writes his own environmental blog, “Put UR foot into the Earth.” http://i-pure.tumblr.com/
Currently, Eliot is engaged in a project to educate consumers about the importance of recycling their used batteries and increase battery recycling. He has done his research and explains that batteries contain metals and chemicals that can contaminate soil and water if they are not disposed of properly. But battery recycling may be easier to promote than actually do. Eliot had been taking his spent batteries to a store near his home that had a recycling bin. When the store closed after Hurricane Sandy, his mother had to drive him to another store to recycle his batteries. He immediately recognized the contradiction in having to burn fuel in order to recycle. “It felt like a waste of time and energy,” Eliot said. “It was not good for the environment.” Another kid might have given up, but not Eliot. He wrote letters to President Obama, the EPA and the New York City Comptroller asking them to increase the number of battery recycling stations.
Eliot did not seem the slightest bit intimidated in presenting his battery recycling project to a group of scientists, engineers, attorneys and other environmental professionals at the EPA. He fielded their tough questions like a seasoned environmentalist. He is continuing his campaign for a state law that would mandate battery recycling and notes that some companies, such as Toys R Us and Duane Reade, now collect used batteries.
It will take the collective energy and imagination of future generations to tackle the environmental challenges before us. But Eliot’s dedication and determination gives us hope.
About the Author: Bonnie Bellow has been the Region 2 Director of Public Affairs since 1995, responsible for intergovernmental, media and international relations; community engagement; environmental education; Freedom of Information Act requests; social media and public information. She previously served as Public Affairs Director at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, ran her own media production business and worked as a radio reporter. Bonnie received her Bachelor of Science degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, but is a born and bred New Yorker who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
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.
By Sophia Kelley
This Earth Day, we’ve got a fun way to connect to nature and participate in the social media selfie craze at the same time. The EPA and The Nature Conservancy have teamed up to encourage people to get outside, snap a #natureselfie and post it to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or our Flickr group.
Today we joined the Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, the Prospect Park Alliance, and The Nature Conservancy for a quick event in Prospect Park to raise awareness about the photo project.
Fortunately it’s finally feeling like spring in New York today, so it was a great way to enjoy our urban natural environment after what seemed like an interminable winter.
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.
By David Kluesner
As we gathered along the banks of the Passaic River last Friday to announce the EPA’s ambitious proposal to clean up the most contaminated stretch of the river, I was reminded of two tireless environmental leaders who weren’t present, but joined us in spirit.
Sister Carol Johnston championed environmental justice for the Ironbound community long before that term was ever coined. Ella Filippone forced us to face the Passaic River decades before anyone wanted to. I felt them both smiling above us on April 11 as we recognized the largest cleanup proposal in EPA history. In my coat pocket I carried my favorite photos of them. They passed in 2013 but they spoke loudly that day. “So many delays but today this is government at its BEST”, I could hear Ella say. “Justice paid this community a visit today. Let’s get going, we have a lot of work to do”, I could hear Carol say. Their lives and lifelong pursuits live on.
By Kevin Kubik
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.
By Abbey States
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.
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.
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.
By Victoria O’Neil and Mark A. Tedesco
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.
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: http://seatuck.org/index.php/feature-1/174-2014-alewife-survey
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.
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.
Counting and Calculating while Practicing Conservation: Hubert H. Humphrey School, PS 57, in Staten Island, NY
By Marcia Anderson
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/awards.htm.