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Upgrading Our Vegetable Garden

2014 May 19

By Janette Mieles

Batches of Seeds

Batches of Seeds

My husband and I love to grow some everyday vegetables. Of course, we all know how unpredictable Mother Nature can be, last year we had a lot of rain and our garden didn’t do too well. Our previous in-ground garden didn’t have enough drainage making it difficult for me to grow my basic crops such as tomatoes, peppers and lettuce. So my husband decided to build a raised garden bed. We purchased six, 8-foot long, 2×6 cedar boards to build a 4×8 raised garden bed. We filled it with approximately 20 cubic feet of garden soil and three cubic feet of peat moss to help with drainage.

So far our garden looks great. The board across the top is movable and I use it for better access to the garden so that I don’t harm the vegetables. I also have a mini-nursery that allows me to cut and replant some of the

Raised Garden Beds

Raised Garden Beds

vegetables throughout the summer. Do you have a vegetable garden? Let us know about your gardening challenges and successes in the comment section.

About the author: Janette started her career with EPA in 1988 working in Human Resources and is now in the Region 2 Division of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance. Outside of work Janette is the mother of three children who keep her busy with their afterschool sports and in her down time she enjoys planting and volunteers at St Paul at the Food Cupboards.  

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 Latino Asthma Conundrum

2014 May 13

By Elias Rodriguez

Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive

Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive

It was a hazy and hot day as I sat in my grade school New York City classroom. Suddenly, everyone’s attention was drawn to my classmate’s wheezing and labored breathing. Àngel was one of the biggest kids in our class, but he was clearly in distress and the memory of his pain is vivid. I now understand that my friend was having an asthma attack. Thankfully, our teacher knew precisely what to do and she had his inhaler inside her desk and ready.

Our Manhattan public school was located adjacent to a major highway known as the FDR Drive, which snakes up Manhattan’s eastside near the Williamsburg Bridge. The combination of high population density, cars, trucks and industrial activity was a recipe for dismal  air quality.

Àngel and many of my inner-city cohort shared a Puerto Rican ancestry. To this day, I remain puzzled by the disproportionately high asthma rate among Latinos. Latinos are 30 percent more likely to go to the hospital for asthma, as compared to non-Hispanic Whites. For reasons that are not fully understood, Puerto Ricans have double the asthma rate as compared to the overall Latino population.

While asthma rates have increased in the general population over the past two decades- what accounts for the alarming disparities? Are the reasons economic? Do groups in the lower income strata demonstrate more adverse health effects as a result of limited resources and less access to quality medical care?  Is the reason pegged to location? Does the propensity of certain groups to seek jobs in metropolitan areas lead to higher incidence in geographic clusters? Could culture be a culprit? Spanish was the first language of my parents and there are links between limited-English proficiency and barriers to quality care. We’d love to hear your theories. Solving this socio-economic-medical mystery is imperative for all of us since it is estimated that medical expenses associated with asthma cost a staggering $50 billion every year.

The explanation for these asthma rates among demographic groups is complex and multidisciplinary. The good news is that we have the power to take proactive steps. May is Asthma Awareness Month and it’s a great opportunity to remind people that having an Asthma Action Plan is one of the key tips EPA offers to people who live with asthma. EPA also encourages people to check local air quality at Air Now. The site uses a color-coded system to display whether pollutants exceed air quality standards and indicates the air’s impact on different populations. Give it a try at airnow.gov. Grab a tool. Get a plan and Adelante.

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 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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Environmental Standouts Are Celebrated

2014 May 7

By Mike McGowan

Eva Sanjurjo receives her award.

Eva Sanjurjo receives her award.

Recently, Region 2 honored its 2014 Environmental Quality Award winners, who work at improving the planet every day.

EQA winners from New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were hosted at R2 headquarters in lower Manhattan to showcase their good work. Among them:

  • Chris Bowser, who has made “glass eels” (young American eels migrating from the Atlantic Ocean into freshwater streams) the focus of an unique environmental education project that goes from building knowledge about eels to promoting stewardship of this fish and the habitats essential to its growth cycle;
  • Ironbound Community Corporation, which, since 1969, has worked to create a healthy and sustainable environment in one of Newark’s culturally rich neighborhoods. The ICC monitors air quality, provides environmental justice tours and organizes an active community to speak out for environmental protection in New Jersey’s largest city.
  • Dr. Ralph Spezio, a public school principal from Rochester, who helped found the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, an education and advisory group dedicated to eliminate lead poisoning in Monroe County, New York. His work has helped reduce blood lead levels in Rochester’s children.
  • Eva Sanjurjo, a founder of the Hunts Point Awareness Committee, took on polluters in her Bronx community in defense of all the neighborhood children who were suffering from asthma. Among other projects, she started an educational program called “Greening for Breathing” which planted hundreds of trees in the neighborhood.

These are just several of the awardees, all of whom made a special and lasting impact on the environment in the last year. We’ll be reporting on some of the other winners in subsequent blog posts.

About the Author: Mike is Chief of the R2 Intergovernmental and Community Affairs Branch in Public Affairs. He is a 10-year veteran of EPA.

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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Did Teddy’s Bear Cause His Asthma Attacks?

2014 May 5

By Elias Rodriguez

Furry toys may attract dust and allergens.

Furry toys may attract dust and allergens.

What famous native New Yorker charged through life unimpeded by his frequent bouts with asthma? This person was the only U.S. President born in the Big Apple. He excelled at sports, hunting, ranching and making every day a reason to be active. He was an avid nature lover. Nearly 230 million acres of land and 150 national forests were preserved thanks to him. Have you guessed yet? Here’s a final clue. He is prominently featured in the contemporary classic film, A Night at the Museum. Yes! The answer is Teddy Roosevelt, the gentleman Teddy Bears are named after.

Our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, was born at 28 East 20th Street, New York City on October 27, 1858. Despite being born into a wealthy family that had ample access to the best medical experts of his day, Roosevelt’s coughing, wheezing and asthma attacks were frequent. Roosevelt’s vigorous hobbies and adventures prove that you can enjoy an active lifestyle in spite of asthma. May is Asthma Awareness Month and it’s important for parents, caregivers and children to learn more about this disease and its triggers.

Pollutants in the outdoor air, including particulates (soot!) and ozone (smog!) are major asthma triggers. When ozone levels increase, most commonly in the summer months, they can affect people’s health, especially children with asthma. Ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation and aggravating asthma. When ozone levels are high, more people with asthma have attacks that require a doctor’s attention or medication. Asthma triggers include pets, pesticides, cockroaches, dust mites, mold and cigarette (secondhand) smoke. Ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens, which are common triggers of asthma attacks and lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

Having an Asthma Action Plan is one of the key tips EPA offers to people who live with asthma. People can learn to control their symptoms and still be very active. Keep in mind that Roosevelt was famous for his love for the outdoors and his message of living The Strenuous Life.

So, did Teddy’s bear cause his asthma attacks? No. The Teddy Bear was not created until Theodore was a grown-up and already serving as President. Furry toys may attract dust and allergens but a thorough cleaning should keep you and your pals in healthy harmony.

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 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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Refreshing…

2014 April 30
The Enviroscape model

The Enviroscape model

By Amelia Jackson

In celebration of Earth Day this year, I had the opportunity to visit Mrs. Mulloy and Ms. Jackson’s 5th grade science class at Union Valley Elementary School in Sicklerville, NJ. (Yes, student teacher Jackson is my soon to be college grad-but that’s another blog). During the year, the class has been visited by many parents discussing their careers, to demonstrate why it’s important to study English, Math, Science, Social Studies, etc. and provide a glimpse into a day in the life of an adult.

The discussion began with what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is, why it was formed, what we do and the various categories of careers that are needed to make it all work. I also engaged the services of the current Gloucester County Watershed Ambassador, Morgyn Ellis, who eagerly demonstrated the concepts of point and non-point source pollution in a watershed. To 5th graders, a lecture on this would seem boring, but they got to be hands on as Morgyn used Enviroscape, which is a 3D model town, complete with a residential area, factory, farm, park/golf course, roads, creeks, streams and a river. The kids used colored water and various candy pieces to represent different types of pollution, and made it ‘rain’ with a water spray bottle. They got the biggest kick out of using chocolate ice cream sprinkles to simulate various animal’s waste (remember they are 11 years old!) and to see where it all actually winds up after a storm.

I was impressed with the level of knowledge and environmental awareness the children possessed. They knew about aquifers, groundwater uses, watersheds, organic farming, ecosystems and how their actions affect the communities in which they live and play. They offered suggestions on what they and their families could do each day, including reduce, re-use, and recycle to assist in protecting our planet.

I was reminded of the eagerness and the ‘I can do anything’ attitude that is the very core of an 11 year old, and found it contagious. If you can, spend some time with kids and talk to them about our environment and what we do each day at work.  You too, will find it refreshing.

About the Author: Amelia Jackson serves as the Superfund Support Team Leader in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. Amelia holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Rutgers University. Amelia’s career spans 26+ years with EPA in support of the regional Superfund Program in the areas of quality assurance, field sampling and laboratory analysis.

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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Duck, Duck, huh?

2014 April 28

By Linda Mauel

The Mallard

The Mallard

The weather finally caught up with the calendar, resulting in a beautiful day last week. So I threw my back door open, breathed in the fresh air and looked across my back yard. I glanced at the neighbor’s pool, wondering when they were going to open it, then did a double take. Relaxing in the water filled pool cover were a pair of Mallards. The drake (male) and hen (female) were also basking in the sun – but in a pool?

Per Wikipedia, the Mallard inhabits a wide range of habitat and climates, from Arctic Tundra to subtropical regions. It is found in both fresh- and salt-water wetlands, including parks, small ponds, rivers, lakes and estuaries, as well as shallow inlets and open sea within sight of the coastline. I live near the Jersey shore and it’s not like New York and New Jersey don’t have plenty of natural water options.

This got me thinking about how adaptable nature is. Trees and plants bud when the weather is right – regardless of whether this occurs in early March or late February. Wildlife traverses land and sea for food, to breed and to adjust to changes in weather. We humans could learn a lot from our wildlife counterparts. Among the lessons that come to mind are: to try to be more malleable (pun intended) and roll with the punches; don’t sweat the small stuff; and look for the good that life has to offer – there is a lot out there.

About the Author: Linda Mauel serves as the region’s Quality Assurance Manager.  She works in the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. Linda holds a BS in Chemical Engineering and a BA in Chemistry from Rutgers University. She worked in the private sector for 11 years then began her 22+ year career with EPA 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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Earth Day Inspiration

2014 April 24

By Bonnie Bellow

Put UR foot into the Earth

Put UR foot into the Earth

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 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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This Earth Day, Join the #natureselfie Campaign!

2014 April 22
#natureselfie at Prospect Park, Brooklyn

#natureselfie at Prospect Park, Brooklyn

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.

For more information about the project and other ways you can celebrate Earth Day, visit www.epa.gov/region2/earthday and www.nature.org/nyearthday.

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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Memories Stirred Along the Passaic River

2014 April 21

By David Kluesner

The team of EPA employees who have been working behind the scenes on the proposal to clean up the Passaic River.

The team of EPA employees who have been working behind the scenes on the proposal to clean up the Passaic River.

Carol Johnston

Carol Johnston

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.

Ella Filippone

Ella Filippone

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.

 

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 National Symbol

2014 April 7

By Kevin Kubik

Bald Eagle (credit – Allaboutbirds.org)

Bald Eagle (credit – Allaboutbirds.org)

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 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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