Skip to content

Light Pollution and Amateur Astronomy

2014 October 1
This picture of the Sun was taken on September 26, 2014 from the Edison Environmental Center.

This picture of the Sun was taken on September 26, 2014 from the Edison Environmental Center.

By Jim Haklar

One of my hobbies is astronomy, and for me there is nothing more relaxing than looking up at a sky full of stars. However, light pollution has made it increasingly difficult for people to enjoy the wonders of the night sky. Light pollution represents energy that’s being wasted. Think of an older style “bulb” type streetlamp (where the bulb hangs upside-down from a pole). A portion of the light coming from the bulb lights the street below, but some of the light travels upward and contributes to the nighttime glow. While there are communities that require the use of special “directed” lighting, we have a long way to go before we’ll be able to see the Milky Way from lower Manhattan.

Amateur astronomers have several options for dealing with light pollution. They can use special filters that block the wavelengths of light emitted by nighttime lighting. However, those filters also block some of the light emitted by stars or galaxies and that can be a problem when viewing or taking photos of these objects.

Another option is to drive to a location where the light pollution is minimal. For someone living in the New York City area, this may mean driving for several hours. You also have to consider whether the location you’re observing from is safe. There have been times when I’ve been startled by a nocturnal animal who wandered too close to my equipment. While I don’t mind a deer joining me for an evening of observing, I definitely would have problems spending my quality time with a skunk!

One other alternative is solar astronomy. By using a properly filtered telescope to look at the Sun during the day, light pollution is never an issue. And the Sun’s surface changes from day to day. I can also get to bed at a reasonable hour (and avoid my smelly nighttime companions).

In spite of the light pollution I still believe that astronomy is a worthwhile hobby. No matter where you live, be it the city, suburbs or a rural area, there will always be something to see in the sky. Just look up.

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center. In his nearly 30 years with the Agency he has worked in a variety of programs including Superfund, Water Management, Public Affairs, and Toxic Substances. He has been an amateur astronomer since he was a teenager, and can often be found after work in the back of the Edison facility with his telescope.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Resilience, Smart Growth and Equitable Development on Long Island

2014 September 26
Destruction and debris on Oak Beach in Suffolk County, NY after Superstorm Sandy

Destruction and debris on Oak Beach in Suffolk County, NY after Superstorm Sandy

By Joe Siegel and Rabi Kieber

Last of a five-part series on climate change issues.

It has been nearly two years since the shores of Long Island were battered by Superstorm Sandy, leaving behind devastation across Nassau and Suffolk Counties. What emerged in the aftermath was an unprecedented collaboration that went beyond simply rebuilding by incorporating the principles of resilience, smart growth and equitable development into long-term planning for Long Island.

Within months after Hurricane Sandy, EPA, FEMA, New York State Department of State, Suffolk County, Nassau County and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) formed the Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership to discuss options to help Long Island rebuild in a smarter, stronger and more resilient fashion. This group was, in part, an outgrowth of a broad collaboration through the National Disaster Recovery Framework, Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-8 and the Recovery Support Strategy that was written for the Sandy recovery process. One of the key goals of the Partnership is to encourage economically, environmentally and socially sustainable development in low risk areas away from flood zones and along transit corridors in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

Over the past year, the Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership has embarked on a number of projects to achieve its goal of merging resilience, smart growth and equitable development. It organized a ground-breaking conference, Accepting the Tide: A Roundtable on Integrating Resilience and Smart Growth on a Post-Sandy Long Island, which took place last May and brought together a wide variety of stakeholders. The Partnership also trained communities in community outreach and stakeholder engagement, and Health Impact Assessments (HIA) for recovery. Additional training for communities and federal recovery workers is being planned on tools such as Community Viz, a participatory scenario planning tool for decision-making on smart growth andEPA’s National Stormwater Calculator.

As part of the Partnership, EPA is working with FEMA to support sustainable rebuilding in specific communities such as Long Beach, Long Island. Long Beach received technical assista

nce from Global Green which was funded through a grant from EPA’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program. The Partnership also helped to secure law students from Touro College’s Land Use and Sustainability Institute to assist Long Beach in implementing some of the recommendations from both the Global Green Technical Assistance and a New York University study on green infrastructure and storm water management.

As an outgrowth of the May 2014 Roundtable, the Partnership has begun to focus efforts on ecosystem services valuation and health impact assessment to guide post-Hurricane Sandy redevelopment and recovery on Long Island. In doing so, the Partnership has added to its cadre of experts, representatives from Stony Brook University and The Nature Conservancy. At a meeting in July, the group launched a number of projects including a pilot that will not only generate important ecosystem-related economic data on improving resilience, but will also encourage green infrastructure and promote strategies to maintain and enhance ecosystem resilience. Ecosystem services valuation is a very useful tool because it can help us better understand, for example, the economic benefits of restoring wetlands to prevent impacts from future storms.

EPA Region 2 has already begun working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the Partnership on an island-wide ecosystem services assessment, a pilot health impact assessment in Suffolk County, and a project to develop a set of health indicators that can be used for long term evaluation of health impacts of projects, polices or plans. Health impact assessment is an important decision-making tool because it can illustrate how a particular plan, action or policy under consideration, will impact the health and well-being of a community. Health indicators can be used to evaluate the long-term health impact of the project, policy or plan.

Hurricane Sandy was devastating for Nassau and Suffolk Counties, but the Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership has turned lemons into lemonade by incorporating not only climate change resilience but smart growth and equitable development into long term planning on Long Island. The groundbreaking work of the Partnership will no doubt serve as a model for other recovery efforts in Region 2 and beyond.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Addressing Tomorrow’s Emergency with Today’s Plans

2014 September 25
Eroded coastline near the Shinnecock Nation’s territory on Long Island, NY

Eroded coastline near the Shinnecock Nation’s territory on Long Island, NY

By Irene Boland Nielson

Fourth in a five-part series on climate change issues.

Native Americans have long understood the need to be caretakers of the earth and were among the first to recognize the signs of climate change. It is no surprise that some tribes are leading the way to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

One such tribe is the Shinnecock Indian Nation on the South Fork of Long Island. They experienced firsthand the potentially devastating impacts of climate change when Superstorm Sandy slammed into the area in October 2012. Shoreline scouring and flooding of roads, burial grounds and basements during Sandy showed that climate change poses immediate threats to the Shinnecock. The Nation is now taking broad steps to adapt to climate change and setting a good example for other island communities.

First, the Shinnecock looked to neighbors and peers, and held a community workshop to discuss climate threats. The tribe worked with funding from the EPA, in partnership with the St. Regis Mohawk, a Tribal Nation straddling the St. Lawrence River between the U.S. – Canada border. Next, they used climate vulnerability assessments from the Peconic Estuary and convened all Shinnecock department heads to identify climate threats to their Nation. This is important, since tomorrow’s emergency needs are linked with long-term community plans for the future.

Global rise of sea levels is the most confidently projected climate threat, since water expands when warmer like a heated teapot. (See yesterday’s blog on sea level rise.) With rising seas, by 2050, a storm with one percent chance of happening any year could inundate almost half of the Nation, including some evacuation routes. The Shinnecock’s climate adaptation plan calls for restoring their shoreline as a frontline of defense against flooding with native plants, as well as upgrading overwhelmed culverts to protect sacred burial grounds. Precious coastal water aquifers are also vulnerable to encroaching saltwater. The Shinnecock will reduce water contamination by replacing tribal cesspools with a closed community sewer and wastewater treatment facility. The plan also calls for improving the Nation’s food security by reestablishing community farming and protecting vital shellfish beds and reducing fossil fuels, open burning, idling, and tree loss.

Cleaner air, shorelines protected by natives plants, energy and food security are all hallmarks of resiliency in the Shinnecock Indian Nation Climate Change Adaptation Plan. Island communities should follow the example set by the Shinnecock Indian Nation and make plans to protect themselves and their neighbors from climate change impacts.

About the Author: Irene Boland Nielson is the Climate Change Coordinator for the New York City based office of the U.S. EPA. She joined the EPA as a Presidential Management Fellow and has worked on a range of issues, including the Agency’s Strategic Plan, a memorandum of agreement with Department of Defense for a sustainable Guam, and the EPA Climate Adaptation Plan. Currently, she co-chairs the EPA Region 2 Climate Change Workgroup, administers Climate Showcase Community grants and works to promote sustainability in communities.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Sea Levels and Flooding Risks on the Rise

2014 September 24

By Irene Boland Nielson

Third in a five-part series on climate change issues.

Some 23 million Americans live near the coast at an elevation of less than 10 meters above sea level. Here in New York and New Jersey, recent storms like Superstorm Sandy drew attention to exposure to coastal flooding and many people are looking for maps to understand current and future flooding risks.

For current flood risk, FEMA maps are a good source of information. FEMA updates flood maps county by county using updated mapping technology and historic meteorological data. Check the website to view the current FEMA flood map.

Due to climate change, future risk is not the same as current risk. As seas rise and expand more coastal areas will be exposed to flooding and flooding risk will increase.

Climate scientists model the three main drivers of sea level rise. First, higher global temperatures lead to the expansion of the oceans because water expands when warmer. Second, land based ice which melts and adds surface water in quantities great enough to raise the ocean, (remember that floating ice does not add volume to the ocean when it melts). Third, and independent of climate change, continents are either rising or sinking due to geologic processes (rebounding from the last ice age) or human practices such as groundwater extraction or diversion of sediment rich waters in river deltas (think New Orleans). NOAA Sea Level Rise Vieweris a good source of information about sea level rise projections. You can move the slider bar to visualize sea level rise at different levels ranging from 0ft to 6ft and see historic records from tide gauges.

The National Climate Assessment released in June of this year projects sea level rise of 1 to 4 feet by 2100. We don’t know how much greenhouse gases will be released over the next century but we do know from the International Meteorological Organization that last year, global emissions increased at the fastest rate in 30 years.

Sea level rise is just one of many impacts of climate change, but unlike some climate change impacts that may vary in direction of change, sea level rise is only increasing. Projections examine not if but when the higher sea elevations will be reached. This is because the emissions already in the atmosphere will continue to expand the worlds’ oceans for centuries to come. Hopefully now you can dive into public information resources to understand why today’s coastal flooding risk is changing in the future.

Tags: sea level rise, climate change, flood zones, FEMA flood maps, evacuation zones, coastal flooding, flood, flood risk

About the Author: Irene Boland Nielson is the Climate Change Coordinator for the New York City based office of the U.S. EPA. She joined the EPA as a Presidential Management Fellow and has worked on a range of issues, including the Agency’s Strategic Plan, a memorandum of agreement with Department of Defense for a sustainable Guam, and the EPA Climate Adaptation Plan. Currently, she co-chairs the EPA Region 2 Climate Change Workgroup, administers Climate Showcase Community grants and works to promote sustainability in communities.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

CAFE Standards

2014 September 23

The Road to Fuel EfficiencyBy Adriana Lenarczyk

Second in a five-part series on climate change issues.

Happy Climate Week, everybody!

So, I was standing on the subway on my way to work (chances are you don’t get to sit down on your crowded morning commute from Bushwick, Brooklyn) and as I stood squished between a businessman and a street punk, I found myself missing the privacy and freedom of my car back in Portland, OR. Steel-grey 2009 Jetta, heated seats (!), the incredible amount of trunk space, and 27 miles to the gallon (which was pretty good back then).

And that got me thinking of sky-high gas prices in New York City. Which got me thinking about my boyfriend’s gas-guzzling SUV that got 15 mpg. Which made me cringe at the thought of the cost of gas for our backpacking trip to Vermont this weekend. Which made me wonder:

Why don’t we just trade these enormous hunks of steel for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars? I mean, are people buying them? Wait, no, are car manufacturers actually producing more fuel-efficient vehicles??

And just then, I learned about CAFE standards—

CAFE, or Corporate Average Fuel Economy, are regulations that were first enacted by Congress in 1975, intending to improve the average fuel economy of cars and “light trucks” (i.e. trucks, vans, and SUVs) sold in the United States.

In 2009, President Obama proposed a new national fuel economy program which adopts federal standards to regulate both fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. The program covers years 2012 to 2016, and ultimately requires an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016 (39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for trucks), which is a pretty decent jump from the current average of 29 mpg. The result of all this is a projected reduction in oil consumption of about 1.8 billion barrels over the life of the program and a projected total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 900 million metric tons.

So if you’re thinking of buying a new car consider an electric vehicle. The U.S. government offers a $7,500 federal tax credit with the purchase of a new Tesla acquired for personal use. In Southern California, where my parents live, electric vehicle purchasers are eligible for a rebate up to $2,500 from the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP) until funds are exhausted. Currently there are no state incentives for New York, but things may change.

More information on EPA Fuel Economy can be found at: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/

To read the entire proposed rule for carbon pollution emission guidelines, please visit: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/06/18/2014-13726/carbon-pollution-emission-guidelines-for-existing-stationary-sources-electric-utility-generating#h-13

About the Author: Adriana Lenarczyk wrote this as an intern in EPA’s Region 2 Public Affairs Division. Adriana is originally from the West Coast.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Climate Summit is a Galvanizing Event

2014 September 22
NYC residents affected by Superstorm Sandy call for action at the People’s Climate March.

NYC residents affected by Superstorm Sandy call for action at the People’s Climate March.

 By Tasfia Nayem

Tomorrow’s U.N. Climate Summit and the People’s Climate March in New York City this past weekend have helped to further galvanize climate change as an issue of prevailing concern and public importance. The Summit brings together world leaders to set the groundwork for a 2015 agreement that will attempt to increase climate action through reducing emissions, strengthening climate resilience and mobilizing political will across the globe.

The People’s Climate March brought together thousands of participating organizations and is helping to inspire companion marches worldwide. It is thought to be the largest demonstration in support of climate solutions.

In 2009, EPA’s scientific research determined that greenhouse gas pollution threatens Americans’ health and welfare by leading to long lasting changes in our climate. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas pollutant, accounting for nearly three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions and 84 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. This summer, EPA released the Clean Power Plan proposal, which for the first time sets carbon pollution standards on existing power plants. Power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. While limits have existed for the levels of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution, there had been no national limits on carbon pollution levels that power plants can emit prior to this summer.

The Clean Power Plan attempts to cut carbon emissions from the power sector nationwide in 2030 by almost a third below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the U.S. for a year. Not only will the proposal reduce the burden of carbon emissions internationally, but it will also cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide nationwide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit, which will prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths, 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and 490,000 missed work or school days.

The plan prepares the nation for the impacts of climate change, while giving states the power to develop plans to meet state-specific goals. While this state-federal partnership is imperative in the national climate justice movement, there’s still a lot to be done. Local, community-based activism is crucial in fostering a community of environmental responsibility. It was on a smaller scale that people took measures to reduce their carbon footprint, applied pressure to representatives to fight for climate action, and propelled the environmental movement. These small-scale and individual actions existed for years prior to EPA’s regulations of greenhouse gases, and need to continue to exist to ensure responsible decision-making that continues to protect human health and the environment. Demonstrations that assemble these communities and the public, like the People’s Climate March, reveal how large the public demand for climate action has become. And at the end of the day, it’s up to the people to ensure we live a world where both our communities and leaders are taking climate action.

About the Author: Tasfia Nayem is an intern working in the Public Affairs Division of EPA’s Region 2. She holds degrees in Environmental Studies and Biology, and you can get a high-five from her this Sunday at the People’s Climate March.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Climate Week in New York City is fast-approaching!

2014 September 19

We encourage you to participate and have your voice heard on climate change! More than 100 events are being planned for this year’s Climate Week centered around the UN Climate Summit on September 23. Here are some of the events taking place the week of September 21:
ClimateMarch Poster2
People’s Climate March:
Sunday, Sept. 21 at 11:30 a.m.
Location: Meet at Central Park West, between 59th and 86th Streets in Manhattan.
The march will begin at 11:30 a.m. The march will leave Columbus Circle and go east on 59th Street, then turn onto 6th Ave. and go south to 42nd Street, then turn right onto 42nd Street and go west to 11th Ave. and finally turn left on 11th Ave. and go south to 34th Street. The march will end at 11th Ave. between 34th and 38th Streets.

Interfaith Summit on Climate Change: Monday Morning Sessions
Monday, Sept. 22 from 9-11 a.m.
Location: Saint Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York
Morning discussions on ethics, spirituality, climate change and faith communities, divestment and renewable energy. Registration is required, but there is no admission cost.

UN Climate Summit:
Tuesday, Sept. 23
(Invitation only event)
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will be participating in this event with world leaders to advance the conversation on climate change and taking action.

Rising Seas Summit:
Sept. 24-26
Location: Crowne Plaza Times Square, New York, NY
EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck will be speaking at a lunch plenary session with other environmental leaders on Wednesday, September 24.

Find more NYC Climate Week events at www.climateweeknyc.org and http://milanoschool.org/climateaction.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The Bear is in the Igloo

2014 September 10
The marine glider ready for deployment.

The marine glider ready for deployment.

By Darvene Adams

It sounds like a story of Arctic homesteading gone awry, but it actually takes place in the coastal waters off of New York and New Jersey. “The Bear is in the Igloo” is a catchphrase used by Rutgers University oceanographers to signify that an “Autonomous Underwater Vehicle” or ocean glider has been successfully retrieved from its mission gathering water quality data in the ocean.

State and federal agencies have long recognized that low dissolved oxygen in the waters off the coast of NY and NJ is a major concern. Fish, clams, crabs, etc. all need a relatively high amount of dissolved oxygen (D.O.) in the water to survive and reproduce. Effectively measuring dissolved oxygen levels in the ocean is a complex task. There is a lot of territory to cover (approximately 375 mi2 just off of NJ) and the D.O. levels change constantly. NJ and EPA have conducted some “grab” sampling which resulted in the entire coastal zone being declared “impaired,” even though the existing sampling didn’t cover the whole area. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection asked EPA for help to address this dilemma.

Glider tracks off the coast of New Jersey.

Glider tracks off the coast of New Jersey.

Enter the glider, better known as RU28, a relatively new technology but one that is being rapidly adopted by the military and water researchers. Part fish, part robot, it “glides” through the water column, using a pump to take in or expel water, allowing displacement to lift or sink the glider. It is programmed to surface approximately every two hours and “phones home” to send some of the water quality data it has collected and its operational status. Parameters include dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity, chlorophyll a (pigments indicative of algae), CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter), and depth. As the glider moves in a zig-zag pattern down the coast, it is also moving vertically in the water to profile the water column. Each deployment is approximately three weeks in length.

A glider was in the water off of NJ when Hurricane Irene impacted the area in 2011. The data collected by the joint glider mission produced the first water quality data ever collected under a hurricane. The National Weather Service was able to use these data to revise their hurricane modelling to account for the effect of a tropical hurricane entering temperate zone waters.

The second mission of this summer was deployed last month, so click on: http://marine.rutgers.edu/cool/auvs/index.php?did=422&view=imagery and follow the journey.

About the Author: Darvene Adams is EPA Region 2’s Water Monitoring Coordinator. She provides technical assistance to states and the public regarding ambient monitoring activities in marine, estuarine and freshwater systems. Darvene also designs and implements monitoring programs to address relevant resource management questions in the region. She has coordinated monitoring projects in the NY/NJ Harbor, Barnegat Bay, Delaware Bay, and coastal NJ, as well as the region’s involvement with EPA’s National Aquatic Resource Surveys. Darvene received her Master’s Degree in Environmental Science from Rutgers University and is based in the Edison, NJ field office.

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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Ecofriendly Weekend Activities

2014 September 4

With the opening of textbooks comes the closing of summer. Check out our last free ecofriendly activity suggestions of the season, and make sure to get out there and enjoy summer in the city before it leaves us once again.

Fort Tour by Candlelight: Share the rare experience of visiting this historic waterfront fortress in the twilight hours and walking through its tunnels by candlelight. Fort Totten Park, Saturday, September 6th, 7:30 p.m.

Harvest Festival: Join Bronx Greenup as they honor community gardeners in this annual celebration which includes gardening, activities, food, and seed exchanges. New Roots Community Garden, Saturday, September 6th, 1 p.m.

Hawk Watch: Join fellow birders in search of these avian hunters in an area of the park that’s normally closed off to the public. Pelham Bay Park, Sunday, September 7th, 1 p.m.

Life on the Forest Floor: Bring your little ones to learn about the creatures that live at or beneath our feet and play a vital role in healthy forest ecosystems. Staten Island Greenbelt, Sunday, September 7th, 1 p.m.

Marsh Exploration: Walk through different kinds of marshes as you learn about their impacts, purpose, and the migratory birds that stop over during the fall. Fort Tryon Park, Saturday, September 6th, 10 a.m.

Saltwater Fishing: Children and families are invited to learn the ecology of our waterways as they catch and release fish in the Hudson River. West Harlem Piers Park, Sunday, September 7th, 1 p.m.

Tree Giveaway: Pick up your free tree and help NYC reach its million tree goal! Livonia Community Garden, Saturday, September 6th, 9 a.m.

Tree Guard Volunteering: Help protect young trees from deer and rabbit browse by fitting them with tree guards. Bloomingdale Park, Saturday, September 6th, 9 a.m.

West Side County Fair: Enjoy county fair magic in Manhattan with a greenmarket, reptile shows, sideshow performers, aerialists, carnival rides, live music, and more. Riverside Park, Sunday, September 7th, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

 

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Willow School in Gladstone, NJ: “The most eco-friendly school in the continental United States”

2014 September 3

By Marcia Anderson

Doors and windows at the Willow School are sustainably designed and allow easy appreciation of the natural world outside the classroom.

Doors and windows at the Willow School are sustainably designed and allow easy appreciation of the natural world outside the classroom.

The first thing that you notice at The Willow School is the closeness of nature. The natural vegetation, wild grasses, butterfly bushes, native perennial flowers and the deciduous forest are an integral part of each classroom. The large, energy-efficient windows draw the outdoor environment into the room and the children can easily move outside into learning spaces for a daily dose of nature.

The National Geographic’s “Green Guide” ranked The Willow School as the nation’s second greenest school for its sustainable design initiatives and the Travel Channel’s Show, “Extreme Green” recognized The Willow School as “the most eco-friendly school in the continental United States.” The Willow School is one of the first schools in the nation to adopt sustainability as an integrated concept on its campus and in its curriculum. This commitment has earned it ‘Green Ribbon Schools’ status by the U.S. Department of Education in 2013.

Energy Savings Integration: The school’s barn is LEED Platinum-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, and uses 70 percent less energy than an identical building constructed to meet minimum code requirements. The barn generates 37 percent of its own electricity using solar photovoltaic energy solutions. The school buildings include the latest in environmentally-sensitive and energy-efficient design. Clerestories and skylights provide passive-solar heating, supplemented by high-efficiency gas heating and solar panels. Additional energy is conserved through the use of super-insulated walls, ceilings, high-performance windows, high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, and the maximum use of daylight rather than artificial light. For example: the winter sun’s rays shine through the hallway windows, and land onto a 36” thick concrete heat sink slab foundation where heat for the hallway is collected.

Waste & Recycling Investigation: The school curriculum actively incorporates children from kindergarten through eighth grade in sustainable-living practices. Kindergarteners collect hundreds of pounds of bottle caps that the Aveda Corporation melts down to create new packaging products. Third graders collect spent cell phones, yogurt cups, and non-recyclable juice pouches which are sent to TerraCycle, which converts them into new products.

The buildings themselves are a model for the “reduce, reuse and recycle” message. The toilets and bathroom stall partitions are made from 100 percent recycled plastic detergent bottles. Glass and ceramic tiles are made from 58 percent post-consumer materials. Floor tiles are made from 80 percent recycled marble and granite chips. The counter tops in the science room are made from recycled U.S. currency. A window in the entry foyer allows the visitor to peer into a wall cavity to show the building’s unique insulation: chopped up blue jeans. The trees that needed to be removed for building construction were sent to a mill in Pennsylvania where tables and chairs were fabricated for the new school.

Solar panels help provide sustainable energy for the school’s ecofriendly campus.

Solar panels help provide sustainable energy for the school’s ecofriendly campus.

Artificial turf used for the playing field was made from 100 percent recycled materials. The use of artificial turf was a controversial decision, but all parties realized that this high-usage area would be difficult to maintain in peak condition if live turf grasses had been used. The decision to use artificial turf was a conscience decision to reduce maintenance costs and eliminate the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Water Investigation: Reducing water use also is a priority for the school. A natural filtration system for storm water was designed for the entire property, collecting rainwater used to flush the low-flow toilets, and to supply bathroom faucets. The installation of a catchment system addressed both the school’s storm water management and re-uses water at the same time. Native grasses and perennial plants that require limited or no irrigation were planted partly to reduce water use and the need to mow and fertilize the school grounds.

Rainwater runoff from the Lower School building is captured in a below-ground 50,000 gallon tank made of recycled plastic. The tank is capable of capturing nearly 400,000 gallons of rainwater per year.

Rainwater stored in the large underground tank is cleaned before being stored in a 600 gallon holding tank in the basement. Sediment traps eliminate both large and small debris from entering the system. The water in the holding tank is then cleaned via an ozone sterilization system and then becomes available for use by the irrigation system and the low-flow toilets, eliminating the need for city water. Flushed water and any rainwater overflow go to the on-site constructed wetlands that process waste. These wetlands are constructed of a rubber-lined rock-filled pond, where plants are grown hydroponically in septic water. Micro-organisms and plants feed off the pollutants; the cleaned water is then pumped into the ground to help recharge the local aquifer.

Although not originally intending to go green, early on, the school founders recognized the relationship between humans and the natural world and consciously decided to develop a sense of personal stewardship for the earth. 

The Willow School (www.willowschool.org ) is located on a 34-acre site in Gladstone, NJ.

 About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.