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Watching Robins

2014 June 10

By Janette Mieles

Blue Robin eggs

Picture 1 of 5

Every so often, during the spring, the sheltered underside of our backyard deck becomes a nesting place for birds. When the summer starts up, we clean up and remove the used nests. Once in a while, we find eggs and, when we do, we’ll leave them be until the birds have hatched and flown off.

This past May we were prepared to clean up the empty nests when we came across one that was still occupied by four blue Robin’s eggs. I took a series of photos of the eggs and hatchlings, with great care so as to avoid an attack or abandonment by the mother Robin. By Mother’s Day they had all hatched and one-by-one have flown away. 

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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How NYC Deals With Food Waste

2014 May 27

By Shane Nelson

Compost bins at the Union Square Greenmarket

Compost bins at the Union Square Greenmarket

Each year, New York City generates over two million tons of food waste, which represents significant impacts to the environment via agricultural production, use of natural resources and fossil fuels, and production of greenhouse gases. In an effort to combat these impacts, the Office of Recycling Outreach and Education of GrowNYC launched a pilot program in March 2011 that featured food scrap collection sites at seven NYC Greenmarkets.

In April 2012, driven by demand as shoppers came out in droves to compost, the program was expanded as a partnership with the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY), and has now grown to 35 drop-off locations. To date, the program has diverted a whopping 2 million pounds of food scraps from disposal – enough to stretch the length of Manhattan from Inwood to Bowling Green. New Yorkers can drop off fruit and vegetable scraps for composting at ‘Sustainability Centers’ while shopping for healthy, local produce at the Greenmarket. The scraps are then transported by GrowNYC or the Department of Sanitation, with the help of community volunteers, to one of several local sites where the food scraps are transformed into a nutrient rich soil amendment for urban farming and greening purposes throughout the five boroughs.

The DSNY Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling (BWPRR) continues to experiment with various models for convenient food scrap drop-off sites, including subway commuter drop-off sites, public library-based drop-offs, and a Zero Waste Island initiative on Governors Island. In May 2013, NYC began a bold, new initiative to provide curbside collection of organics. The program started in Westerleigh, Staten Island, and has expanded to include other communities in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island, as well as large apartment buildings on the west side of Manhattan, in parts of Brooklyn, and on Staten Island. DSNY’s organic waste collection is now reaching more than 30,000 homes and 200 public schools.

About the Author: Shane Nelson is a scientist in the Region 2 Sustainable Materials Management program and serves as the LGBT Special Emphasis Program Manager. Shane holds a B.S. in Biology/Env. Science from Auburn University and a M.A.S. in Environmental Policy & Mgmt from the University of Denver. Shane’s extensive experience in site remediation, RCRA, and TSCA has advanced projects during his 13 years at EPA and prior tenure with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.  

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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A Walk in the Park

2014 May 21

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler
Picture 1 of 8

(All photos courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

By Kevin Kubik

Finally it seems that winter is truly done and spring is finally here. As I’ve written about before, May is a great time to do some bird watching especially out at Sandy Hook, NJ. Sandy Hook is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area and so many species of birds migrate through on their way to points west and north. My wife and I missed last year’s migration since Sandy Hook was closed due to the damage done by Hurricane Sandy. Equipped with only our binoculars, Jan and I set out for a nice walk in the park. And within minutes we saw three species of warblers: a Black and White Warbler, a Black-Breasted Green Warbler, and a Yellow Warbler.

As we continued on our walk we saw many other colorful birds. And most spectacularly, for 30 minutes we watched two Scarlet Tanagers picking at insects on the top of some trees, amazingly highlighted by the sun. If you think cardinals are red, Scarlet Tanagers are iridescent red.

So get out and explore a park, before summer when it may be too hot!!!

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 32 years in the laborat

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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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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