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Making a Green City Even Greener

2013 December 30

By Jeff Maurer

Polystyrene Food Container

Polystyrene Food Container

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed 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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As Busy as a Celestial Bee(hive)

2013 December 16

By Jim Haklar

This image of the Beehive Cluster was taken from EPA’s Edison Environmental Center.

This image of the Beehive Cluster was taken from EPA’s Edison Environmental Center.

A long time ago the Rolling Stones sang that you can’t always get what you want, but if you try you might get what you need. Although I’m not a Stones fan (I prefer the Beatles), I found their song to ring true one morning at 5 a.m. I was outside in 35-degree weather (with only the deer for company) trying to take a picture of Comet Lovejoy.

No to be confused with Almond Joy, Comet Lovejoy was discovered by an Australian amateur astronomer named Terry Lovejoy. As I write this blog the comet can be found in the early morning sky. I wanted to take a picture of the comet but just couldn’t find it through my telescope. But all was not lost.  Instead of the comet, I took some pictures of a star cluster called Messier 44 (or M44 for short).

There are two kinds of star clusters: open clusters and globular clusters. Open clusters can contain hundreds of stars, and the clusters have irregular shapes. Globular clusters can contain thousands of stars and in a telescope the clusters look like little fuzzy balls or globules.

M44 is an open star cluster and can be seen without a telescope. Also known as the Beehive Cluster, it is in the constellation of Cancer and light from the stars in the cluster takes about 580 years to reach us. The cluster is so wide that light takes 10 years to travel from one end of the cluster to the other.

So while I didn’t come home with a picture of the comet, I did bring back something just as nice: an image of a celestial beehive. To further paraphrase the Stones, I was as happy as “Jumping Jack Flash!”

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center.  In his 28 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.

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Eat Fish, but Choose Wisely

2013 December 10

By John Martin

When it comes to mercury content, not all fish is the same.

When it comes to mercury content, not all fish are the same.

New Yorkers have access to every food imaginable. From the most exclusive restaurants to the hundreds of food carts scattered throughout the city, there is something here for every palate and every budget.

With this much variety, it’s sometimes easy to forget that some of our favorite foods can contain hidden risks. For instance, although fish can be a source of high-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids and many vitamins and minerals, some species of fish can also contain harmful elements, like PCBs and mercury.

The EPA recently released the results of the agency’s New York City Commercial Market Seafood Study, which examined mercury concentrations in the most commonly consumed seafood in New York. Although the amount of mercury normally found in fish is not a health concern for most, the risk can be high for those eating certain kinds of fish and for unborn babies and young children. For instance, high levels of mercury can harm a young child’s developing nervous system.

During the study, EPA scientists purchased samples of 33 seafood species from vendors at the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, which supplies most of the fresh seafood sold to restaurants and stores in the New York area. After extensive testing of the collected samples, the species found to have the highest mercury concentrations were tuna, swordfish, Spanish mackerel, and mahi-mahi. Shellfish tended to have the lowest overall concentrations.

The entire NYC Commercial Market Seafood Study, including findings on all the fish species EPA tested, can be found here.

Although many people eat high-mercury seafood, the good news is that people are consuming less of it. Another recent EPA study has found that blood mercury levels in women of childbearing age dropped 34 percent from a survey conducted in 1999-2000 to follow-up surveys conducted from 2001 to 2010. Additionally, the percentage of women of childbearing age with blood mercury levels above the EPA’s level of concern decreased 65 percent from the 1999-2000 survey and the follow-up surveys from 2001-2010. A likely reason for these decreases was that women had shifted from eating higher-mercury types of fish to lower-mercury types of fish.

The lesson here? If you like fish, keep eating fish– just make sure you educate yourself and choose your fish wisely.

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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It’s All Connected: Watershed Protection and a Quick Look at a Lesser Known Book by Dr. Seuss*

2013 November 19

*At least when compared with The Cat in the Hat!

By Kristina Heinemann

McElligot's Pool

McElligot’s Pool

What did Dr. Seuss know about watershed management? Clearly something – perhaps more than we know!

One of my favorite books as a child was McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss. Over the years I have come to realize that it’s not one of the better known Dr. Seuss books. A recent visit to my local library confirmed this. When I asked the children’s librarian to help me find a copy of the book, she was slightly puzzled – a Dr. Seuss book that she was not familiar with? It hardly seemed possible! But it was there in the library.

The book is a conversation between a boy, Marco, who is fishing, and a farmer when they meet on the banks of McElligot’s Pool. The conversation begins …

Young man, laughed the farmer You’re sort of a fool
You’ll never catch fish
In McElligot’ s Pool
The pool is too small
And you might as well know it

 When people have junk

Here’ s the place that they throw it!

You might catch a boot
Or you might catch a can
You might catch a bottle
But listen young man
If you sat 50 years
With your worms and your wishes You’d grow a long beard Before you’d catch fishes. Hmmm answered Marco
It may be you’re right
I’ve been here three hours Without one single bite. There might be no fish.
But again, well there might. Cuz you can never tell
What goes on below
This pool might be bigger Than you or I know….

“This pool might be bigger than you or I know.” Marco is onto something here. And what a mind Marco has! The richness of Marco’s imagination will amaze you as you read through to the end of the book. In addition to all the amazing underwater places and creatures Marco dreams up, Marco is saying something important about water quality management and protection. It is all connected.

Marco is describing a watershed and how it functions through connections between surface water, ground water, coastal waters, and ultimately the open ocean. The EPA has incorporated the watershed concept into many of its water quality protection programs. You may have heard about the EPA’s efforts to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. This watershed includes seven states and the District of Columbia and extends into our region through the Susquehanna River. Farming practices in the Upper Susquehanna Basin in central New York State affect water quality clear down to the Maryland and Virginia shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers in the Upper Susquehanna watershed in New York State are installing conservation practices on their land to reduce runoff laden with pollutants that ultimately would affect downstream water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

So take care of your local rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, and pools, “cuz you never can tell what goes on below, this pool might be bigger than you or I know …”

About the Author: Kristina works in the Clean Water Division and the Watershed Management Branch of EPA Region 2 where she focuses on water quality issues related to decentralized wastewater treatment and agriculture. One of her favorite books as a child was “McElligot’s Pool” published in 1947 by Theodor Seuss Geisel otherwise known as Dr. Seuss.  

Getting Involved

 

Become a volunteer monitor. Monitor water quality conditions, build community awareness about water pollution, and help identify and restore problem sites. Visit EPA’s directory of volunteer monitoring programs or learn how to start out in volunteer monitoring.

Organize your own trash cleanup (or join a nationwide river cleanup campaign (National Rivers Cleanup ) or an international beach cleanup campaign (International Coastal Cleanup ).

Build a Rain Garden : Rain gardens planted with native vegetation help reduce the adverse effects of storm water runoff by soaking up excess rainwater.

Organize a Stream Drain Marking Project: Rain water that flows into storm drains goes untreated to nearby streams, lakes, and bays. Produce a flyer or door hanger to encourage pollution prevention. Visit EPA’s Stormwater Web site for educational materials that can be downloaded or ordered for free.

Greenscape Your Yard: GreenScaping is a set of landscaping practices that can improve your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources.

Educate Your Community About Water Quality Protection: Use this collection of Public Service Announcements and downloads from effective advertising campaigns to raise awareness about water pollution and stormwater runoff.

Advocate for Low Impact Development in Your Community: Low Impact Development is an approach to land development (or re-development) that works with nature to manage the adverse impacts of storm water.

Start a Watershed Organization: If you are interested in starting your own watershed organization with partnerships, organizational priorities, a watershed plan and more, here are some things to consider before you get started.

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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Recycling: It’s Also About Food

2013 November 15

John Martin

This isn't garbage, so don't treat it that way.

This isn’t garbage, so don’t treat it that way.

It’s America Recycles Day– a time for all of us to take a good hard look at what we’re throwing out, and committing to do less of it.

Here in NYC, recycling is a way of life. For people living in apartment buildings, walking your empties to that recycling room down the hall is a daily routine. For those living in houses, dragging those iconic blue bins out to the curb is one of the many ways you let your neighbors know you care. Although most of us wouldn’t think of throwing an empty bottle in a regular old trash can, tons of trash still piles up every day across the City, to be shipped to landfills throughout the country.

A major culprit of this scourge? Food waste.

Americans throw out enough food every day to fill Yankee Stadium. Wasted food makes up 21% of the “trash” in our country, yet millions of Americans still lack consistent access to a safe and healthy diet. This thrown-away food burdens landfills and generates greenhouse gases. It also costs a lot, wasting an estimated $100 billion annually.

Thankfully, a growing number of businesses are doing their part to help solve this problem.

The EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) works with companies and other organizations to help reduce food waste by minimizing unnecessary food purchases, donating edible food to feed hungry people, and by composting. Here in the New York City region, over 10 organizations have signed up to become partners and endorsers of the FRC, with two New York City mainstays– D’Agostino Supermarkets, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden– signing up this past year.

These newest members are having a real impact already. D’Agostino, for instance, has donated 400,000 pounds of fresh produce, canned goods and prepared food to local food charity City Harvest this year. City Harvest has taken all of this food and distributed it to its network of soup kitchens, food pantries and other organizations that help feed hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers each week. Because of D’Agostino and City Harvest, more people are getting the nutrition they need, and the planet becomes a little bit cleaner in the process. It’s a win-win.

If you’re looking to make a difference this America Recycles Day, share what you’ve learned about the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge with your favorite grocery store or restaurant, or any other organization that may be interested in wasting less.

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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Septic System Nightmare

2013 November 12

By Cyndy Kopitsky

The backyard construction site

The backyard construction site

This story I am about to share will hopefully shine a light on one of those “out-of-sight/out-of-mind” homeowner’s responsibilities. To all of you who own homes or plan to make a purchase in the near future in an area without public sewers (if you don’t know whether or not you use a public sewer, please ask!), this story may be of interest.

Homebuyers know that there can be many costs that you encounter after settlement day. We can expect certain larger repairs like a new roof every 30 years or we may opt for energy smart upgrades when the water heater breaks down. These repairs and others are the more obvious types because they are external, but what about the quality and safety of your home insulation or the effectiveness and safety of your septic system? These “hidden” responsibilities could one day cause you an expense and an inconvenience beyond your expectations or imagination.

Septic system repairs

Septic system repairs

That leads me to tell you my experience with the “septic system nightmare.”

One day last week we heard water bubbling noises in the downstairs bathroom sink. Later that day my husband noticed water seeping up from the ground behind our home. After digging a hole, he saw a few pipes were separated by a large gap and water was collecting in the hole. After following instructions to locate the “septic box” and removing steps and cement slabs to get to an access point, my husband called in a professional.

The solution to the bubbling problem was far more complicated than we expected as we watched our backyard turn into a dirt-field and a construction site.  It seemed that because we never pumped out (something that must be done approximately every three years) and the initial system was placed too close to the house and trees 25 years ago, several pipes had broken leading to the septic “field.” I was informed that we were “lucky” and matters could have been worse indeed!

To that end, if you don’t pump out, watch out!

Septic system repairs

Septic system repairs

For more information on septic system maintenance you can visit the U.S. EPA’s Septic Smart webpages at: http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/septic/septicsmart.cfm. In New Jersey more information can be found on the New Jersey Onsite Waste Management webpages at: http://www.nj.gov/dep/dwq/owmp_main.htm. In New York, please visit: https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/3208/.

About the Author: Cyndy Kopitsky has worked for the Environmental Protection Agency for 16 years in the Clean Water Division. Currently she is the lead contact for the national Urban Waters Initiative. Cyndy is a far commuter with her home in Cape May County, New Jersey. Her personal interests include housing rescue parrots and macaws, gathering fresh eggs from her 11 chickens, and spending time with her dog, cats and when there is time, with her retired husband John. She loves to bake, she eats healthy foods, and tries to respect the environment with her lifestyle choices.

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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Mars Meets Regulus – A Celestial Conjunction

2013 November 4

By Jim Haklar

his image is a time exposure of the Mars-Regulus conjunction.  Mars is the bright orange dot next to the blue dot (Regulus).

his image is a time exposure of the Mars-Regulus conjunction. Mars is the bright orange dot next to the blue dot (Regulus).

The night sky is always changing. The Moon goes through its cycle of waxing and waning. Patterns of stars called constellations come and go with the seasons. Planets move through the night sky as well. Sometimes, a planet or the Moon will appear to come close to another planet or star. The point at which they appear to be at their closest is called a conjunction. In reality, the two objects that are in conjunction are usually far apart. Even though conjunctions are optical illusions, they are still pretty to look at.

In October the planet Mars passed close to the star called Regulus. Often referred to as the heart of the Lion, Regulus is one of the brightest starts in the sky and is the brightest star in the constellation of Leo. While it may have looked like Mars and Regulus were close, they were in fact very far apart. Regulus is so far away that its light takes over 70 years to reach the Earth (and light travels at 186,000 miles a second).

Anybody that likes to look up at the night sky should try to see a conjunction. They are fairly common, and yearly publications such as the Old Farmer’s Almanac provide the dates that conjunctions happen. And don’t worry if you miss a conjunction on a certain date. Heavenly bodies such as planets move relatively slowly, so there will still be a nice view for several days befo

re and after the actual conjunction.

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at the EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center.  In his 28 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.

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Upcoming Weekend Activities: NYC

2013 October 31

We’ve got some spooky and sustainable suggestions for your weekend in the New York area.  Check out the list below and let us know in the comments section if we missed something.

Cheer for 26.2 Miles: Pick any place along the NYC Marathon route and make up for last year’s cancellation by cheering even louder this year! Sunday, November 3.

East Harlem Bike Friendly Business Ride: Hop on your bike and join Transportation Alternatives for a ride through East Harlem. Saturday, November 2, 1 p.m.

Fall Foliage Walk: Your admission to Wave Hill Gardens in the Bronx includes a guided walk of the vibrant trees and shrubs throughout the grounds. Saturday, November 2, 2 p.m.

Free Bootcamp: Work off the extra candy calories at Willowbrook Park in Staten Island. Saturday, November 2, 9 p.m.

Hike and Seek: Head out to Montauk Point State Park on Long Island for a family-friendly hiking adventure. Reservations are required. Call 631-668-2554 for reservations and more information. Saturday, November 2, 1 p.m.

Insects in Contemporary Art: Visit this art exhibition at The Arsenal in Central Park to see how contemporary artists demonstrate the importance of insects through a variety of media. Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (until November 13, 2013)

Jack-O-Lantern and Leaf Compost Collection: Bring your pumpkins and leaves to one of the drop-off locations in Manhattan. Saturday, November 2, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Wildlife Weekends: For two weekends, the Queens County Farm Museum is amping up the fun with activities and events centered around wildlife. Saturday and Sunday, November 2-3, 11 a.m. – 4 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.

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A New Vision for a Storied NYC Location

2013 September 24

By Elias Rodriguez

Williamsburg Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

Real estate is kind of valuable in Manhattan. It is noteworthy that, at long last, New York City has decided on a path forward for an area that is near and dear to my heart. In this week’s New York Times,  it was reported that a hotly contested piece of prime real estate will finally be developed.

The area is on Delancey Street, which was my old stomping ground as a kid.  The Lower East Side neighborhood is a microcosm that magnifies the marvelous mayhem of metropolitan life. The Williamsburg Bridge (WillyB) spills an incessant mass of trucks, cars and bicycles into the area to and from Manhattan and Brooklyn. Delancey St. has a movie named after it, Crossing Delancey, a nice “chick flick,” but not my cup of tea. The bustling thoroughfare is famous or infamous, depending on your desire   to shop, eat, haggle for a bargain or soak up the local ambiance.

Delancey has always been a kind of “Anti-Times Square.” A place where locals go to escape the tourists, immigrant families come to get their kids a new pair of sneakers and where only saps pay retail for purchases.  It is the kind of place where you have a bialy for breakfast, an egg roll for lunch and a bistec en salsa for dinner. A neighborhood alumnus was Jack Kirby, who immortalized the strip as Yancy Street in his beloved comic books. If ever in the ‘hood,” I recommend a visit to the Essex Street Market, which crosses Delancey. If you recall the movie, Marty, he was portrayed as a butcher at the market.

This is a major project within the hottest real estate market on Earth. I am glad that the coveted property, long an eyesore and underutilized parking lot, is now moving toward becoming a community asset; but I hope it is developed in a sustainable way. What considerations will be given to air quality? The constant traffic on Delancey from the WillyB generates tons of diesel emissions. Emissions from diesel engines are a primary source of air pollution in the northeastern United States. The planned on-site Andy Warhol Museum sounds novel, but will the children within the planned 1,000 apartments be provided with green spaces to play and recreate? What are your thoughts about urban planning and the balance between competing interests?

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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Watching a Rocket Launch

2013 September 17

By Jim Haklar

NASA Rocket Launch

NASA Rocket Launch

I have always enjoyed watching NASA’s rocket launches on television, whether they were the Apollo Moon missions or an unmanned probe. In 2008, I was lucky enough to be at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. It was an awesome sight that I’ll never forget.

But did you know that you can see rocket launches without going all the way to Florida? NASA has a facility in Virginia, called the Wallops Flight Facility, where rockets are launched. And depending on the weather, the time of the launch, and where you live, you just may be able to see one of these rockets head into space.

I had such an opportunity on September 6, 2013, when NASA launched the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer – LADEE for short. The launch was scheduled for 11:37 p.m. and the sky was clear. From my viewpoint at the EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center, I first saw the rocket about a minute after lift-off. While I couldn’t see any details on the rocket, I could easily see the exhaust. In about a minute it was all over and the rocket headed into orbit, ultimately destined for the Moon.

Launches from the Wallops Flight Facility are announced beforehand with detailed information on when and where to look, so if you’re interested pull up a lawn chair and enjoy. It’s fun, and you don’t have to travel all the way to Florida!

About the Author: Jim is an environmental engineer at EPA’s Edison, New Jersey Environmental Center. In his 28 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 waiting for the next rocket launch.

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.