new york city

An Elderly Tenant’s Path to Overcoming Bed Bugs

By Marcia Anderson

Lynne Gregory of EPA Region 2 recently shared with me a compelling story about Vivian, a 70-year-old retiree whose bed bug story began on September 11, 2001.

Vivian lived in a high-rise on the southern end of Manhattan, in close proximity to the World Trade Center. Her building felt the effects of the tragedy, as did she. Vivian was forced to move out of her residence for both structural and air quality reasons and was never able to return. As a result, she has had to move multiple times, with her most recent move into an apartment infested with bed bugs.

Like most people, Vivian did not notice the bed bugs when she moved in. It was the recurring bites that tipped her off.  She captured some for identification. While searching online for bed bug information, she found the EPA bed bug website along with a list of EPA regional employees to contact, for bed bug advice. She called Lynne and has been in regular contact with her for the past six months.

A proud woman, Vivian was ashamed to discuss the bed bug matter with others, but Lynne gained her confidence and has coached Vivian on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices for bed bug control ever since. Vivian refuses to tell the landlord about the problem for fear of being blamed for bringing in the bugs. She was also ashamed of the amount of boxes and clutter in her apartment that resulted from all of her moves.

Bed bugs are small in size but still visible to the naked eye.

Bed bugs are small in size but still visible to the naked eye.

Informing the landlord is normally the first course of action when finding bed bugs, or any other pest in multifamily housing. However, elderly tenants like Vivian are often apprehensive that their landlords will become hostile toward them. They may fear eviction, fear having to throw out life-long possessions (a directive many landlords issue to tenants prior to allowing any pest treatments), and worry that they will be forced to pay to solve a problem they did not cause.

Vivian contacted the NY City Housing Department and her state senator to find out about the city’s bed bug laws and what, if any, tenant rights she had. In the end, there was nothing anyone could do to assist her.

Despite the challenges, Lynne was determined to help her. First, Vivian was told to put encasements on her mattress and box springs to keep the bed bugs off them.  Next, she was coached to reduce the clutter in her apartment – a challenging task for anyone, let alone a 70-year-old woman with no assistance.  On Lynne’s advice, Vivian put all of her clothing in tightly sealed plastic bags and heat treated items in a dryer set on high. She began laundering bed linens weekly. During the past six months, Vivian has decluttered her apartment, one box at a time. She keeps only one or two of her most precious items, and has gotten rid of the items she no longer needed.

While Vivian had read online about the use of various products, including dusts and foggers, to help combat the bed bugs. She was advised against their use by her physician because of her health issues. It is advisable to only use EPA-registered pesticides labeled to control bed bugs and to use them according to their label directions.

EPA bed bug general card draft final 5-2-12Vivian also asked if bed bugs could bite through clothing and was told that they cannot. So, she mummies herself in a sheet at night to avoid being bitten. That strategy has actually been working superbly. She no longer gets bites at night. In addition, Vivian has been using a petroleum jelly as a barrier on her bed legs to prevent the bed bugs from climbing onto her bed for a late-night blood meal.

Vivian has asked about cleaning the bed frame with mineral oil or soap. Regular cleaning will help to disturb any harboring bed bugs and will also help to dislodge their eggs. Rather than the oil or soap, it is the physical cleaning, a key step in the IPM process, that actually helps.

Despite her age, physical condition, fear of her landlord, and strong propensity for privacy, Vivian has now overcome bed bugs. One of the most difficult pests to manage under any circumstances has been brought under control by her strong will and determination, following recommended IPM practices, and heeding the coaching provided by Lynne.

For more information on bed bugs, review the resources on EPA’s bed bug information clearinghouse, including a bed bug information card and a bed bug prevention, detection and control flier. Also, check out EPA’s website for information on IPM, a smart, sensible and sustainable way to control pests at home and in schools.

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.

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A City of Chickens

By Sion Lee

One of my good friend’s family houses four chickens in their backyard. Everyone’s reaction to this is of sheer surprise and intrigue. How could someone living in New York City have chickens running around in their backyard? Why would one do such a thing? Believe it or not, there actually are many upsides to having backyard chickens.

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Hanging out with the backyard hens.

In New York City, it is legal to have hens in backyards- just no roosters, because of possible noise complaints from neighbors. A chicken will cost somewhere between $1-$30, depending on the breed and size of the chickens (and also depending on if you want a chick or a full-grown chicken). A coop can cost absolutely nothing if you decide to make one or up to $3000 if you’re looking for something a little more high-end. It is important to understand that hens only produce eggs for a certain fraction of their lives, so if you are in it only for the eggs, you might want to reconsider.

To be clear: the hens’ eggs probably will not be economically profitable. A hen will usually lay one egg per day. It may not be plausible to sell the eggs simply because the average urban hen owner won’t have that many to sell in the first place. However, backyard chickens have a clear benefit when it comes to eggs: they are locally produced, which means the carbon footprint is greatly reduced. Think about it. Your typical, store-bought carton of eggs are transported from the farm to the store by a truck for miles and miles. Also, the plastic/Styrofoam container the eggs are in are materials that cannot be easily recycled. Manufacturing the containers result in carbon dioxide emissions, as they are made in large factories. Backyard chickens, however, only require you to transport from your backyard to your kitchen. How easy is that?

Another benefit is that chickens eat just about everything. Cauliflower stems? Carrot skins? Cooked pasta? They will eat it all. In addition, your hens will eat those pesky insects that are ruining your vegetable garden and act as a natural pest control. An added upside is that they consume mosquitos- so if you are like me and are considered to be a scrumptious delicacy by these blood suckers, this might be good news. Chickens do need to eat some chicken feed, but they can be inexpensive if you are feeding them a balanced diet of food scraps. (In fact, my friend only spends around fifteen dollars a month on chicken feed.) Everything the chickens don’t eat, then, can be composted. What comes out of the chicken can be composted, too. Poultry waste, when handled properly, is a valuable source of nutrients for garden soil. There is information on ways you can use chicken manure to fertilize your garden here.

There are many benefits to having backyard chickens, including garden fertilization.

There are many benefits to having backyard chickens, including garden fertilization.

Of course, there are always risks to every action. Poultry- like any other animal- runs the danger of infecting human consumers. Avian flu, salmonella, and E. coli are all commonly-heard diseases that chickens are prone to. For that reason, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a guideline for keeping backyard poultry. It is vital that you are sanitary and wary when it comes to handling these otherwise fun pets.

It is totally understandable when New York City dwellers say that there simply is not enough time and space to raise backyard hens. Personally, my family does not even have a yard to house these outside pets. Heck, my landlord does not even allow indoor pets, either. That’s okay, though. The next best thing to do would be to buy local. Buying local, like backyard hens, reduce the carbon footprint that is associated with regular store-bought eggs. It’s National Farmers Market Week, so find your local farmer’s market here and find those fresh eggs.

About the Author: Sion (pronounced see-on) is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She is an intern in the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. She is a native of Queens. Sion’s favorite hobbies include eating, listening to Stevie Wonder, and breaking stereotypes.

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 Subway Line to Green the Apple

Want to know more? Visit the Second Avenue Subway Community Information Center at 1628 Second Ave.

Want to know more? Visit the Second Avenue Subway Community Information Center at 1628 Second Ave.

By Elias Rodriguez

Quickly navigating New York City’s mass transit system requires time, forethought and good fortune. It is still far cheaper than a taxi and better for the environment. According to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability 43 percent of New Yorkers travel to work by subway and commuter rail.

One particularly vexing problem has been traveling from upper Manhattan’s east side to the lower east side via the underground. Thankfully, the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is nearly done with the first phase of the city’s solution. Namely, the Second Avenue Subway, which will be the first major addition to the serpentine subway system in 50 years.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the $4.45 billion project was on schedule, and it is still expected to open in December 2016.

Once the dust and schist rock settles, the new line will run along 8.5 miles from 125th Street in Harlem all the way down to Hanover Square, which is in the Financial District and near the South Ferry Terminal.

There is an existing subway line that runs up the east side, but to call it overcrowded would be a serious understatement. The transit authority expects a whopping 200,000 daily riders to hop on board once the train line is activated.

Using mass transit benefits the goal of improving air quality. When states and cities plan these capital improvements, it’s important that they consider transportation conformity. Transportation conformity is required by the Clean Air Act and basically means that planners should work to not cause new air quality violations or against air quality standards.

Ironically, this subway path does not represent a new line of thinking. During a bygone era, Manhattan had a train that ran along Third Ave. Can you believe that it ran above ground and was elevated over the city’s streets? The famous old “EL” or elevated was a source of infamous noise pollution complaints, not to mention a feature that seriously crimped the real estate market in its immediate vicinity. Upon the demise of the “EL” in 1950, the New York Times wrote: “A small segment of Old New York disappeared last night with a screech and a clatter and not a tear was shed at its passing.”

Well, if all goes according to plan, tears of joy will soon be shed by straphangers all over the city who will soon have a brand new subway route as they navigate the Big Apple.

 

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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Ready or Not for Hurricane Season?

By Elias Rodriguez

NYC weather awareness campaign

NYC weather awareness campaign

How does one deal with generator exhaust, household hazardous waste, sewage overflows or the ubiquitous mold that lingers inside your home after severe weather? June 1 through November 30 is hurricane season and New York City is making strides in preparing for the storm surges and flooding that appear to be more frequent as evidenced by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a 70 percent likelihood of six to 11 named storms this year. Advance preparation is a wise decision as more data shows that wacky weather is likely become more frequent or intense with changes in climate.

Among the devastating toll on life and property, flooding and winds during Sandy impacted more than 200 wastewater treatment plants and over 80 drinking water facilities in New Jersey and New York, causing damage and power failures that resulted in the release of over 10 billion gallons of raw sewage into local waters and the shutdown of drinking water plants in dozens of communities.

People should take an active role in applying lessons that have been learned from past storms.  Any time of the year is a good occasion to resupply that emergency kit, update your emergency contacts and take other simple steps to prepare. Ready.gov or Listo.gov are great places to load up on tips and resources. Emergency management takes preparation and can be customized based on your own family’s needs.

For New Yorkers, the local government strongly encourages you to “Know Your Zone” and pinpoint your geographic area within the city’s hurricane evacuation zones. Based on their easy to search maps, you can see the risks you could potentially face from a hurricane and what to do for your health and safety.

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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When the Moon Hits Your Eye…Like a Big Pizza Pie

Local taste testers agree – NYC has some of the best pizza around.

Local taste testers agree – NYC has some of the best pizza around.

By Jennifer May-Reddy

New Yorkers are spoiled by pizza of the finest quality (and bagels for that matter too)!

What sets our pizza apart from the rest? I found myself thinking about this as I “split a pie” with my husband and three kids last weekend. One theory is that our stellar New York City tap water has something to do with it. I asked the owner of a local pizza joint and he told me that he does use water straight from the tap with no additional filters when making his fresh pizza dough every day.

So what role does clean water play in good pizza making? Former NYC Mayor Bloomberg used to refer to the City’s drinking water as the “champagne of water.” Our water comes from a combination of reservoirs and lakes in a watershed located just north and west of New York City. The water is regularly monitored and tested, but everyday residents like you and me can play a part in making sure the quality of our water remains high. The NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s web site states that, “Each person can help these systems run better by conserving water, disposing of garbage and household chemicals properly and being concerned about water quality in the City’s surrounding waters.”

So do your part New Yorkers! If our waters get polluted, any pollutants can carry downstream. And who wants to put the taste of our legendary pizza at risk? In addition to much more serious problems!

EPA is doing its part to protect the quality of our pizza by working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on an action to help safeguard our nation’s waters and public health. The initiative is called Waters of the US and you can learn more about it and comment on the proposal at www.epa.gov/uswaters.

So, the next time you bite into a delicious NY slice, remember the one-of-a-kind clean drinking water that helped make your pizza so yummy. Ciao!

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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Immigrant Cockroach from Asia Found in New York City

By Marcia Anderson

RoachThere has been a lot of talk about immigrants entering the U.S. lately, but did you know that there are two new international species of cockroach: one in New York City, the other in the Southwest?

New York City is home to eight million people and countless cockroaches, so what’s a few more? That’s right. Better make room in the apartment for a few cousins from across the Pacific.

The new roach is Periplaneta japonica, a petite Asian relative of the common American cockroach. The species was first spotted in New York in 2012 by an exterminator checking a roach trap on the High Line, an elevated walkway and park on Manhattan’s west side. The Asian immigrant was positively identified by two Rutgers University insect biologists: Jessica Ware and Dominic Evangelista, through its DNA. It was documented in the Journal of Economic Entomology “Using DNA Barcodes to Confirm the Presence of a New Invasive Cockroach Pest in New York City.”

The biologists suspect that one or more of the ornamental plants that adorn the High Line arrived in soil that contained the new pest. Despite the fact that the High Line’s gardens focus on native plants, many nurseries grow native plants alongside imports. The roaches, commonly found in China and Korea, may have traveled to the U.S. in the soil of the imports.

Time to call the Mayor and the National Guard? The Rutgers researchers say there probably is no reason for New Yorkers to panic because this species is very similar to the cockroaches that already exist in the city. The new roaches may thrive in the northeast and out-compete their local American cockroach cousins, due to a unique ability to survive freezing temperatures and to tolerate snow. So what? It is not like there is a shortage of cockroaches in New York City or in any other urban area.

Roaches are the real survivors. Think about it. Cockroaches have been around for 300 million years, long before the dinosaurs, and have survived multiple global extinction events. They are built to survive and have a well-earned reputation for the ability to live in the worst of conditions, including scant food or even no air for a time. It is often said that if humanity succeeds in destroying itself, roaches will inherit the Earth.

What about interbreeding and creating a super roach?  That’s an unsettling thought! Remember the super roach in “Men in Black”? Will it soon be time to call in Agents K and J to save Manhattan, again? Not to worry. It is highly unlikely there will be any crossbreeding because of physical differences.

Is the Asian cockroach an invasive species? To be truly invasive, a species has to move in, take over and out-compete a native species. That does not appear to be the case here because this species is very similar to the multiple cockroach species that already exist in the urban environment. However, the Rutgers scientists believe that it will likely compete with other species for space and for food. Competition is a good thing. The roaches may spend more time and energy competing and less time and energy reproducing.

Health Concerns: Indoor cockroaches are a leading causes of allergies, asthma and other bronchial disorders in humans. In fact, cockroaches are one of the main triggers for asthma attacks for children living in inner cities, and the higher rate of asthma in kids. Additionally, cockroaches are capable of carrying disease organisms and bacteria on their bodies and in their fecal material. The presence of cockroaches in and around urban structures is an indication that cockroach food, moisture and harborage resources are present. These conditions allow them to proliferate.

Still concerned about roaches invading your neighborhood? Until recently, efforts to control cockroaches in the urban environment have relied almost exclusively on repeated pesticide applications. This approach to cockroach control has become increasingly less popular, primarily due to roaches developing resistance to pesticides and increased public concern about pesticide use in their living environment, especially around children. These two issues emphasize the need for a more holistic approach to cockroach management and for a way off of the pesticide treadmill.

Here’s how to prevent roaches from taking over your home, school, or office: There is a lot that you can do to prevent a roach invasion by following a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to pest control called Integrated Pest Management (IPM).  Roach control is most easily accomplished by exclusion (keeping cockroaches out) and sanitation (eliminating food, water and shelter). Not only will these measures reduce an existing cockroach problem, they will prevent future infestations. In addition to preventative measures, cockroach traps and insecticide baits and gels may be needed to control an active infestation. In the case of infestations, having a professional provide advice and on both IPM and pesticides is a wise decision and may save time, money and reduce unnecessary exposure to pesticides.

Look for more on smart, sensible, and sustainable ways to manage cockroaches in an upcoming blog.

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.

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Superfund in the Big Apple

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City may soon notch a third site on the EPA’s Superfund list of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites. The candidate is the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site, a defunct business that processed and sold minerals containing thorium from the 1920s to 1954 in Ridgewood, Queens. Wolff-Alport imported monazite sands, rich in thorium, from central Africa. The site is currently radioactively contaminated, although the risks from this residual radioactive contamination do not represent a health concern in the short-term, it could pose a health risk under certain long-term exposure scenarios. Additional investigation and remedial work is needed, so the EPA is proposing that Wolff-Alport be added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites.

A lot of work has already been done at the site. The EPA installed protective shielding on portions of the site that will prevent nearby residents, employees and customers of area businesses from being exposed to elevated gamma radiation from below the surface. The shielding material included concrete, lead and steel, depending on the area.

Reporters often ask me to compare the cleanup work at the two other NYC Superfund sites, the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.  The Gowanus Canal was built in the 19th century to ease the transport of goods and services. After its completion in the 1860s, the canal became a busy industrial waterway including manufactured gas plants, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities, tanneries, chemical plants, and oil refineries. Sadly, it also became a giant receptacle for untreated industrial waste, raw sewage and runoff. EPA’s $506 million Gowanus cleanup will require the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of pollution from ruining the cleanup.

Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal share a legacy of urban and industrial pollution as major arteries in the City’s transportation system. In the late 1800s and throughout most of the 1900s, Newtown was replete with sprawling oil refineries, petrochemical plants, factories, plants, sugar refineries, canneries, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. Similarly, the creek is negatively impacted by discharges from combined sewer overflows and sewer treatment plants.

Where the Superfund sites differ significantly is in the status, or better said, where they are situated on the Superfund Roadmap.  In 2013, the EPA issued a Record of Decision for the Gowanus cleanup. This milestone document explains what cleanup alternatives the Agency has decided are the best choice to clean up a Superfund site. In the case of the Gowanus, the decision document came after the EPA held a 120-day period to receive public comments and hosted two formal public meetings. Prior to the Record of Decision, the Agency evaluated more than 1,800 e-mails, letters, postcards and petitions about the cleanup. Conversely, Newtown Creek is a few years away from a Record of Decision. Currently, the creek is undergoing assiduous sampling and study as part of the EPA’s Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study. During this phase, the EPA will determine the nature and extent of contamination. This scientific work is expected to be completed in 2018 and would be followed by a proposed cleanup plan for the public’s consideration.

Another NYC site, the Radium Chemical Company site at 60-06 27th Avenue, Queens was on the Superfund list from 1989 to 1995 when the EPA led a successful cleanup of a radioactively-contaminated plant that no longer poses a threat to public health or the environment. It has since been delisted.

Naysayers claim that placing these sites on the Superfund list creates a stigma and is “bad for business.” Protecting human health and the environment is EPA’s first concern, but there is ample evidence to suggest that a Superfund cleanup can help communities and be a boon to local commerce by creating economic opportunity and using innovative technologies to mitigate contamination in a cost-effective manner. A cleanup also gives rise to redevelopment of an area that was once blighted, thus returning a contaminated property to the community and the tax rolls.

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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Making a Green City Even Greener

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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Tales from Our Trash: New York City’s Sanitation Workers, Sustainable Cities, and the Value of Knowledge

NYLPI_Map3_CommunitesOfColor_Uniform

By Rebecca Bratspies

screen_20060123182758_9talkingtrash2tsi's_pickup_crewWe have a problem in New York City: We generate more than 30,000 tons of waste each day. Roughly one third of that waste is household trash, and the daunting task of collecting garbage from New York City’s three million households falls to 7,000 workers from the NYC Department of Sanitation.  They are, in the words of artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, “keeping New York City alive.”

All of NYC’s waste is shipped out of state for disposal. But first, the city must consolidate the garbage at one of 58 waste transfer stations. In addition to the overpowering odors the trash itself produces, these stations generate a constant stream of truck traffic, air pollution, noise pollution, and safety issues. So, of course, no one wants to live near them.

Thus, it may come as no surprise that most of NYC’s waste transfer stations are concentrated in poor and minority communities in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. In 1996, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance helped form the Organization of Waterfront Neighborhoods to address this injustice, and over the next decade these groups worked with hundreds of concerned citizens, ultimately culminating in the passage of the City’s 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan. Although the plan laid the foundation for a more equitable distribution of these facilities, attempts to locate a waste transfer station in Manhattan have been met with litigation and outrage.

frank justich wayI think about these numbers every time I place my family’s trash can on the curb for sanitation workers to empty. These workers do this thankless and risky job every day. Sanitation workers are far more likely to be killed on the job than are police officers or firefighters. In 2010, this was the case when NYC sanitation worker Frank Justich was hit by a truck and killed while on the job in Queens. My daily commute takes me past the corner where he died, which was renamed Frank Justich Way in his honor. How many of us know the names of the men and women who collect our trash? Their vital contribution to our welfare goes unacknowledged: their specialized knowledge and skills overlooked.

This is why the CUNY Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER) is launching its Whose Trash? Initiative, which uses NYC waste-handling practices to consider broader questions of urban sustainability. This initiative highlights the importance of including under-represented voices in the waste planning processes: communities burdened with landfills and transfer stations; workers tasked with collecting and handling wastes; and young people saddled with undesirable economic and ecological legacies.

The kick-off event, Tales from Our Trash, will take place this Thursday, November 14, at 6 p.m. at CUNY School of Law. Commemorating Frank Justich’s life and service, this event highlights the contributions sanitation workers make to urban sustainability. The event will be memorialized by Frank Justich’s widow, who speak briefly about what it means to her that this event is commemorating her husband’s life and work. Other participants include  Dr. Robin Nagle, anthropologist-in-residence at the NYC Department of Sanitation and author of Picking Up; CUNY School of Law Professor and CUER Director Rebecca Bratspies; artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, creator of Touch Sanitation and artist-in-residence at the NYC Department of Sanitation; NYC Sanitation Commissioner John J. Doherty; and three NYC high school students speaking on behalf of future generations. More information is available on CUNY Law’s website.  Don’t live in New York? No Problem! The events are free and it is open to the public, and will be live-streamed online. Hope to see you there!

About the author: Rebecca Bratspies, Professor, joined the faculty of CUNY Law in 2004. Her teaching and scholarly research focus on environmental and public international law, with a particular emphasis on how legal systems govern the global commons and how law can further sustainable development. Professor Bratspies spent a year seconded to the Republic of China (Taiwan) Environmental Protection Administration. Upon her return to the United States, she was a litigation associate with Dechert, Price and Rhoads where she worked with civil rights groups to bring two victorious class action suits challenging Pennsylvania’s implementation of welfare reform.

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

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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