Reflecting on a Year of Environmental Achievements

By Sophia Rini

Gowanus Canal

Removing debris from the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY.

It’s the season when people often think back over the year’s events and take stock. Here at EPA Region 2, we had a very busy 2016 – from responding to environmental emergencies to successful green jobs training. Below are some highlights of our favorite moments protecting human health and the environment around our region this past year:

  • Major milestones in the cleanup of the Passaic River in New Jersey: We issued a final plan to remove 3.5 million cubic yards of toxic sediment from the lower 8.3 miles of the Passaic River and secured $165 million to perform the engineering and design work needed to begin the cleanup.
  • Updates to the Worker Protection Standard: We visited farms in both New York and New Jersey and held a meeting with agricultural workers in Utuado, Puerto Rico to highlight the important updates to the standard. Working in farm fields day after day should not be a health risk for farmers, farmworkers, or their families. With these updates, the nation’s two million farmworkers are better protected against toxic pesticide exposure.
  • Great progress in Trash Free Waters: This year, as part of our Trash Free Waters program, we awarded a $365,000 grant to the New England Water Pollution Control Commission and awarded grants in New York and New Jersey. We also held a Microplastics/Citizen Science workshop on October 11 in Syracuse and a Caribbean Recycling Summit on December 1 & 2 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We’re getting the word out and expanding the conversation about plastic pollution.

    Fortune Society

    Graduates of the Fortune Society’s green jobs training.

  • Green Jobs Training: We provided funding for successful green jobs training programs. Forty students graduated from The Fortune Society’s training in Long Island City and we awarded $120,000 to PUSH Buffalo for green jobs training and environmental education.
  • South Jersey Ice emergency response: We safely removed 9,700 pounds of toxic ammonia gas from a storage and refrigeration facility located in a residential neighborhood and protected the public from potential harm.
  • Protecting Clean Water: In 2016, we gave millions of dollars to New York, New Jersey, and the U.S. Virgin Islands for water infrastructure projects. We also provided more than $1.5 million in funding for projects to help support the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
  • Cutting Diesel Pollution at the Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico: We gave more than $1.6 million to the University of Puerto Rico for projects to reduce air pollution around the Port of San Juan.
  • Progress in the Gowanus Canal Cleanup: We began debris removal in the first step of a multi-year cleanup process.
  • Millions to Preserve and Protect Long Island Sound: We announced $1.3 million in grants to local governments and community groups to improve the health and ecosystem of Long Island Sound. The projects will restore 27 acres of habitat, improve water quality and reduce pollution in the Long Island Sound watershed, one of our nation’s national treasures.
  • Environmental Champion Awards: We recognize the environmental achievements of committed people in our region every year. In 2016, we awarded six people or groups from New Jersey; 28 individuals or groups from New York; seven individuals and organizations from Puerto Rico; and two organizations from the U.S. Virgin Islands. The dedication and accomplishments of these environmental trailblazers is impressive. We will continue to recognize the hard work of people in our region for their commitment to protect public health and the environment. To nominate somebody for the 2017 Environmental Champion Award, visit our website: https://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/epa-region-2-environmental-champion-awards.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Solid Waste Law Helps Keep Water Clean

by Mike Giuranna

RCRA1The Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act deservedly get much of the credit for protecting the water you drink, but there’s another law you made not have heard of that’s no slouch either when it comes to keeping your water clean – the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, often referred to as RCRA.

How so?  At EPA my specialty is landfills, so let’s start there. Before RCRA, which marks its 40th Anniversary this year, open dumps were a common method of waste disposal.  It sounds hard to believe now, but back then we did not have widely-recognized systems in place for managing landfills, making it easy for leaks to occur, and our water and land to become contaminated.  Many dumps were responsible for polluting water sources and soils, causing potential harm to public health.  As a result, numerous landfills and dumps became Superfund sites needing cleanup.

In 1991, Congress passed Subtitle D of RCRA, establishing a protective, practical system for disposing of trash in municipal solid waste landfills.  These federal standards had major benefits including a decline in the total number of landfills nationwide from an EPA estimate of 20,000 in the 1970s to less than 2,000 in 2014.

Under RCRA, states have stepped up to the plate in taking the primary responsibility for enforcing landfill regulations.  My job is to make sure the states understand the requirements, providing support and sharing experiences from other states along the way.  Here are some of the water-related protections we review:

  • Making sure that landfills are operating away from seismic fault lines, flood plains or other restricted areas.
  • Using multiple liners like compacted clay and flexible membranes to protect groundwater and underlying soil from any liquid releases from the landfill (known as leachate).
  • Providing guidance on the installation of groundwater monitoring wells to determine whether waste materials have escaped from the landfill.
  • Developing corrective action processes for controlling and cleaning up if landfill releases occur.
  • Monitoring groundwater once a landfill is properly closed after reaching capacity.

RCRA ensures that landfills are contained and operating with public health in mind.  Next time you throw something away, think about all of the work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure your trash is handled properly and your water is kept clean. But better yet, always remember to reduce, reuse, and recycle whenever you can!

 

About the Author: Mike has been with EPA since 1983. He has worked in various EPA programs including Air and Superfund.  For the last 20 years he has worked in solid waste, recycling, landfill regulation and composting

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Confronting Plastic Pollution One Bag at a Time

By Marcia Anderson

Plastic bags are inexpensive, lightweight, durable and made of plastic, which does not readily biodegrade. Much of the plastic ever made still exists. Worldwide, as many as one trillion plastic bags are used each year and less than 5 percent of plastic is recycled. In the United States, according to the EPA, we use over 380 billion plastic bags and wraps yearly, requiring 12 million barrels of oil to create.

1.Turtle ingesting plastic. Photo: Ron Prendergast, Melbourne Zoo

1. Turtle ingesting plastic.
Photo: Ron Prendergast, Melbourne Zoo

The big problem with many of these plastic bags is that we are not disposing of them properly. You can find them littering parks, roadsides, and parking lots. When it rains, storm sewers, sewer overflows, and drainage outflows transport litter to rivers which eventually carry the plastic into lakes or oceans. In addition, plastic collects water and can become a breeding site for mosquitoes and other pests. Did you know that it takes just one bottle cap of water for mosquitoes to multiply?

Living on the Atlantic coast, I have become accustomed to plastic bag ordinances. From Washington, DC, to Portland, Maine and numerous coastal communities beyond, many understand the importance of keeping plastic bags from reaching the shore. On the West Coast, Portland, Seattle as well as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and 120 other California towns have plastic bag ordinances. In Texas, 11 communities, like Austin and Brownsville, ban single-use grocery bags. In addition, many mid-western communities have also followed suit.

When I am in New Jersey, I bring reusable bags to the market. So, as creature of habit, I do the same when I visit other communities further from the shore. One of the communities I regularly visit does not have a bag ordinance and it often seems like I am the only one who is using reusable grocery bags.  Yet, I recently have seen glimmers of hope.

2.Royal terns with plastic around its neck. Photo:  WaterEncyclopedia.com

2. Royal terns with plastic around its neck.
Photo: WaterEncyclopedia.com

Some stores now have signs in their parking lot: “Did you remember your reusable bags?” A few weeks ago, I noticed that some local people were catching on and bringing their reusable bags shopping – just like me. I later found that the local middle school had an Earth Day program to educate students on the dangers plastic bags pose to wildlife. The PTA asked a local store if it would donate reusable bags for each student to bring home. The store was happy to comply and parents are beginning to use them.

Why is it important to keep plastic bags away from our coasts and waterways? In the ocean, turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them. The bags do not pass through the turtles’ digestive system and block their intestines. They die of starvation. Studies on dead turtles have found that more than 50 percent have plastic in their stomachs. Similarly, seabirds, fish and other marine critters also mistake pieces of plastic for food, or become entangled in plastic, leading to exhaustion, starvation and eventual death. And plastic bags are just as much a hazard for wildlife in interior lakes and waterways.

Are there other reasons to focus on the plastic bags? Most people do not realize that plastic pollution also costs them in the taxes they pay. Some urban communities spend over $1 million annually to remove litter, and plastic bags are a big part of the problem. So, do you reuse your plastic bags or just throw them away? More and more communities are charging 5-25 cents per plastic bag with some shore communities charging as much as $1 per bag. So when the clerk asks, “Do you want a bag?” you should seriously consider whether you really need it.

To learn more, visit: EPA’s Trash Free Waters  or NOAA’s Ten Things You Should Know About Marine Debris and the NOAA guide to marine debris and turning the tide on trash.

 

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Our Ocean 2015 Conference in Chile: EPA Launches International Marine Litter Initiative

Jane Nishida Jane Nishida

By Jane Nishida

The world’s oceans are facing many serious environmental challenges that threaten the health of all marine life, our food security, and the air that we breathe. Land-based sources of pollution, such as marine litter, wastewater, and nutrient runoff, contribute to the deterioration of our coastal waters, habitats, and oceans. Ocean acidification, as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions, also threatens food chains and causes coral bleaching, which destroys valuable habitats for marine life. It is imperative that we work to find solutions to these problems and encourage others to take action that helps restore the health of our oceans.

Jane Nishida with Easter Island tribal leaders in traditional dress.

Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Jane Nishida with tribal leaders from Easter Island at the Our Ocean II Conference last week.

I joined Secretary Kerry and other distinguished experts at the Our Ocean 2015 Conference in Valparaiso, Chile the week of October 5. This conference brought together different government, policy, science, and advocacy leaders to raise awareness of the many problems affecting the global marine environment, including marine pollution, ocean acidification, sustainable fisheries, marine protected areas, and issues affecting local communities. Governments, international organizations, and NGOs committed to take actions that will address specific marine problems. Marine litter, in particular plastics, is a growing global problem with 8 tons of plastic entering the ocean annually – that is 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish.

I was proud to be able to announce a new joint partnership between EPA, the United Nations Environment Program’s Caribbean Environment Program , and the Peace Corps  to expand our Trash Free Waters strategy to the wider Caribbean region to help reduce land-based sources of marine debris. Trash Free Waters is a collaborative, stakeholder-based approach to mitigate marine litter by using regional and local strategies that reduces and prevents the amount of trash entering the waterways, and ultimately our oceans.

With EPA as the national technical focal point to the Land Based Sources Protocol to the Cartagena Convention in the wider Caribbean, this partnership will help national governments take action to prevent trash from reaching their waters. Peace Corps Volunteers will complement this strategy by providing support from on-the-ground projects in local communities that will help reduce litter and plastic trash from entering waterways and the ocean.

Jamaica and Panama will be the first countries to pilot a Trash Free Waters program to address marine litter in the wider Caribbean.  I met with the Foreign Ministers of Jamaica and Panama who were enthusiastic and noted the importance of this program in raising public awareness to the problem of marine debris. We are also working with the Peace Corps in both countries to help incorporate the Trash Free Waters approach into their programs so that the volunteers will be able to develop marine litter reduction and prevention projects in local communities.  We hope to be able to share success stories of our initial pilot work in Jamaica and Panama at the next Our Ocean Conference in Washington, DC in 2016. Our Trash Free Waters is playing an important role in getting trash out of our waterways and our oceans in the U.S. and globally.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.