Exploring Environmental Health and Consumerism, and Giving Back to Brooklyn!

April 21st, 2012, the Human Impacts Institute continued its ongoing support of green awareness and community involvement the day preceding Earth Day through an event with NY Cares. For NY Cares Day, HII held events at two sites in North Brooklyn: East River State Park and Grand Ferry Park. HII and volunteers worked at both sites to clean up litter, planting native species, painting benches and fences, and provide site-specific educational workshops. The event successfully engaged various members of all ages from NY Cares, Stoked, East River State Park management, HII, and community members that were enjoying a beautiful Saturday morning.

East River State park is a 7-acre park located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It acts as a main hub for many North Brooklyn residents because of its breathtaking view of Manhattan’s skyline, public events and location right next to the ferry from midtown Manhattan. It is unique in the sense that it is one of the only places in Manhattan and Brooklyn where one can actually walk on sand to touch water. Most areas like this are fenced off and not accessible to the public. East River State Park keeps its small beach clean and is planning native grasses there to prevent land erosion and run-off.NY Cares is a volunteer organization that was founded in the late 1980’s. It is now New York City’s largest volunteer program organization. NY Cares’ mission is to address NYC’s most current and serious social issues. Stoked’s mission is to promote personal development, academic achievement and healthy living to under-served youth through action sports culture such as skateboarding and surfing. Stoked takes their youth to various areas in the Greater New York City Area to participate in sports that they would otherwise not have the chance to learn or the ability to create a community with other youth that enjoy the same activities. These groups, along with HII, and East River State Park management worked together to beautify the park and educate on environmental issues.

HII provided the educational workshops that involved a quiz based on Williamsburg environmental and social issues, simple water testing of the East River water, a Muir Web contest, and a memory quiz of native East River fish species. NY Cares and Stoked volunteers took breaks from working to participate in the workshop. Many individuals enjoying the park (who were not involved with the volunteer work) also stopped to participate in the workshop. Many found the quiz to be educational and were surprised by many of the correct answers. One particular question that especially stumped participators was:

What do you think is one of the main environmental health issues in North Brooklyn?

a. Diabetes

b. Cancer

c. Asthma

d. Premature Death

The majority of the individuals chose cancer as their answer; however, the correct answer is C, Asthma. The number of individuals with Asthma in New York City is some of the highest in the nation. The causes for the extremely high rates of asthma in the area are primarily due to environmental factors such as air pollution from transportation fumes.

The East River native fish memory game was also another informational activity for participants. Many were surprised to see such a large number of native fish given the less than pristine reputation that the river has had for quite some time due to years of pollution and combined sewer overflow issues. What many New York City residents aren’t aware of is that several saltwater marine life forms inhabit the East River, such as sea horses and puffer fishes. The Atlantic Ocean feeds into the East River, which actually isn’t even a river, but is a tidal straight, and flows into the Long Island Sound.

The water testing was an activity that children seemed to enjoy. HII helped individuals test East River water for Nitrite, Nitrate, and Alkalinity. We found that the Nitrite and Alkalinity test results were a bit abnormal while the Nitrate test was fairly normal.

The final activity that we conducted with volunteers and East River State Park goers was the Muir Web. All participants broke up in to small groups and were given a piece of paper and a pencil. A name of a product that is habitually used on a daily basis such as chocolate, coffee, tennis shoes, etc., was pulled out of an envelope and called out loud to the group. Groups had 1 minute to write down as many products and countries it took for that product to be created. This helped individuals realize how much effort goes into something that we, with out thinking twice about it, use in our daily lives. One participant admitted that he never thought about where his things came from and that this activity really made him evaluate his possessions and activities over.

It was truly exciting to see so many New York residents curious about the environment in their area. It was also very inspiring to watch volunteers, young and old, spend an entire Saturday benefiting the environment, East River State Park, and the North Brooklyn community. Thank you to NY Cares, Stoked, and East River State Park management, and Grand Ferry Park for working with us!

P.S. And to all you readers, if you haven’t been to East River State Park yet, Go! No really, you should go.

By Melanie Griffin, 2012 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Education Intern

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