Archive for February 2016 | Monthly archive page
By Sonia Abdulbaki
I recently wrote an article on the DC EcoWomen blog regarding the global concern of water shortage. I quote myself saying, “Luckily for us, water is a luxury available with a turn of a faucet.” Suffice to stay, I stand corrected, and have the account of the 100,000 Flint, Michigan residents to back up my claim.
You also might be wondering, where is Erin Brockovich when you need her? Well, she was right there, raising awareness on several cases of water contamination, including the recent water pollution crisis in Flint. She also brought it to the attention of President Obama, who then declared the issue a state of emergency.
The gist of it
Before the President had a hand in the matter, Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, declared a state of emergency in December 2015. What started two years ago as a pursuit to supply water independent of Detroit to save money transpired into a water pollution crisis.
Lead from the old pipes seeped into the Flint River and citizens knew that if the water looked, smelled and tasted wrong, then something was wrong. Although the move to locally sourced water was planned as a temporary one, its expiration date came earlier than anticipated.
The event was accompanied by longer lasting effects, including the rising lead levels shown in children’s blood tests. Increased levels of lead can result in behavioral changes and negatively influence neurological development. Brockovich pleaded for action, with claims that the legionnaire’s disease was another outcome of the crisis.
Once the news was out, the city turned back to Detroit’s water system to put things back on track. Regardless, officials responded slowly. Accountability, as well as the damage that remained, needed to be acknowledged.
Flint’s mayor set out to replace the pipes with a $55 million plan. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, turned to the National Guard for help in giving Flint citizens clean water. The time it will take to achieve this goal is unknown. President Obama aided with $5 million and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover 75% of water related costs.
In the meantime, residents were taking action, obtaining water through filters and bottles and more seriously, filing a class-action lawsuit against political officials. The crisis was reported to have lasted for months, yet lawsuits are claiming that the state knew about the contamination for about one year.
Lawsuits may address accountability but major concerns remain, such as improving infrastructure and the accompanying cost, serious health risks and thorough investigation in order to stop it from happening in the future.
Erin Brockovich, an Eco-woman to be reckoned with
You might remember her from the movie, starring Julia Roberts, as a single mother struggling to find a job, which led her to investigate a case involving the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. She discovered that land in the area was poisoning the residents, contaminated by a deadly toxic waste that the company was illegally dumping. She led her law firm into one of the largest class action lawsuits in the country’s history, one involving a multi-billion dollar corporation.
Yes, real woman, real story.
That was a couple of decades ago, and Brockovich is still on the move. She continues to fight for residents nationwide against toxic environments through her influence. Her voice resonates with the half a million followers on her social media, a platform that brought the Flint crisis to the media and government officials’ attention. Brockovich spoke out for Flint by calling out businesses, councils and the slow government response.
And yet, it is merely one of the hundreds of others in the nation whose water systems also are failing.
Sonia Abdulbaki is a freelance writer and the vice president at Daly Gray Public Relations, a firm specializing in hospitality. Sonia has extensive experience in the field of communications that includes her work at Green America. She is a contributing writer for Business Traveler magazine and MovieswithMae.com.
By Stephanie Tsao
We all produce household waste. Beyond the banana peels and plastic wrappers, some common household items need special treatment. If not disposed of properly, certain light bulbs, batteries and unused electronics can be hazardous to the environment and to public health if thrown in with your regular trash.
That is why everyone should take steps to learn what is hazardous.
This post focuses on two common household waste items: compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and rechargeable batteries.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
Have you heard of those swirly bulbs called CFLs? A similar product are energy-saving LED blubs (more formally known as light-emitting diodes), which are becoming more common in cities and buildings as they strive for energy efficiency.
CFLs are hazardous wastes because they contain a small amount of mercury in their curly tubes. If the bulb is broken in a garbage truck or in your house, you can expose other members of your residence, pets and the environment to mercury vapors.
To properly dispose of a broken CFL, the EPA recommends opening a window and airing out the room where the bulb broke for five to 10 minutes. The shards from the bulb should be double-bagged using Ziploc bags. The EPA provides further detailed instructions for disposal on their website.
For unbroken bulbs, keep them in an old coffee can or sturdy container and check your county website to find hazardous waste disposal sites. Or, you can drop them off at certain local hardware stores such as Home Depot, which offers a CFL recycling program.
Rechargeable and lithium batteries commonly used in cell phones and computers are another common household hazardous waste.
Your standard alkaline AAA and AA, batteries are considered universal wastes under federal waste regulations and can go in your regular trash. Rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries that are used in mobile phones, cameras, and other electronics cannot go in the trashcan.
Where you can dispose of household hazardous waste
Washington, DC and surrounding counties offer a drop-off locations for hazardous materials.
- Within Washington DC, the drop-off location for household hazardous wastes is at the Fort Totten transfer station, located at 900 John F. McCormack Drive, NE. It is open on most Saturdays from 8am-3pm.
- Arlington County, Virginia collects CFLs at certain libraries and rechargeable batteries at certain fire stations, which are listed on their website.
- Another option is to visit Mom’s Organic Market, which has locations in northeast DC, Maryland and northern Virginia. The market offers a recycling program that accepts a mix of hazardous items such as light bulbs and electronic wastes, but also takes non-hazardous items like old shoes and eye glasses.
- You can search Call2Recycle to find areas near you that offer drop-off locations for batteries and old cell phones.
Hazardous wastes are tough to dispose of because of the risks that they pose. Some people may opt for the easy way out: throwing the item in the trash. I recommend learning to identify your hazardous wastes. There are many others, such as aerosol cans and expired medicine.
Know your trash! Know what is hazardous and find out if there are local disposal options. That little bit can prevent a pet or the environment from being exposed to mercury and chemicals.
- Household Hazardous Waste. US Environmental Protection Agency
- Acceptable/Prohibited Household Hazardous Waste Items. Washington, DC Department of Public Works
Stephanie Tsao is a journalist and freelances in her free time. Outside of writing, Stephanie enjoys hiking, biking and exploring the outdoors. Her views are her own and do not reflect that of her employer.
Think big potato, act small fry
The conclusion of COP21 created much needed space for serious efforts to incite comprehensive, structural change for the planet and its inhabitants. By whatever means, we’ve got a critical mass that at least agrees that merely mitigating the most damaging effects of climate change isn’t enough.
The next challenge is to break from the attitudes, systems, and assumptions that got us into this mess. Huzzah! We are, at long last, looking at the scope of environmental questions through a lens of global, geo-political, inter- and intra-governmental equity, and with no time to spare.
As we shift from old methods to new practices, we rouse the bulwarks of fossil fuel energy—coal, oil and natural gas. We take on a future filled with more people and considerably less time, natural resources, or room for error. And we look with no shortage of hope for technological advancement to make ends meet.
It’s an awesome time to be alive! Each of us has in her own way accepted the vexation of big environmental questions because we are Ecowomen, actively creating kinship to face the challenge of our time: survival.
I propose that in contemplation of the big deal we draw our response to scale. Let’s take ownership of the future with our present day decisions.
As engaged Ecowomen, it behooves us to link grand efforts to ground level actions that support the nearest and most immediate form of power available to us: community.
Community is a combination of persons with shared aims, interests, or ends.
Functionally, community is a living thing, composed of living things, organized by choices. It performs as a series of relations characterized by the raising up and pulling down of interpersonal boundaries, replicated in reality. Consequently, community is a construct of our experience and our making.
Community as a creature of proximity
Last year, I heard Bryan Stevenson speak on the subject of pursuing justice. In his conclusion, he issued a challenge that struck me as an entirely elegant mode of approaching problems. He dared the audience to get into proximity with the things we find most uncomfortable. In discussing the tragic folly of mass incarceration, he implored us to “find our way to justice” by avoiding the temptation to sidestep problems that seem too big or scary to handle.
So, let’s start there. As Ecowomen, we unite in concern for the health of our planet. We nourish our bodies with foods on the low end of the food chain, choose glass over plastic, and conserve resources to diminish our ecological footprint. Collectively, we a force for sustainable economics, politics and bionetworks. We begin with people we know and increase capacity in our spheres of influence,plying our individual skills and abilities in the places we work, live, and play.
Make yourself at home
In the District we don’t need to look too far to find the makings of community. There are truly local environmental concerns of every stripe within the 68.25 square miles we call home.
- There are trash transfer stations in the Fort Totten, Brentwood, and Langdon neighborhoods that cause residents to question the effects of commercial activities on their long term health.
- In recent years, the Capitol Power Plant was at the heart of local debate on coal fired plant conversions and the changeover to natural gas.
- Months ago, residents of Northeast’s Ivy City took up the fight against pollution clustering from a planned bus depot, and won.
Community as a creature of necessity
The national news is flush with stories about communities of necessity. Groups who may be friends or neighbors who transcend those associations when faced with out-sized danger, from ecological events or man-made forces.
Communities of environmental concern stretch across borders and boundaries because they are forged by the power of empathy. Its members arrive as strangers drawn together to address a common plight. Whether the cause is contrived deprivation, or rising tides, those who are able go where needed to join with vulnerable peoples fighting corruption and the unfettered evil of scarcity or degraded resources.
There is strength in amalgamated capacity. It supports transformation or avoids catastrophe in the making. When the need arises, community comes together as quickly as is dissipates. And it has, in Virginia, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and North Carolina, among others.
As change agents, we should add our voices and leverage the strength of whatever agency we possess to tackle local, regional, and national environmental issues because we see ourselves in the plight, the fight, or the solution. And we don’t need permission to do it.
The larger environmental movement is an aggregate of the actions we take in community. Our level of engagement aides our sophistication; it colors who we see as victims or victors, what we see as wrongdoing, and our response to the call.
So, what are you waiting for? The issues are the invitation.
Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on civil society and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, traveling, and yoga.