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Environment

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By Sapphire Perera

People of low-income, and especially minorities, constantly struggle with the financial and social hardships that arise from racism. While the financial disparities and social injustices are well known, many are still unaware of the environmental racism that many people and communities endure, and how deadly it actually is. Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is making this issue more apparent and is increasing the need for awareness about environmental justice. 

Sapphire Perera

Environmental racism is a form of systemic racism where people of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards through policies and practices. It has existed in America ever since the Europeans made contact with the Native Americans, and it has progressively worsened with the Industrial Revolution and the increasing amount of toxic waste and new technology that is being created.

The working populations that lives in low-income communities aren’t given the power to have their voices heard regarding environmental laws. Moreover, the land in these areas is cheaper for industrial actors to acquire. This is why about 70% of contaminated waste sites are located in low income communities. With such a great imbalance of political power between the upper class, less diverse neighborhoods and the low-income African American neighborhoods, the latter’s communities are being subjected to the greater amounts of air pollution, toxic waste sites, landfills, lead poisoning and flooding. 

The health effects from environmental racism are extremely harmful and lethal. Most often, people of low income communities who are subjected to environmental racism will see increases in obesity, asthma, diabetes and many different cancers because they are living amongst industrial toxic chemicals and toxic waste. 

One example that demonstrates the harmful effects of environmental racism is the so-called Cancer Alley in Louisiana along the Mississippi River. In 1987, African Americans of low-income neighborhoods started noticing an abundance of cancer cases within their community. People began making the connection between cancer cases and the 85-mile-long stretch of oil refineries and petrochemical plants. The petrochemical plants are extremely harmful to human health because petrochemicals can be absorbed through the skin or ingested and will accumulate in tissues and organs. They can then cause brain, nerve and liver damage, birth defects, cancer and asthma. This is why living in Cancer Alley increases one’s chance of getting cancer by 50%. Currently, Cancer Alley is also experiencing a highest rate of coronavirus deaths. 

Another community that is a target of environmental racism is the African American community of Uniontown, Alabama. On Dec. 22, 2008, an impoundment burst and spilled more than a billion gallons of highly toxic coal ash into the Emory River. The coal ash contained various pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, and lead, which can penetrate deeply into the lungs. Two years after the spill, the Tennessee Valley Authority moved four million cubic yards of coal ash from the Kingston spill to Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown Alabama. The workers who were sent to clean up the coal ash suffered from brain cancer, lung cancer and leukemia due to exposure. The people of Uniontown Alabama, a low-income African American community, saw similar health effects to that of the workers. Unfortunately, the people of Uniontown did not have any recourse because the Resource Conservation Recovery Act classified the ash as non-hazardous in Uniontown. 

‘Environmental racism is a form of systemic racism where people of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards through policies and practices.’

There are hundreds of examples of environmental racism, but we are currently witnessing one of the largest impacts of environmental racism. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing that African American and other minority communities are being hit hardest by the pandemic all across the country. With a lack of available resources and preexisting conditions that already arise from environmental racism, people of these communities are more susceptible to catching COVID-19. African Americans not only have environmental racism to worry about during this pandemic, but also mass incarcerations for minor misdemeanors, overcrowded housing, and under-funded public transport, which all have been increasing the COVID-19 infection rates. Unfortunately, this connection between pandemics and low-income neighborhoods isn’t new because in the 1990s there were higher mortality rates among communities of color for the HIV pandemic as well. 

Different policies and laws set forth by our government have placed African Americans and minorities in these neighborhoods which are subjected to environmental racism. We need to stop hearing news stories of the unbreathable South Bronx air, the North Carolina hog farm raw sewage lakes enveloping African American farmland and lead in the Flint river in Michigan. The environmental justice movement is one way to achieve equity for the African American and disadvantaged neighborhoods because it focuses on fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens.  

Sapphire Perera is a rising senior at Port Jefferson high school. The “Turtle Island,” as the name for this ongoing column refers to the Native American mythology about North America existing on the back of a great turtle that bears every living being on its spine.

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James in January. Photo by David Luces

By Cindy Smith

As a Smithtown native who mobilized my neighbors to study the Gyrodyne project and speak at the hearing, and having spoken myself, I am gratified at what was predominantly an open-minded reception. Clearly many residents had not been informed of the grossly negative impact that project might have, and why they should insist the Smithtown Planning Board ask more questions before rubber-stamping the proposal.

Cindy Smith. Photo by Jim Lennon

Based on research by dozens of concerned residents, including nationally known environmental advocates like Carl Safina, we testified to evident prior use of lead arsenate, methyl bromides and excessive nitrates at Flowerfield — a fact not mentioned in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). We documented how the Planning Board excluded data concerning traffic, provided evidence of potential harm to Stony Brook Harbor and surrounding waterways, and — disturbingly — rebuffed regional officials like Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) who sought to provide information about shared infrastructure and planned regional development.

We also presented economic evidence that many jobs potentially created by the development will produce low-paying, minimum-wage positions — and that the property might actually be removed from the tax base, causing it to shrink rather than grow.

Lastly, we shared our concern that the development will trigger more high-density use along historic 25A, creating more suburban sprawl.

As a descendant of Richard “Bull” Smith, I envision a shared North Shore future that values both our history and our tomorrows. I hope Smithtown residents will visit us online at www.UnitedCommunitiesAgainstGyrodune.com and at Facebook.com/UnitedCommunitiesAgainstGyrodyne.

The conversation is not over! The Planning Board will accept written comments through 5 p.m. Jan. 24. Residents should also communicate their concerns directly to Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

Thank you, Smithtown, for welcoming your neighbors into the planning process. 

Cindy Smith

United Communities Against Gyrodyne Development community group

25-Year-Old Looks to Continue Legacy of Family Farming on North Shore

Marianne and Justin Bakewicz on one of their tractors. Photo by Kyle Barr

In Justin Bakewicz’ eyes, the world is sepia toned. Autumn has reddened the leaves and browned the plants on his farm in Wading River. The cornstalks of the corn maze he built have gone dry and stark as gravestones, while the last few pumpkins of his you-pick patch squat among rows of now bare plants. All the farm’s last vegetables are being packed up for the remaining few farmers markets and festivals before winter truly sets in. The farm is closed until spring of next year, and he and his family have started to get ready for what could be a snowy, cold winter.

Justin scratches Boss Hog’s belly while their dog Remington sniffs about. Photo by Kyle Barr

To Bakewicz, his small 11-acre farm along Route 25A in Wading River is a vintage photograph of a barn and fields, a lingering ideal he has worked for three years to make a reality. 

He calls that ideal a legacy from his grandfather, Henry Kraszewski Sr. Justin, a Rocky Point resident, remembers working with his uncle on his grandfather’s farm in Southampton as a kid. 

He too found solace from the drudgery of a desk job working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Riverhead by working on his farm, where they farmed eggs and potatoes. 

“He hated that job to all hell, but when he came home at night his favorite thing to do was to take off the suit and put on his boots and jeans and farm his own potatoes out there,” the farm owner said. That farm lasted until his grandfather passed away and went out of the family’s hands.

While other kids in Danielle Donadoni’s sixth-grade English class at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School wrote about wanting to be sports stars, young Justin wrote about how when he grew up, he wanted to be a farmer.

Donadoni said she often visits the Bakewicz farm, saying she loves what the young farmer has brought to the community and how he has even left an imprint on her own children with a love for gardening and raising chickens.

“I remember asking him specifically, ‘What do you like about being a farmer?’” the teacher said. “I remember him telling me an uncle had a farm and it was right about this time of year. I may have given him a ‘Get out of here’ comment and ‘No way you’re working on a farm every weekend.’ Sure enough, that next Monday morning Justin exited the school bus with a pumpkin almost the size of him.”

Getting to where the farm is now was difficult. Already running a landscaping business and selling flowers out of their landscape yard, the Bakewicz family learned about the small patch of land for rent off Route 25A owned by Joe Manzi, of Rocky Point-based Manzi Homes East. 

Justin pets his two rescue calves Woody and Buzz. Photo by Kyle Barr

Justin’s mother Marianne has worked with her son on both the landscaping business as well as the farm. She called the whole project a family affair, with brothers, nieces, sons-in-law and others.

To say the farm has been a passion project for the young farmer would be an understatement. Justin’s mother said very few farms now can operate because even fewer people have the energy to put the work into them. 

“He’s worked really, really hard on this,” she said. “There’s not many young people willing to get up at 5, 5:30 in the morning and work 12-14 hours a day seven days a week. That’s why there’s not a lot of farms left.”

The farm started with barely enough tools to get the job done, even on such a relatively small property. Much of the land was “six-foot-tall weeds,” and borrowing a tractor from a friend, he planted corn for a corn maze and pumpkins. He would drive out to Southampton after working all day to return that equipment. 

Using a New York State grant they got for young farmers, he bought a new tractor to use on the farm. Other equipment came from as far away as Pennsylvania second hand. The plow is a two-bottom, one-way, meaning when he’s digging troughs, he makes one row before going all the way around the field to plow the next. 

Other equipment now sits near the playground as part of what the family calls an educational component to the farm, explaining what it is and how it’s used. 

Compared to the miles and miles of farmland just down the road in Riverhead, Bakewicz Farms is relatively small. The frontage is dedicated to a playground of sorts, all hand-painted cutouts of mythical figures and characters from popular fiction. Some were painted by one of the farmhands, some by Marianne, and others by a friend of Justin’s from Rocky Point, Jen Chiodo. It’s a small wonderland, a mix of down-home sensibility with modern pop culture, like a straw chewing cowboy putting his feet up on the soap box to watch the latest Marvel movie. 

The farm’s frontage has been a playground not just for kids, but for the farmer himself. Bakewicz built his own barrel train and hay wagon. The family created a life-sized cow out of a milk jug and tank, and a small scaled silo out of an old propane tank. Instead of just a run of the mill corn maze, the Wading River farm makes it a scavenger hunt based around a movie, from “Pirates of the Caribbean” to “Harry Potter” to this year’s theme of “Toy Story.” When kids walk through the corn maze, they are looking to find trivia about that movie and make a rubbing to show it off when they come out.

Marianne Bakewicz and their dog Remington at Bakewicz Farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Even the oft-seen farm animals seem to have come out of a storybook version of a farm. Many of them are rescues, such as Woody and Buzz, two calves that were saved from New Jersey by Port Jefferson Station-based animal rescue Strong Island Rescue. When the Bakewicz got the two young animals, they were both sickly. The mother and son raised them in their own house, taking them for walks and feeding them from a bottle as long as a grown man’s arm. Less than a year later, Woody and Buzz are as big as a small tractor and act more like dogs than cattle.

The story is the same for the other animals at the farm, from the chickens originally raised by a local school, the one duck rescued from students at the University of Rhode Island, the goats to the pig they named Boss Hog. All act more like pets than farm animals, and more and more animals keep ending up behind Bakewicz’ fences.

“They all act like that because they were human-raised,” the mother said. “That’s why people love them, so they come right up to you.”

The farm has increased in popularity over the years, the mother and son said, mostly due to word of mouth and posts online. As they’ve grown, they have made a larger impact in the community, having put up the fall decorations for the Shoreham hamlet signs and having a big presence at the Town of Brookhaven Farmers Market at Town Hall in Farmingville. Their advertising can even be found in such innocuous places like the People’s United bank in Shoreham.

Despite the popularity, Justin has lingering fears of losing the small plot of land. In February, Brookhaven and the property owner announced talks with the developer Tradewind Energy about building solar batteries on the property. Those batteries would only take up a small amount of farm space that Bakewicz had not used, mostly from previous owners using the space to dump branches and trees the farm had used for composting. 

The bigger fear is if that development does not go through. The other idea for the property would be to build homes in that location, pushing the small farm out the door. 

Bakewicz has not heard anything about the issue since earlier this year, but no matter what, he does not plan to stop farming and hopes to continue it on the North Shore.

“It’s the community is what made my farm possible — it’s because of the love and support from them,” he said. “We started family traditions for people.”

Kara Hahn in 2017 Photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is seeking re-election for her fifth two-year term Nov. 5. Her Republican challenger, John McCormack, of Port Jefferson, is not actively campaigning and was not available for a debate with Hahn at the TBR News Media offices. Therefore, the legislator answered a few questions during a phone interview.

County finances

After receiving the county’s Office of Budget Review’s recent report, she said that even though there are still stresses on the budget, Suffolk is in a better place than it has been in past years.

The legislator said the proposed 2020 operating budget has no new fees and there is no pension amortization for the second straight year. The budget came in $4.8 million under the property tax cap.

“Of course, we’re overly reliant on the sales tax revenue and that was so low for so long, and we’re coming out of that,” she said. “When you are reliant on taxpayer dollars, you always feel pressured to be as tight as you can be, and you want to cut costs at every corner and, of course, we’re doing that.”

Hahn said she is aware that due to the county being reliant on sales tax, from which Suffolk receives approximately $1.6 billion, if a recession hits the county is not properly prepared.

She said a slight increase of the 3 percent hotel/motel tax, which is one of the lowest in the country, would help the budget and at the same time not deter anyone from visiting the area.

When it comes to stimulating the economy, she said it’s important to stay vigilant in the collection of sales tax. It was also helpful that the state allowed Suffolk to collect internet sales tax in 2019, she said, which generated about $10 million additional sales revenue this year and is expected to be $20 million in 2020. She said Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation, which oversees Jake’s 58 casino in Islandia, paid off its debt, and its revenue will contribute $25 million to the county budget in 2020.

“We’ve been getting some good revenue sources that have helped to take the pressure off and that’s important,” Hahn said.

Low-nitrogen septic systems

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, has supported the rollout of new low-nitrogen septic systems in the county. The wastewater nitrogen content has a mandated maximum of 19 milligrams per liter.

“This is a long-term, multidecade effort as 360,000 residences are unsewered,” she said. “These homes have to either become sewered or get a new innovative on-site alternate wastewater system. That cannot happen in one year. That cannot happen in 10 years.”

She said to help with the rollout the county has created priority zones, including the Town of Brookhaven’s initiative where new construction within 500 feet of a waterway is required to install the systems. Grants, on both the county and state levels, have been made available for homeowners who choose to replace their cesspools with the new system.

She said it took years for the county’s health department to work on establishing the program to ensure the new systems would work as promised, adding the process for the program also included working with health and science experts along with those who work in the industry. She said she is proud of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for sticking with the implementation despite the amount of time spent on the issue.

“He stepped up, and it’s happening,” she said. “It might be slow for people who are used to instant gratification but I’m shocked that we’re here where systems are being installed and people are beginning to recognize it, and we’re going to be seeing improvements in water quality because of it.”

Environment

When it comes to the 5-cent minimum fee for plastic bags in stores, Hahn said the program has been successful, with a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the use of the bags. She also sponsored a bill to create a plastic straw ban in restaurants that will take effect in January.

In addition to continuing work on the county’s Blueway Trail, which will create a water path for recreational boating opportunities along Suffolk rivers, lakes, canals and coastlines, she hopes to establish Blue Flag beaches in the county, which will be the first in the United States. The standard was created in Europe, where a beach that flies the Blue Flag has a higher standard when it comes to water quality.

Opioids

Hahn in 2012 sponsored legislation to provide Narcan in police cars. The last two years she has worked with Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence and Stony Brook University to create training for athletic coaches in county middle, junior and high schools to teach them about the signs and symptoms of all forms of addiction. Hahn said she hopes to expand the program to athletic leagues outside of schools and even make it available to dance instructors, music teachers and Scout leaders.

“So that they’re trained to know how to deal with things when they hear it or see it, and know how to help fight and how to prevent — really the key is to prevent addiction,” she said.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Interim SBU President Michael Bernstein meet with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to discuss energy effeciency improvements. Photo by David Luces

In an effort to fight climate change, Stony Brook University will receive $79 million in energy efficiency improvements and upgrades throughout the campus. 

New York State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was on hand at the school Aug. 19 to announce the planned upgrades in front of the university’s Center of Molecular Medicine. 

The improvements build upon the State University of New York’s Clean Energy Roadmap, a partnership between SUNY and state energy agencies that aims to accelerate progress toward the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. 

The energy efficient upgrades will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28,000 tons a year, which is the equivalent of taking over 5,000 cars off the road. It will also save the university nearly $6 million in energy and maintenance costs annually. 

“As the largest single site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook University must remain committed to reducing our carbon footprint,” Interim President Michael Bernstein said. 

The improvements, which will be financed and implemented by the New York Power Authority, will include a number of energy-saving upgrades such as lighting, ventilation and building management upgrades at university buildings, including residence halls, science buildings and the hospital. 

“As the largest single site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook University must remain committed to reducing our carbon footprint.”

— Michael Bernstein

The planned upgrades continue the university’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint. NYPA and SUNY have already partnered to complete more than $50 million in energy efficiency improvements at Stony Brook. If all goes according to plan, expectations are for the removal of nearly 16,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. 

Some of those projects included interior and exterior LED lighting upgrades, replacement of older HVAC equipment, pipe insulation and lab HVAC modernization. 

PSEG Long Island provided more than $500,000 in rebates to Stony Brook University for projects underway. 

“We have a moral responsibility to protect this Earth while it is in our hands,” said Hochul. “Forty percent of buildings owned by the state of New York are on SUNY campuses … If we are going to make an impact this is where we start.” 

SUNY and NYPA, together, have completed energy-saving projects at more than 600 SUNY facilities, reducing energy consumption by more than 6.2 megawatts, removing more than 48,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, and saving $12.1 million annually, according to SUNY. The public college institution and power authority are currently partnering to implement energy-saving measures at more than 30 additional SUNY buildings. Once completed, they expect it will reduce SUNY’s energy consumption by an additional 1.6 megawatts.

Michael Schwarting presents the study's findings to village officials back in August. Photo by Kyle Barr

If Port Jefferson experiences another “100 year flood” sooner than a century, then at least it knows where the water is coming from.

Professionals from Port Jefferson-based Campani and Schwarting Architects attended the Aug. 19 village meeting showing map after map of where the problem areas for Port Jeff flooding are, and offered suggestions, some big and some small, of how to combat the issue of flooding.

Michael Schwarting said many of the issues are due to an excess of hardscape, both building roofs and roads, and a significant lack of permeable spaces, especially in areas where the depth of the water table is less than 11 feet below ground. Forty percent of village property is non-water-permeable.

“There’s a fair density of buildings that contribute to the groundwater conditions,” he said. “That contributes in bringing water from the watershed to the lowest point.”

In the three-square-mile village, with a population of just over 8,000, the vast majority of land sits within the Port Jefferson watershed area.

The village tapped the PJ-based architectural firm back in February to construct a water management and storm surge study. While the study still needs to be finalized, with map after map, the architect discussed numerous issues contributing to flooding. One such map described how there were numerous roads that sloped down toward Port Jefferson Harbor. Some roads house catch basins to collect the water before it reaches trouble points, some streets have too few or no catch basins while others had more than is likely necessary.

Last September, Port Jefferson was bowled over with water, with nearly 4 inches of rain collected in a short span of time. Buildings like the Port Jefferson firehouse and the venerable Theatre Three were drowned in 3 to 4 feet of water, causing thousands of dollars in damages in the case of the theater.

The architect said what is likely a major cause of this is due to piping systems that draw a lot of water to the end of Barnum Avenue and the driveway to the Port Jefferson high school. Schwarting added there are stories of when that pipe was being built, children used to walk to school along it, meaning the system sits close to the surface.

“All of these pipes, some coming from North Country Road to Main Street with a lot of catch basins are contributing to this one point at Barnum and high school,” he said.

Mayor Margot Garant said they have received a report from Bohemia-based engineering firm P.W. Grosser Consulting about the pipe running from that culvert to the outfall pipe behind village hall. That report said there was sediment buildup at a low point in the pipe, also showing the pipe had “a pinch and a jog” that leads down toward the harbor. 

In June, Port Jefferson Village presented its Waterfront Revitalization Plan to the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, describing its intention to perform immediately needed maintenance of the storm drainage system and provide emergency equipment to deploy in a rain event to protect properties in the village in catastrophic flooding. 

At its July 15 meeting, the village voted unanimously to apply for grant funds not to exceed $1 million from the state Division of Planning’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, Empire State Development and any other applicable state agencies. 

The architects point out numerous small projects that can be done around the village to aid in flood mitigation, mostly in increasing permeable surfaces around the village. This would include rain gardens and bioswales, a landscape element designed to concentrate or remove debris and pollution out of surface runoff water, permeable paving systems, tree trenches and bioretention planters, acting as plant bed medians with grooves cut in the curb allowing water to drain in and flow into local outlets.

Though the architectural firm also endorsed several major projects, such as “daylighting” Mill Creek and the firm’s own plan proposal, given to the village in 2013, to completely remake the Brookhaven Town parking lot and boat ramp, adding significantly more greenery and passive recreational space in what is now hardscape. 

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

How do you compete with the Big Mac and plastic straw?

That’s the dilemma facing the Democratic Party. You see, beyond squaring off against the tweets and the sideshows, the Democrats are hoping to win the hearts and minds of voters against a billionaire president who endorses products and ideas that carry broad appeal for his base and for some voters on the fence.

People don’t want to be told how to live their lives. They don’t want a government to say, “Hey, red meat isn’t good for you. Stop eating it and focus on the foods that will keep you healthy and be good for the Earth.” They also don’t want to give up something, like a plastic straw, that has been a part of their lives forever.

Now, there are plenty of solid arguments for reducing red meat and for cutting back on plastic straws. Those straws, among many other forms of plastic, are killing marine life. Plastics are so prevalent in marine waters that whales are dying of starvation because they have more than 80 pounds of plastic in their stomachs.

But that’s not what some voters think or care about. That dead whale probably didn’t eat the plastic straw that the voter used. And, even if it did, the plastic straw is only one of many other plastics that the mammal ate. Besides, it was probably a plastic straw that someone in China threw into the ocean or that an illegal immigrant used and discarded. I recycle my plastics, so why shouldn’t I use them as often as I’d like?

The problem for Democrats is simpler than that, though. It’s really a question of the present versus the future. As we are currently constructed, we, the American people, aren’t accustomed to sacrifice. It’s not considered a modern virtue by a president who says what he thinks and does what he likes. We want what we want when we want it. We are the culture of instant gratification. Someone says something awful about us, we want to hit back.

It’s why some people adore the president. He is the ultimate counterpuncher, he says what he thinks and he always wants the last word. Misspelling that word is irrelevant and, in its own way, it appeals to some people because proper spelling seems so elitist.

It’s also why he can roll back environmental laws designed to protect endangered species. Sure, long term, we might lose a few snakes, birds or trees, but we will also be able to make more money from the land, create more jobs and live for the present.

The great, big, beautiful tax cut helped boost the stock market. Why? Companies used that extra money to buy back their stock. That didn’t do much to help the economy or create jobs. It didn’t enhance the companies’ revenues or encourage corporations to take risks to fund important research or pursue innovative ideas. It was a for-the-present gift to companies which boosted their current bottom lines.

Conspiracy theories fit into the mold of a present focus. Until irrefutable facts come to the public’s attention, these theories — including some about how or even whether disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein died — burn like a bonfire, without requiring a discussion or even a preparation for an unknown future.

Looking past the present to the future that will affect our children and grandchildren is difficult. Besides, instead of worrying about what the world will look like in 20, 30 or 50 years’ time, we can sit down with the younger generation, pull up a chair, and eat a Big Mac and drink a sugar-filled soda through a plastic straw. Democrats need to create a picture that makes whatever changes they seek understandable, worthwhile and palatable.

Many who attended the 4th annual Eastern Long Island Mini Maker’s Faire in Port Jefferson were first greeted to was a bear — hulking, rusted statue of a bear with arms of wood and corroded steel, a torso of used tires and organs made from oil filters and oil sumps. In the center of his chest was a cow heart suspended in formaldehyde.

“Bear” the sculpture by local team Dirt People Studios, was just one of many demonstrations of science, art and ingenuity at the fair, hosted by the nonprofit Long Island Explorium.

Scientists demonstrated the dangers of storm surges on Long Island, while robotics teams from Stony Brook University and other local high schools showed off what they have worked on for the past year.

Local DiYers like Jim Mason of LB Robotics, a maker of strange and interesting robotics, showed his work with a 3D printer and his projects using parts and tools he has found around his home.

“The music, the sun, the fun and play, see ya next year, Robo say,” Mason posted to his Facebook page.

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Miller Place High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Miller Place School District has closed its high school gym after mercury vapors were detected within the recreation space.

A letter sent home to parents dated April 28 stated the district was made aware of a possible situation regarding the original synthetic flooring used in the gym when the school was built back in the 1970s, which had also been covered over with wood flooring in the late 1990s. The synthetic flooring, made several decades ago, contained a mercury catalyst that breaks down over time.

The district conducted the testing April 25 in the gymnasium and adjacent rooms, including under the stage in the auditorium, in the girls and boys locker rooms, the weight room, the corridor from the boys locker room to the cafeteria and ambient levels outside the school. That testing revealed recordable levels of mercury vapor in the gym, girls locker room and under the stage in the auditorium. Since there are no federal or New York State standards for mercury vapor levels, the district said it used Minnesota State guidelines instead. 

The district, along with environmental consultants, sectioned off the gym interior and retested the areas Friday, April 26 into the following evening. The letter stated all other areas except the gym were cleared of air monitoring and testing for mercury vapor.

It is unsure how long the mercury vapors have been present within the high school.

“The health and safety of our students, faculty and all who visit our schools remains our top priority,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in the letter. “As we move forward with this process, we will keep the community informed accordingly.”

A representative of the school district was not available to comment on how long the vapor could have been in the gym, how the district was initially alerted to the vapor, or how much it is expected to cost to remove the flooring from the gym.

This issue with this particular type of synthetic flooring has been seen in schools across the nation. Other school districts have reported spending several million to remove the floors.

“The health and safety of our students, faculty and all who visit our schools remains our top priority.”

— Marianne Cartisano

The State of New Jersey has recently had to deal with this mercury vapor situation in several of its schools. The New Jersey Education Association has released information on its website specifically about this type of flooring, and said such floors had to be removed as hazardous waste.

The New Jersey organization said the polyurethane floors use 1,000 to 2,000 parts per million of phenylmercuric acetate catalyst, which breaks down over time into a colorless, odorless mercury vapor. The floor could release this vapor indefinitely.

This vapor may do damage to lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes, though it depends on how much and how frequently people are exposed to the gas. It’s expected that physical education teachers, coaches, certain sports teams and maintenance staff would be the most frequently exposed.

Minnesota Department of Health guidelines regarding mercury flooring testing and mitigation state that a floor containing 20 parts per million of mercury may lead to health concerns. The guidelines also state that the public should not be exposed to air concentrations above 1,800 milligrams per cubic meter. For longer exposures, gym teachers should not be exposed to more than 750 milligrams per cubic meter in a 40-hour workweek. The guidelines instruct that good ventilation is an effective way to reduce mercury vapor concentrations inside the location, though of course the only way to reduce the vapor entirely is to remove the flooring.

The letter sent to parents states all activities that normally happen in the gym will be relocated to other areas. Activities that normally happen in the auditorium will continue to take place within that room, and events, such as concerts or drama productions, will not need to be rescheduled.

Gerald Cohen during a 2010 interview with TBR News Media. Image from video by TBR News Media

The former CEO of Lawrence Aviation in Port Jefferson, Gerald Cohen, has been ordered to pay $48 million in cleanup costs for the toxic underground plume caused by materials leached into the ground from the now-defunct airplane parts manufacturer.

The U.S. Attorney’s office announced the charges April 15 after a district court judge in Central Islip ruled Lawrence Aviation Industries, Inc, a former defense contractor that was based on Sheep Pasture Road, and its longtime owner and CEO, Gerald Cohen, were liable for environmental cleanup costs.

“This case and the significant monetary penalties imposed by the court should serve as a warning to would-be polluters, including individuals, that this office and the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] will use every tool at their disposal to protect Long Island’s groundwater and to ensure that those responsible for contamination will foot the bill for cleanup costs,” said Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The U.S. Attorney’s office detailed Cohen’s wrongdoing based on the court’s 37-page memorandum. In the early 1980s, after the Suffolk County Department of Health issued a series of recommendations for LAI to come into compliance with various pollution control laws, LAI used a front-end loader to crush 55-gallon drums containing hazardous substances, among more than 1,600 of such drums identified on the property, resulting in a massive discharge of waste directly onto the ground. Samples taken from those drums revealed impermissibly high levels of trichloroethylene, among other pollutants. Nearly two decades later, in 1999, testing performed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation revealed contamination of groundwater and surface water at the site.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent.”

— Pete Lopez

In a statement to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the regional EPA administrator said he was pleased with the court’s decision.

“This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent,” said EPA regional administrator Pete Lopez. “Our active engagement and work at this site will continue over the long term.”

Various creditors have asserted claims against LAI and Cohen properties based on their respective liens. Those claims remain pending before the court. The 126-acre property was named a Superfund site in 2000 and was expected to take 20 years to complete the cleanup.

The EPA’s cleanup of the site, now into its 19th year, has included a remedial investigation into the nature and scope of the contamination, various hazardous waste removal and stabilization activities, and the implementation and maintenance of two groundwater treatment systems designed to capture and treat contaminated groundwater, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. The EPA’s activities at the LAI site have resulted in a decrease in the size of the groundwater TCE plume and the removal of more than 18,000 tons of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, among other hazardous substances, including asbestos-containing materials.

In 2008, Cohen and LAI pleaded guilty to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, for storing hazardous wastes at the LAI facility without a permit issued by the EPA or New York State. Cohen was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year and a day, and supervised release of 36 months. He and LAI were ordered to pay restitution to the EPA of $105,816.