(Photo Credit: Greenpointers | Fabien Palencia)
When it comes to ensuring a more sustainable future for the Greenpoint area, Mike Schade definitely comes to mind as a community leader. A passionate environmentalist, Mike juggles between several demanding positions in the area: he’s a board member for the Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG), works as a coordinator for the D.C. based coalition of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families organization in its NYC office where he also coordinates their Mind the Store Campaign, as well as served as the former co-chair of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group.
In addition to all his work, Mike is currently spearheading one of the most important environmental projects in Greenpoint, which involves working with community residents to push for the cleanup of the toxic NuHart Superfund site located in northwest Greenpoint (click here if you missed that story).
We were able to sit with Mike to learn more about him. Originally from the Bronx, Mike grew up in Long Island. He was even involved in several different local environmental causes around the Buffalo area, where he went to college. While in Buffalo, he eventually went on to major in Environmental Studies at college.
He mentioned Love as one of the factors that fueled his passion for the environment… that is“Love Canal.” For those who aren’t aware, Love Canal is a community in Niagara Falls, NY where schools and homes were built on 20,000 tons of toxic waste in the 70s (sound familiar?). Overtime, people moved in and got sick. Mike explained, “Lois Gibbs, a true visionary environmental health activist during that time, went door-to-door to see if other people were concerned. She and her neighbors forced the government to close down the school on top of the toxic waste site, relocate hundreds of families, and eventually, the birth the Superfund program resulted from her work.” Lois was the inspiration for Mike’s career in eco justice.
After graduating, Mike immediately put all of his time and effort towards helping the environment. He got a job at the nationally-recognized Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, serving as the position of Western New York Director. Mike moved on to the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), a national environmental organization founded by Lois Gibbs that has been at the “forefront of the fight for environmental health and justice” for three decades.
Mike went on to become a Markets Campaign Coordinator at CHEJ for nine years, leading national campaigns to phase out harmful materials used in consumer goods such as PVC plastic, phthalates, BPA, and dioxin. His work at this position earned praise from the community. In fact, Mike’s PVC campaign received two awards from the Business Ethics Network, and he was listed as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics during the year 2007 by Ethisphere Magazine. Mike eventually found his way to the Greenpoint area and he has been here for about eight years.
His fight for environmental health and justice has only grown stronger over time. Greenpointers may know Mike now for his activism with the NuHart Superfund site. This issue is important as it not only affects the neighborhood currently, but can have long-term effects on the future of the community. The Superfund site is located dangerously close to many residents, a park and a proposed school.
For a little background, between 40,000-60,000 gallons of toxic chemicals that were at the site escaped and migrated into the surrounding soil, groundwater and some of the chemicals notably the carcinogen TCE are extremely volatile. Through a process known as “vapor intrusion”, TCE can evaporate out of the groundwater and soil, and get into buildings on top of and adjacent to the Superfund site, which can pose long-term health hazards for residents and workers.
Mike and NAG recently got a grant from the DEC to hire technical consultants from Environmental Stewardship Concepts to review and oversee the cleanup plan that the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will be releasing for public review and comment this fall. Community members will have 30-60 days to review and comment on the plan, speak at a public hearing, and push for a comprehensive clean up. While the formal review isn’t until the fall, Mike recommends everyone get involved now. By showing officials we care, whether it’s joining NAG, the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG), Greening Greenpoint, McGolrick Park or working with local community gardens in the area, we are demonstrating that we will unite together for change.
Mike adds that residents can continue to help by supporting local organizations. It’s strength in numbers. People can also attend meetings and be more informed on the issues, and of course, help with any volunteer efforts in the area.
Mike is a recognized leader, but he also understands that results happen when we all come together to persuade change, just like Lois Gibbs before him. To learn more, visit NAG and Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group , as well as the Get Involved page on the Go Green Brooklyn site to see many other local organizations making a difference in the community.