Lisa Bloodgood has been the much beloved Community Liaison and Environmental Advisor to City Council Member Stephen Levin for the last 5.5 years. Lisa is a self-described nature-loving plant nerd (amature botanist) and artist. She has had the privilege and burden of shepherding the community through the full variety of our ecological and toxicity issues and, consequently, is a beacon of information for the many ways that we can help to make a difference.
Lisa hiking in the Catskills
Lisa has always been both an outdoorsy person and an activist – She spent time in her youth backpacking around the west and hiked much of the Pacific Crest trail (a trail that runs from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific mountain ranges). Once as a student at CUNY’s BMCC, Lisa founded the Sustainability Club and her first act through the club was to press the administration and the campus food providers to make a change on their overwhelming use of styrofoam. Within a few months, the styrofoam was removed from campus and more sustainable materials were used in their place. Lisa also spent time volunteering with Beacon’s Coalition for Hispanic Families Arts and Literacy at PS123 to build gardens at the school in her neighborhood in Bushwick. She volunteered for hours every week, for 3 years. And, all the while, she applied her green thumb to her own legendary garden (seen here).
Lisa’s legendary Bushwick garden
Lisa got mixed up in politics after she met Councilman Stephen when they both lived in Bushwick. Back then, she worked at a neighborhood art gallery cafe next door and the soon-to-be Council Member stopped in often for his morning coffee. He then worked on household lead remediation projects and was in a band. The two of them chatted about music, art and local issues. So Lisa barely recognized Levin when she ran into him at a big Occupy Wall Street march, wearing a suit and representing the city. In Nov of 2011, Levin recruited her to intern with him at his office after hearing about her work with local gardens and, before long, she had a full time job.
As Levin’s employee, Lisa fielded hundreds (if not thousands!) of constituent complaints, exposing her to the most pervasive and ubiquitous of NYC’s and North Brooklyn’s environmental issues. From idling trucks to garbage and homelessness, to Brownfield and Superfund site questions and concerns, Levin’s district stretches, obliquely, across both the Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal Federal Superfund Sites, allowing for a greater perspective on the environmental challenges facing the waterfront.
There are 3 unique kinds of toxic plumes under our homes and streets, Lisa explains, all of which can be seen on NAG’s superb Toxicity Map.
1- The ExxonMobil oil spill. This is mostly contained around Newtown Creek and is being addressed now.
2- The Meeker Avenue plumes are related to the dry cleaning industry and their byproducts. These chemicals (TCE and PERC/PCE) volatilize, meaning turn into a gas (that can move up out and of the ground) unfortunately, meaning homes above these ought to use a de-vaporization system if they don’t already. The DEC is actively looking into these plumes more now and has offered de-vaporizers to those homes that are above them. What is not known is the full extent of the plumes and all of their sources.
3- The Phthalate (hormone disrupting chemicals used in the manufacturing of flexible plastics) plumes coming from the Nuhart plastics company.
What is the best way to stay informed on these issues? Lisa suggests signing up for news from the DEC directly and you can also reach out to the Council Member’s office to make sure you are up on the latest. And we are fortunate to have so many active and thoughtful organizations locally that you can volunteer and support: NAG, Newtown Creek Alliance, GWAPP.
Then there is the considerable new development, resulting from the infamous 2005 change in zoning. This has been and still is a constant source of concern and anxiety for the community and needs to be monitored and made as transparent and accessible as possible. Especially in light of this community having inherited such a long toxic legacy, it’s crucial that all developers are held accountable and follow all regulations and requirements during necessary controlled cleanups. This has been one of Lisa’s, and the Council member’s, biggest jobs over these past few years: how to make that accountability and transparency a reality.
Just two years ago, the William Vale hotel property began their excavation to make way for development and unearthed 100 year old holding tanks for the nearby manufacturing gas plant (MGP) (current remediation for that MGP site is underway on Kent Ave at BIP) and their “remediation” involved exposing passers-by to some dizzying and nauseating knock-out fumes. In theory, for these MGP’s, National Grid prepares a cleanup remediation plan (which the DEC approves) and is then meant to be on site ensuring contractors are following and adhering to the plan. In the case of the new hotel this wasn’t always the case, pressure had to be put on the developers and regulators to make sure fumes were not wafting into the rest of the neighborhood and that the workers onsite were also safe.
In the event that you ever smell chemicals from a construction site, the best strategy is to immediately call 311 and file a complaint. Keep track of the reference number (ask them to email it to you) and then pass that number and the problem on to your City Council Member so that they can follow up to reinforce any needed action with the appropriate agency.
The hotel was one example of shoddy jobs done in our community and unbelievably even the DEP itself did a disgraceful job with the demolition of a sewage sludge tank for the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Center. The demolition created clouds of dust that many thought potentially contained heavy metals and asbestos. Dust sized particles can be the cause of many health problems and it was disturbing to many that the city’s own regulatory agency would have contractors on the job that didn’t follow basic dust mitigation techniques.
These episodes, and many others prompted Lisa and the Council member’s office to create an ongoing series called the Greenpoint Development Community Meetings. These meetings cover the development of the 11 Towers at Greenpoint Landing, the development at 77 Commercial St., the redevelopment of West Street, not to mention the infamous Nuhart state Superfund Site. Nuhart violations caused so many people to call in that Lisa practically had the Office of Environmental Remediation on speed dial.
The proactive strategy was to put together a series of North Greenpoint Development meetings on questions of safety and accountability. Typically, 50-100 people come out to hear from the developers themselves, to ask questions and voice concerns. The process has inspired some developers, like Greenpoint Landing, to put together a proactive transparency strategy that has helped the community transition enormously. The next one is coming up on November 1st
A source of many phone calls and major concern for Lisa is the air quality. North Brooklyn has too much truck traffic and too many idling vehicles. In addition to the dozens of unregulated waste transfer station trucks driving through Greenpoint and Williamsburg, (see the stations on NAG’s toxicity map), there is the constant stream of construction trucks. Often a project is underway and a developer has hired a contractor who has hired a subcontractor who hires sub-subcontractors; effectively passing the buck so that by the time she managed to address a complaint about a truck idling all night long, the job is over, the damage is done and there is no opportunity to correct the bad behavior. Legally, trucks are not allowed to idle for more than 5 minutes and all other cars for all of 3 minutes. That includes the folks waiting in their cars for two hours during street cleaning once a week, and moms dropping kids at school. “People just are not aware of how bad it is for our air quality, that means our health, our children’s’ health and what it means for issues like global warming. We all play a part. Unfortunately our local precincts or NYPD has not made enforcement a priority,” says Lisa.
But we can and should call 311 for most egregious and regular offenders. Unfortunately, most of our City operates via a system that is complaint-driven, so we have to make noise to see change. If we could get the precinct to crack down on this behavior for a period, Lisa argues, we could expect the behavior to change.” For a more activist response, support Organization United for Trash Reduction and Trash Equity (OUTRAGE), Transform Don’t Trash NYC and El Puente’s air monitoring air program, and tell your friends and family to turn off their engines while waiting in their cars.
Lisa leading the Riverkeep Sweep
Outside of her work, Lisa was responsible for bringing the Riverkeeper Sweep to North Brooklyn and the East River waterfront. She loved the organization and was eager to bring this wonderful volunteer opportunity to the city. “What an easy and wonderful way to connect to nature” Lisa enthuses, “And what is more important than protecting your water?” Lisa quickly became a sweep leader and then invited other local leaders to do the same. Brooklyn now has a number of sites on the map each year!
Water quality is an important issue to the Brooklyn waterfront district and to Lisa: “Nationwide we have growing water issues; in cities it’s combined sewer overflows (CSO), in rural areas its contaminated runoff, everywhere it’s industrial or fossil fuels related pollution, these problems are creating dead zones along our coasts and poisoning our drinking water. These problems are exacerbated by global warming and we should be collectively acting to combat these problems.” There are many who are working towards solutions and all is not lost. If you want to help safeguard our waterways one thing you can do is attend the November 15th meeting for the Newtown Creek Longterm Control Plan, or LTCP, with the DEP. And sign up to Riverkeeper to stay abreast of the latest sweeps.
Lisa and Council Member Stephen Levin workshopping solutions with the community in a PB meeting
MORE WAYS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
So how else would Lisa like to see change? “We could all say NO to plastic bags when shopping (bring your own reusable bags) and be sure to always participate in the recycling programs. If we cannot compost at home, we can freeze our fruit and vegetable scraps and take them to the farmer’s market (locally McCarren and McGolrick Parks on the weekends) or to certain community gardens. In a nutshell, be aware of your garbage and other waste; that when you throw things away they end up somewhere; there are good places for them to end up and there are bad places for them to end up. We are all accountable in making sure our plastics stay out of the ocean and our food scraps go towards rebuilding soil.”
Lisa has loved and left her job with Council Member Stephen Levin. She learned so much and, while she is sad to be leaving her many community projects, she is more excited than ever to finally finish her degree in Earth and Environmental Science to be even more poised to continue her work in remediation, air and water protection, environmental justice, education, and even innovation.
You can come out and help celebrate and recognize Lisa at the NAG Gala coming up November 16th where she is an honoree. One of the easiest and most fun ways to support our local environmental heroes and their work is to buy tickets to their fundraising parties and show your love. And both local Council Members Stephen Levin and Antonio Reynoso will be in attendance.
What are Lisa’s favorite haunts in the hood? “On the waterfront, in the parks and in my new community garden La Casita Verde; I’m the newest member!” You may spot her studying in a local cafe….