HarborLAB’s Water Sampling Recommences

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Vial on beam at Newtown Creek launch sampling site. Photo by Emanuel Steier.

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Vial on beam at Newtown Creek launch sampling site. Photo by Emanuel Steier.

Before HarborLAB had a single boat, we initiated weekly “citizen scientist” water sampling in Queens and Randalls Island through the NYC Water Trail Association. The River Project was the first testing center for this program, which is funded in part by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation.  We soon invited the environmental science program at CUNY LaGuardia Community College to participate in the program (HarborLAB’s board includes faculty from the college). This year The River Project is our testing site again, so we must deliver samples in cooler packs to Pier 40 in lower Manhattan (Hudson River at West Houston Street). That’s a great opportunity for our newer volunteers to meet a model estuary education nonprofit, but also a logistical stretch.

Now that HarborLAB has found its sea legs this summer — launched our fleet and held programs across the harbor — we’re recommencing our citizen scientist participation. On August 1, Emmanuel “Manny” Steier biked to our Newtown Creek launch and sampled water about six inches deep. If you’d like to participate, please click onto our Facebook event page here.

This program tests for intestinal bacteria, but sewage is only one risk factor in western Queens. HarborLAB opposes sit-on-top paddling for children in western Queens sites like the Newtown Creek, Anable Basin, and Hallets Cove. This is because bacteria levels are frequently high in these locations — especially Hallets Cove — and also because we struggle with the consequences of industrial pollution from generations past. The Newtown Creek is an Environmental Protection Agency-designated Superfund Site because of sediment contamination and because Standard Oil caused our nation’s largest urban petroleum spill. Anable Basin, a former Standard Oil barge slip, has been described by some as a potential “mini-Newtown Creek” because the adjacent land was so fouled by underground refineries that the Queens West development required massive soil remediation. Indeed, as the Queens Chronicle notes, “steel sheeting had been installed to keep outside pollution from seeping into the site.” That is, the residential site needed to be protected from pollution from Anable Basin.

So while we are huge fans of testing for bacteria, western Queens requires more comprehensive testing as soon as funding allows. Moreover, we must all show restraint despite kids’ welcome eagerness to paddle — lobby hard for cleanups now, and then provide programs when conditions are better. Recreational programs should be truly controlled by the community and subject to the informed judgment of voting parents. No sign-on-the-fly liability waiver can reasonably empower parents to place children in wet-riding sit-on-top kayaks into such highly polluted waters.

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Sample drop box at The River Project. Photo by Emanuel Steier.

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2012 testing at LaGuardia Community College. Photo by Erik Baard.

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2012 testing at LaGuardia Community College. Photo by Erik Baard.

Western Queens Green Resources Fair

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HarborLAB was a hit at the packed Western Queens Green Resources Fair! It was a happy, busy gathering at the Queens Library Broadway branch in Astoria, with lots of kids and fellow environmental groups like Transportation Alternatives, Recycle-a-Bicycle, GrowNYC, Green Guerillas, Bucky Buckaw, Smiling Hog’s Head Ranch urban farm, and neighborhood groups like Green Shores NYC.

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Organizer Lynne Serpe calls out another raffle round.

HarborLAB’s table was staffed by volunteers Danushi Fernando, Erik Baard, and Ricardo Grass. We displayed and explained navigation lights, safety signal strobes, current and tide charts, a children’s life vest, and other materials. We especially emphasized our coming New York City-based children’s programs in safer and cleaners waters than can be found in western Queens (an issue we continue to address — Hallets Cove is physically the most suitable spot but quite frequently has unacceptably high bacteria counts) and autumn’s inauguration of Catskill Watershed Wonder Tours. The latter will let kids experientially learn about their drinking water sources by kayaking and canoeing on the Neversink Reservoir.

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Over the shoulder view of volunteer Danushi Fernando teaching kids about safety lights for navigation and emergency signalling.

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Mental note: Like crows, kids really go for the shiny stuff! 😉 Maybe we’ll raffle lights next year!

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A family at the Transportation Alternative display. We shared a table. Paddlers and pedalers unite!

The entire event was a huge success. One dramatic moment was when a young boy began to choke on his candy. Unfortunately, his mother began slapping his back to help him, which can do more harm than good. Proper first aid education is vital, especially given that choking is a leading cause of death in kids under fives years old. Erik rushed the boy and his mother to the next room because he happened to know that Queens Library event staff member Chiamaka “Chi Chi” Onyejiukwa (who has volunteered for future HarborLAB events) is also a nurse. As luck would have it, interrupting the back slapping allowed the boy to clear his throat just as Chi Chi swung into action. The boy cried for a bit, clearly traumatized, but we were all comforted that a nurse was on hand for an event with kids — these kinds of things can happen anywhere, anytime.