Green Walls Reduce Stress

In my research on Living Wall installations I came across a little article about Japan and trees. In the 1980’s the Forest Agency of Japan started recommending people spend more time in forests because it increases good health. Fair enough, makes sense, but where’s the science behind their claim. It turns out there is some.

Research coming out of the Chiba University of Japan found that people who spent 40 minutes in a forest showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which effects blood pressure and immune system, compared to when the same people spent 40 minutes in the lab.

Living walls may not be able to have redwoods, but it definitely can have small bushes.

Living walls may not be able to have redwoods, but it definitely can have small bushes.

Another researcher at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, found that plants emit aromatic compounds called phytoncides, which when inhaled can spur healthy biological changes in the body.

Furthermore they found that people who spend time in nature show changes in their blood chemistry  that are associated with better protection against cancer, better immunity and lower blood pressure.

Recent studies have also linked humans’ interaction with plants to increased relief from health issues like heart disease, depression, anxiety and attention disorders.

So there you have it. Green walls are good for your health. Installing a green wall in your office isn’t like walking through a redwood forest, but try doing office work in the redwoods. It sucks. Pine needles everywhere.

A living wall installation on the other hand fits perfectly into your office or home and offers documented health and emotional benefits. So what are you waiting for? Hire us to install a living wall for you. Your health and stress levels will be grateful.

Are Illegal Drugs Green?

Are Illegal Drugs Green? The answer is no. Reason being anything that isn’t regulated is driven purely by monetary benefit without any rules or oversight. If you think big corporations are bad for polluting rivers, think what damage a large meth lab can do. Not only do they have a lot of chemicals to dispose of but they need to do it secretly – they aren’t going to pack the contaminants into barrells and send them off to an approved waste processing plant. They are going to dump it into a secluded river. “Secluded” being another word for no humans, meaning nature.

This occurred to me when I read the cool info on this Addiction Support site. They offer fantastic info on how drugs as they are made now are not sustainable.

Clear cutting forests in South America for Cocaine production. If stopping legal companies from destroying the rain forest is hard, it's almost impossible to stop illegal companies.

Clear cutting forests in South America for Cocaine production. If stopping legal companies from destroying the rain forest is hard, it’s almost impossible to stop illegal companies.

As a green builder in Brooklyn we work near the Gowanus Canal, a great example of what happens when waste is not regulated. Now we are paying for that big time. The millions they saved by using the canal as a dumping ground is many millions more that we have to pay to fix it. Thank’s guys! Next time just charge me a couple cents more for the product and do the right thing.

Gowanus-1851

The mouth of the Gowanus Canal 1851.

A much more strangled and destroyed Gowanus Canal in the 19th Century.

A much more strangled and destroyed Gowanus Canal in the 19th Century.

From an environmental point of view it is a lot healthier for our society to legalize drugs. Tax the hell out of them, regulate them up the wazoo and strictly control where, when and who can consume them. And most importantly, control how and where they are made. Are they clear cutting mountains and drenching them in illegal pesticides to grow that marijuana or are they growing it in low footprint warehouses using solar electricity and city waste-water?

Global Drug Routes. Hmmm...who's the biggest drug addict?

Global Drug Routes. Hmmm…who’s the biggest drug addict?

Parts of the US have been ravaged by illegal drug production. The local authorities admit they have absolutely no control over the gangs doing it. There is just too much area to cover, too much money and too much demand.

Parts of the US have been ravaged by illegal drug production, like the clear cutting for Marijuana growing in California above . The local authorities admit they have absolutely no control over the gangs doing it. There is just too much area to cover, too much money and too much demand.

People are not stupid. Well, that’s not true. Many are. But it is my experience from having three kids that working with them is much better than against.

Why is alcohol legal and other dangerous drugs aren’t? Makes no sense to me. Why is is totally legal for my six year old to light a fire in our fireplace and yet I can’t legally buy some pot to light up on my back porch? Trust me, my son lighting a fire is a million times more dangerous to society than my addled brain on pot could ever be.

And I don’t even like pot. I want this stuff legalized – and meth and LSD and crack – because I am a New York green builder and I understand that burning down tropical forests in Burma to grow opium is going to directly affect my life in the big apple.

I want to see sustainably grown opium in my corner store. I want it to be really expensive and I want the profits to go towards Addiction Counselling and a new swing set for my local park. Now that is something I could get high on.

Plastic

Most of us have probably come to recognize that plastic is an extremely difficult item to cut out of our lives. From tupperware to composite lumber, plastic has become so engrained in the modern way of life, most people do not even realize how strong their dependency is upon it. There are ways, however, to curb the impact of our plastic addiction on both the environment and our health.

The EPA’s Resin Identification Code for plastics categorizes plastic into seven numbers. The numbers are useful for consumers who can tell whether a plastic product is recyclable in their neighborhood based on the ID number. For example, #1 and #2 (PET and HDPE) are considered the “most” recyclable and can be broken down into their base form and reworked entirely. Examples of these categories are translucent milk jugs, soda bottles, and plastic bags.

Moreover, the system also shows which types are most harmful to human health. #3 (PVC) and #7 (Other) are considered particularly hazardous to health. The chemicals in plastic have the ability to leach onto food, especially when they are left in the sun or microwave. According to an article in Health magazine, #3 and #7 are often used in “cling-wrap” for meats and cheeses, and plastic baby bottles. Chemical intake can lead to lowered testosterone levels, malformation in children, and cancer. Our advice against this? Buy a refillable metal water bottle and transfer your meats and cheeses to a paper container as fast as possible.

Construction and building is the number two user of plastic products (second only to packaging). According to the EPA, only about 8 percent of plastic waste generated in 2011 was reclaimed for recycling (http://www.reportlinker.com/ci02375/Plastic.html) This is impacted by the fact that most common plastics in construction are rarely recyclable (especially PVC piping). According to a 2000 Green Paper, only 3 percent of PVC is recycled, 17% incinerated, and 80% landfilled. These numbers have improved in recent memory, owing in part to a popular trend in Europe to recycle PVC in window-making (including Eco Brooklyn friend, Klearwall http://ecobrooklyn.com/klearwall-windows-doors/) . One way around this problem is to use PEVA (non-chlorinated vinyl), which is biodegradable and does not contain the hazardous chemicals of PVC.

Christopher Jeffrey

InsideClimate News – Brooklyn

Eco Brooklyn would like to recognize the efforts and accomplishments of a fellow green advocate located in Brooklyn.

InsideClimate News is a rising nonprofit news website that focuses chiefly on environmental issues. Their objectives include providing scientific and objective investigations and news stories to inform the public and our officials living in these times of serious energy change. Additionally, InsideClimate News attempts to preserve the tradition and utility of environmental journalism.

InsideClimate News covers a wide scope of environmental information. Their hot topics include Keystone XL, natural gas drilling, climate change, nuclear energy, and environmental economics. It is a great site to keep people informed on green topics – from individuals to companies.

Most notably, InsideClimate News won the Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for its investigative journalism on a 2010 oil spill in Marshall, Michigan. Their ebook, “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of” is the work of journalists Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer. The book’s message details how the spill in Michigan was exacerbated by misinformation, substandard preparation, and a delayed response.

For example, the pipeline that leaked into a local stream, which entered the Kalamazoo River and threatened Lake Michigan, was carrying diluted bitumen. Diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” is a very heavy type of crude oil which is diluted with a cocktail of chemicals. More importantly, no one knew that the pipeline was carrying dilbit and the company, Enbridge Inc., did not inform first responders what they were dealing with until days after the spill was reported.

When all was said and done (though cleanup is still going on at some capacity) at least one million gallons of oil over 36 miles of between the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo. These bodies of water were closed for over two years and about 150 families were permanently relocated. The $765 million+ that Enbridge spent on the spill makes it the most expensive in US history. The reason why the spill went virtually unnoticed by the popular media was because the BP Deepwater Horizon spill occurred around the same time.

Enbridge is a Canadian oil and gas company. The dilbit that flowed through the pipelines comes from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. It is very similar to the type of oil that would be transported by the Keystone XL pipeline.

For more information check out ICN’s website at www.InsideClimateNews.org

 

Christopher Jeffrey

NYC Updated Flood Zone Maps

FEMA reveiled updated flood zone maps two weeks ago, which doubles the previous estimated number of at risk New Yorkers to 400,000 residents and 70,000 buildings. These numbers are still proposed, and will take up to two years of reviews to become official, after which building regulations will be affected.

 

flood zone map

 Proposed updated flood zone map, courtesy of http://maps.nyc.gov/hurricane/

At the city level, Mayor Bloomberg addressed the escalating risk of rising sea levels and powerful storm surge by proposing a $20 billion storm protection plan following the announcement of the newly proposed maps. The recommendations include building seawalls and a protective “Seaport City” south of the Brooklyn Bridge. The full report can be found here.

In the meantime, residents are already affected financially by increased insurance premium rates, and faced with the costly dilemma of raising their houses above the base flood elevation. As a green builder, Eco Brooklyn is involved in several projects focused on the effects of  rising flood waters and nearby contamination. Residences in flood prone areas are constructed with the expectation of flooding to the first floor. We therefore choose to build through processes that reduce water damage, such as waterproof installation and minimizing the use of sheetrock. We encourage the cellar to be used largely for storage only and elevate all mechanical items such as the boiler to above the ground level. Total protection is not ensured, but the reduction of damage risk is the best that can be done for smaller residences where moving out is not an option, and elevating an entire house is too costly a measure.

In light of these proposed flood zone maps, Eco Brooklyn highly recommends that residents assess their new risk level and what preventative measures can be undertaken to ensure the future safety of their families.

-Liza Chiu

Adverse Effects on Children’s Health From Soil Lead Contamination

An article about the adverse effects of soil lead contamination on children’s health was recently published on WNYC. As a green builder involved in garden soil lead remediation this was very interesting to us.

Perhaps it is the spring weather driving children outdoors in droves, but Eco Brooklyn has been receiving a number of inquiries from local families regarding soil remediation. Back when we first tested the Eco Brooklyn Show House soil in 2010 and got lead results far above what is remotely safe, we realized this is a real problem and became by default a Soil Remediation Contractor for NY and Brooklyn brownstones.

Living in Carroll Gardens, one of the more family-friendly neighborhoods in New York City, Eco Brooklyn cannot emphasize enough the importance of lead remediation for the sake of our children’s health. Our recent posts reviews some of the key components.

-Liza Chiu

Heavy Metals in Brooklyn, Not as Safe as Rock & Roll.

Eco Brooklyn is gearing up for it Spring Soil Remediation Projects. A potential client has sent us their Soil Testing Report and it was time to refresh our knowledge on key components of soil contamination and remediation.

Heavy Metal Contaminated Soil

Backyard Soil Contamination

Backyard Contamination Sample

Soil Sample Report

The level of contamination in their report will require root barriers and the addition of six inches of topsoil.

According to the Environmental Sciences Analytical Center at Brooklyn College It is not uncommon for many New York City gardens to have contamination.  The dense urban environment has contributed to an overabundance of metals including: Lead, Chromium, Nickel, Arsenic, and Cadmium.

Prior to the 1980’s heavy metals were used primarily in manufacturing processes. Lead is one of the most abundant toxins that contributes to soil contamination, and was commonly found in paint, print making ink, fertilizers and gasoline.

Chromium is another substantial toxin found commonly in Brooklyn soil. The element was widespread in the production of paint, tanning salts, car parts, and plumbing fixtures.

Heavy metal poisoning often results in birth defects, autism, allergies, weight loss, and even paralysis.

Safe Levels of Toxic Metals

Soil Contamination and Remediation

The chart above, from California’s Environmental Protection Agency,  displays the safe levels of the most common heavy metals found in soil. The second column displays the levels for which the California Office for Environmental Health deems safe for soil use, such as gardening, while the EPA suggests a significantly higher threshold in the third column.

The State of New York does not currently have specific guidelines or regulations for garden soil. If you own a brownstone or home in Brooklyn you can bet your soil has toxic levels of heavy metals.

Testing for contamination is a simple and inexpensive process at Brooklyn College. Just visit their Soil Testing Website, and follow the five easy steps to receive a Soil Test Analysis and/or a Tissue Analysis of your fruits and vegetables.

Eco Brooklyn recommends following the European ECO Label threshold for heavy metals. Soil containing lead above 100 parts per million should be mediated and it is crucial to apply these standards when children are involved. Green building starts with designing a good foundation whether it involves sustainably sourced wood studs or a contamination free lot to build upon.

-Anthony Rivale

Building for Children

Eco Brooklyn recently completed a number of jobs in a building where there were children living. We renovated  three children’s bedrooms, two bathrooms where they bathe, and two play areas. Doing this increased our focus on using non-toxic materials and building in a manner that created no dust.

A toxin free green building process should be done in all homes, but because children’s bodies  are so much more absorptive of chemicals than adults, the harmful effect on children can be much greater if precautions are not taken.

Eco Brooklyn has a zero toxin policy in our home renovations. But that is a lot harder to accomplish than people think and we don’t always meet our goals.

The reason is that even the most harmless building material has toxins. Take sheet rock compound for example,  used to plaster the seams of sheet rock. With the exception of a very few buildings (adobe, for example), sheet rock compound is in every single building in america.

Sheet rock compound contains Formaldehyde, a known cancer causing chemical. To the trained nose, Formaldehyde is easily detected in a newly built home. True, it off-gasses very quickly and although I don’t have numbers to back it up, I feel that the Formaldehyde levels in dry compound are very small.

But what if you are building in an apartment where children are currently living, like we recently did. The apartment had a six week old baby and we were posed with the challenge of repairing some sheet rock. The family was not able to move during the renovation. This is not an ideal situation.

Our solution was to seal off the area with taped plastic walls and to make sure we had a window in the plastic enclosure.

We then created a negative vacuum in the work area by blowing a fan out the window. That way air was constantly being sucked into the enclosure and out the window. Due to this constant pressure minimal dust or toxins entered the rest of the apartment.

Likewise the workers took great pains to clean themselves before leaving the enclosure. We left the enclosure up for two days while the bulk of the Formaldehyde off-gassed out the window.

We then painted with zero voc paint, which again for a green builder like us is pushing the boundary of what we consider safe. Even though the paint may be zero voc, if it is a mainstream company (Benjamin Moore, for example) then the paint contains hundreds of chemicals, most of which have only been around for a couple generations.

Like the millions of chemicals humans have created over the past several decades, we don’t really know the long term effects of there high tech paints. You just have to smell a zero voc mainstream paint to know it isn’t harmless. It smells like toxins.

It would be great for our health if we all lived in adobe buildings, surrounded by natural materials like wood, earth and stones. I am convinced cancer rates would plummet  But most houses are not adobe. As New York green contractors our strategy is to educate ourselves as much as possible in non-toxic hypoallergenic building techniques and apply those strategies to existing conditions, which often are not ideal.

When possible we eliminate the toxins. We never use wood with Formaldehyde (often found in cabinets, flooring, counters…). All our floor finishes are natural oil based. We build a lot of clay walls. We have built a lot with non-Formaldehyde sheet rock compound, although it is more expensive and not as easy to work with.

When it is not possible we do our best to understand the risks and to reduce exposure as much as possible. Simple plastic (yuk!) walls and negative pressure techniques do wonders to reduce any dust or toxins in the living space. An educated work force takes care of the other exposure issues (simple things like removing shoes, blowing off our clothes, washing our hands….).

After considering the immediate effects of toxins like airborne gasses and dust on adults and children, we as a green building company are interested in finding and understanding environmental stressors that may contribute to more subtle and long term childhood issues like OCD, ADD and Autism.

This is part of our Build It Forward process where we are not only thinking of the current client but are also considering future generations. That is our gift that we build forward into the renovation. Likewise the client is paying a little extra to benefit people they many never even meet. This process is very different to the slash and burn building technique that dominates the industry and has caused so much harm to our world.

That extra up front building cost that we as a green building company and the client share is pennies on the dollar compared to the massive hidden costs we all end up paying later when we build with no consideration for anything but maximum up front profit.

It is the difference between paying cash for something that you then pass on for free to your children vs. paying with a credit card that has outlandish interest and that you give to your children as a death present.

With this attitude it is easy to understand our obsession with uncovering hidden costs (financial, social and ethical) and paying for them up front. If you want to be perfectly callous, you could say this for us is simply smart long term business planning. aka it is sustainable in the long run.

As we research what is smart and not smart building we never forget the myriad of  political, economic and social interests behind many of these chemicals it is hard to know the truth. For example, for decades “studies” came out saying there is no connection between cancer and tobacco…

So most of the time when we are building we have nothing but common sense to back up a lot of what we do. And we use historical reference. This means we not only look towards the newest science for guidance but we also look into the history of building in different cultures. The Eco Brooklyn office has a whole wall of books on traditional building techniques and cutting edge science techniques.

So when we build, if it makes sense to do something and we have evidence that a certain society utilized the same technique with success then for lack of any other authority we will use our best judgement to decide.

For example, historically clay walls have been used safely since the beginning of time in construction. Recently there is also mounting evidence that the negative ions in clay cause people to feel good. These are the same negative ions found after a rain storm when the air is fresh and the light is crisp.

At the same time there is evidence that one of the ingredients in clay walls contributes to cancer – silica. It is added either pure or in it’s most common form – sand. Of course people have worked with sand since the beginning of time as well.

As builders we look at all this information, determine the benefits and risks and then decide how or whether to use the green building technique. In the case of clay walls we feel that there benefits are great. The ongoing exposure to silica from the wall dusting is minor and we feel does not contribute as an environmental stressor that may contribute in aggregate to cancer.

So in the case of clay we wholeheartedly use it. Other applications, such as zero voc paint or sheet rock compound, we use but with less enthusiasm and with a lot more care in order to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

We understand we can’t eliminate all environmental stressors. Sunshine after all can become an environmental stressor that when combined with other elements (genetics, formaldahyde etc) can contribute to cancer. But we feel the benefits of sunshine far outweigh the risks and we enthusiastically encourage windows in buildings :).

The point here is that as New York green contractors we feel our role is more than to build kitchens for people. We need to educate ourselves not only in how to professionally install kitchen cabinets so they look great and work perfectly but also we need to understand our role is one of amateur doctor, educator and social activist.

Along with the normal questions like, what color are the cabinet doors, how do the hinges work and what handles does the client want, we try to ask ourselves other questions as well, questions that definitely will impact the client much more in the long run.

These questions are different for each situation but they always focus on the triple bottom line of planet, people and profit. What is the health impact on the client and the environment (is the wood free of chemicals and salvaged)? Who wins and who loses financially (are workers paid fairly)?

The questions are endless and the answers many. It is more an ongoing process than a final goal. As long as we keep at it I feel we will continue to be effective New York green contractors.

This blog was inspired by a recent article I read about chemicals and autism. Here are a list of chemicals you can be pretty sure contribute to autism (and cancer, headaches, mood swings, tiredness and just simply a shitty day). If you have time you can google the chemicals to see what products contain them.

If you don’t have time, then use your common sense. A popcorn bag made out of some sort of plastic that you put in a microwave? Duh! Save yourself some time and go smoke a cigarette instead. Not sure if a liquid is toxic? What does it smell like – a new car or a walk in the forest – hint: that new car smell gives rats tumors the size of grapefruit.

Really a better term for this than common sense is being aware of your surroundings. Most people are aware enough to notice a fire in their house. But how many are aware of the smell in their new pillow and whether it will give them cancer in 20 years? Studies show it very well might (although there are plenty of others that show it won’t….but again it is worth looking at who is pushing what study….).

The first step in becoming aware is to pay more attention to your body and to use available information both current and historic to see what works. Available info and history show that certain activities and foods work while others don’t. You don’t need to be a genius to know the basics of exercise and died to live a good life.

And yes, exercise is a great way to reduce the harm of that new paint since an increased metabolism passes the toxins our of your body faster.

Here is the list for chemicals connected to autism..

Lead
Found in paint, dust, drinking water, some canned imported food, older toys, some imported toys, lead-glazed or lead-painted pottery, and some inks.

Methylmercury
Methylmercury is not the same as ethylmercury, the form found in Thimerosal, the controversial preservative formerly used in vaccines and which some believe is linked to autism. Methylmercury is released into air and water mostly from industrial emissions. It is the form of mercury that is found in high concentrations in some fish.

PCBs
The U.S. government banned production of PCBs in 1977, but they continue to be released into the environment from hazardous waste sites and from illegal or improper dumping. PCBs are also found in some types of caulk used in building materials, including in some schools.

Organophosphate Pesticides
These make up the majority of pesticides used on fruits and vegetables ingested by pregnant women and kids in the United States.

Organochlorine Pesticides
Less common, organochlorines are still used. The most infamous organochlorine is DDT, which was fully banned in the United States in 1972.

Endocrine Disruptors
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can potentially interfere with prenatal development. There are literally hundreds of endocrine disruptors, the most well-known of which is bisphenol-A, or BPA.

Automotive Exhaust 
Toxins of concern in motor vehicle exhaust include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulphur dioxide.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
These chemicals are found in an array of sources — from cigarette smoke and burning coal to industrial waste incineration and hazardous waste sites.

Brominated Flame Retardants
These fireproofing chemicals are added to pillows, vehicle seats, fabrics, and some electronics — including computers.

Perfluorinated Compounds
PFCs are found in sources as varied as water-resistant clothing, some non-stick cookware, and microwave popcorn bags.

Alternative solutions to lead contamination

Brooklyn prides itself in its historic buildings, but these same sites pose an often unknown toxicity risk to inhabitants. Although the use of lead products was outlawed decades ago – lead-based paints were taken off the market in 1978 and leaded gasoline was banned in 1989 – lead’s legacy continues to taint Brooklyn’ s soils. Lead does not break down or biodegrade but instead it sits there as a bioavailable chemical in the soil, meaning it can be assimilated by plants and animals. As water moves through soil, the lead leaches through soil profiles or lead laden dust is blown, resulting in the lead spreading to nearby lots.

The EPA advises remediation at lead levels of 400 ppm or higher, yet this is substantially higher than advised in many countries, where 100ppm is the average.

In terms of being exposed to lead, no minimum limit has been found at which lead ceases to be toxic. Small children may suffer brain damage, lowered I.Q., slow growth, and behavior problems, while adults may experience muscle pain, nerve disorders, reproductive problems, cognitive decline, and hypertension.

the Eco Brooklyn show house back garden had 2500ppm lead contamination. We remediated it by removing 6" of soil, then digging a hole to access the non-contaminated soil beneath, which we then spread over the rest of the garden. We turned the hole into a natural swimming pool, pictured here.

As a green builder in a lead-contaminated area, one of our primary concerns on a job site is lead containment. In our renovations we find lead everywhere – paint, posts, soil, pipes, railing ends, to name a few.

Molten lead was used to hold iron fences in blue stone like this iron fence at the Eco Brooklyn show house.

Our focus is to achieve our renovation goals while not exposing workers and clients to lead.

 We achieve this through an understanding of how lead spreads and how to contain it. We constantly test for lead, and even when we don’t find any we act as if there is lead and we simply have not found it. For example, we are very careful to contain dust that may seem harmless yet should it contain lead could be devastating to a family, and we never store construction debris in the back yard (a common practice) if we suspect it contains lead since it would leach into the garden soil.

When New York customers come to us with soil remediation projects for their gardens we see lead concentration numbers around 800-4000 ppm. According the Dr Chang at Brooklyn College, where we get our soil tested, this is a very common range in New York.

Our crew remediating a Brooklyn garden.

Traditionally, the primary objective of lead remediation is to remove the lead from the site and move it to an area where people will not come in contact with it. This is the method recommended by Brooklyn College since it removes the lead from the site and is relatively foolproof if correct measures are taken to isolate the house if we are moving soil from the back yard of the brownstone to the front.

Our current service is limited to this method. Although very effective at soil remediation, it is labor intensive and consumes energy due to the need for trucking the soil back and forth.

Because of the drawbacks of typical soil remediation we are researching alternative means of lead remediation in order to improve our services and find more ecological and cost- and labor-efficient solutions.

Another option is phytoremediation, where plants are grown in the lead-contaminated soil, allowed to absorb the lead in their tissue, and then removed from the site. Accumulator plants such as sunflowers and the Brassica family are especially efficient at pulling lead out of the soil. It is very important that these plants are not eaten or used as compost, as this would return lead to the system or contaminate the consumer.

Phytoremediation is good in that it removes the lead from the site, although it does take many seasons for any significant lead reduction to occur. In New York, where every minute is crucial, and where most homeowners are seeking lead remediation because they have young children, waiting several years before playing in their back yard is not a practical option.

A garden where we implemented phitoremediation as part of our soil remediation strategy. We waited until the weed plants had reached maximum height before removing them from the site with the intention that they absorbed some of the lead in the soil.

In the past 15 years scientists have begun to explore the concept of in situ stabilization, or binding the bio-available lead to other compounds in order to limit the concentration of lead in the soil that is actually digestible and therefore toxic to humans. The idea is to treat lead in place instead of simply moving the problem somewhere else. With these methods, lead will still show up on a simple soil test, but it is no longer free to contaminate plant tissue or humans. In essence it is no longer bioavailable or mobile.

Although some scientists are not keen on this approach since it does not remove the problem but merely renders it dormant, it does have some compelling ecological and cost benefits.

In situ stabilization has a couple elements. One is pH control, the other is binding the lead.

Lead is less bioavailable to plants and people in soils with a neutral pH. Soil pH can be controlled by bioremediation. Compost, or organic matter, balances pH levels in the soil while providing essential nutrients for your plants.

The synergistic benefit of adding organic matter like compost to lead tainted soil is that the lead also binds with the organic matter, limiting the amount of total bioavailable lead.

The most efficient form of in situ stabilization involves the use of chemical additions to the soil. Phosphates are a great option since as well as immobilizing lead they also bind with other heavy metals such as copper, zinc, cadmium, and uranium as well.

Eco Brooklyn using calcium phosphate to reduce lead toxicity on a job.

The EPA description for chemical in situ stabilization reads as follows:

Phosphate Immobilization – Using phosphate to bind with the lead, which will allow the metal to pass through the body if it is inadvertently ingested with significantly less harm; combined with

Green Capping – Using compost and green cover such as sod or planter boxes to create a protective layer above the treated soil

The most ideal phosphate source is fish bones. Judith Wright invented the process used to create apatite II, a phosphate mineral apatite particularly efficient at immobilizing lead (patent #6217775). It binds with lead to crystallize as pyromorphite.

She uses crushed Alaskan Pollock fish bones sourced from fisheries and found that when added to contaminated soil caused a 50% reduction in bioavailable lead within the span of a few weeks. Fish bones are free of contaminants and the use of a fishing industry by-product limits the overall contribution to environmental cost. Catfish bones have also been found to be appropriate for the process.

The product was applied in a large-scale project in the heavily contaminated South Prescott community of Oakland, California. Residents were asked to volunteer for remediation, which was handled by the EPA (the area is a superfund site). They were provided with one to two weeks of hotel accommodation for the duration of the work on their yards, as well as landscaping and design assistance post-remediation.

About 3 lbs of fish bones were tilled into each sq ft of contaminated yard, and then covered with 3-6 in of clean soil and plants. Landscapers would then arrive prepared with a series of conceptual yard designs from which to work from in order to restore the inhabitant’s gardens to the most ideal condition. The eco-friendly conceptual designs emphasized native plants, water efficiency, and maximized outdoor use.

Apatite II remediation site in the South Prescott community (Oakland, CA)

The community embraced this method, as it was more cost efficient and environmentally friendly than typical remove and replace soil remediation techniques, while also reducing the disturbance caused by the remediation efforts (removing and carting tones of contaminated soil is not easy).

The traditional dig-and-haul method is estimated to cost $32 per sq ft while remediation via phosphate addition is generally around $18 a sq ft. However, these numbers are EPA estimates, which tend to be less cost-effective.

EcoBrooklyn charges a lot less than EPA estimates for dig-and-haul remediation but it still isn‘t cheap for something that looks the same once the job is done (dirt with lead or without still looks like dirt). The greatest contributor to our cost is labor and the demands of safely bringing toxic soil through a brownstone.

The importance of doing this correctly cannot be understated and we make no apologies for charging more than contractors who see the job as simply removing dirt from a yard. If done incorrectly more harm than good is done because now you have the lead contaminated back yard dust all over the INSIDE of the house. It is no joke.

EcoBrooklyn is very interested in in situ remediation for this reason. Not having to worry about safely moving toxic soil through a home would reduce our costs, so phosphate addition is something we are looking into seriously.

The active ingredient in fish bones is calcium phosphate. While apatite II is the optimal form of the compound for metal remediation, other forms of calcium phosphate have been tested and found to have significant effect on lead bioavailability. Tricalcium phosphate [Ca3(PO4)2]., dibasic calcium phosphate / dicalcium phosphate [CaHPO4], and hydroxy calcium phosphate [Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2] can also react with lead to form pyromorphite [Pb5(PO4)3Cl] and other insoluble lead compounds.

As mentioned before, a simple lead test will not show improvement post phosphate addition since the lead elements are still present. To evaluate the concentration of bioavailable lead, the EPA recommends obtaining an RBA value (relative bioavailability) via an IVBA assay (in vitro lead bioaccessibility). However, it has not yet officially approved the method for the assessment of phosphate amended soils.

A TCLP (toxic characteristic leaching procedure) test determines the mobility of both organic and inorganic analytes. This test would determine how much of the lead in the soil is mobile post phosphate-amendments, although its cost is prohibitive for a New York brownstone back yard soil remediation budget.

A study completed by the U.S. Military on a small arms firing range found that a 5% addition of hydroxyapatite or tricalcium phosphate lowered lead concentrations by 90-95%.

Dibasic calcium phosphate/dicalcium phosphate is a calcium nutritional supplement that can be obtained from some pharmacies and vitamin shops. EcoBrooklyn obtained pure dibasic calcium phosphate powder from Freeda Vitamins. We have been applying it on the recently salvaged lead-contaminated bluestone and soil in the Green Showroom yard.  Since the powder is designed to be ingested as a nutritional supplement, the particles are not toxic to residents.

After boring out the bluestone that contained the lead filled holes around the fence posts we scrub the bluestone with soap then coat it in calcium phosphate.

EcoBrooklyn is also in the process of obtaining apatite II. Although we will probably not stop removing the lead from the site since this undeniably removes the problem from the site, we do see the possibility of removing less soil and adding in situ remediation as part of the process. With these new tools such as phosphate amendments we hope to offer a wider range of lead contaminated soil remediation services to the New York area.

Natural Fungus Gnat treatments

As a green builder, EcoBrooklyn is a green wall installer. Recently we designed and installed two green walls in the Area Yoga studio on Montague St. in Brooklyn, one in the entry office and one in the studio itself. The luscious plants beautifully enhance the serene and calming vibe of the space and allow for an escape from the stressors of urban life. The cascading vines and tropical hues transform the studio into a peaceful haven.

Intern Malone Matson tending to the yoga studio's living wall

The system we created uses soil with high organic matter content to nourish the plants. Many of them are of tropical origin and therefore have high nutritional needs. In addition, the studio is hot and humid, a requirement for both the plants and the activity type it was designed for. Our building philosophy embraces low-impact building, and as such we do not use pesticides to keep the plants flourishing. Additionally we allow organic matter to compost on site. The wall is irrigated by a gray water system that keeps the soil generally moist.

While the conditions in the studio are ideal for both the yoga participants and the plants on the green wall, they also provide a welcoming environment for fungus gnats. The gnats feed on organic debris, fungi, algae, and nibble on the small roots of plants.

We have developed a multi-layered plan to keep the gnat population at bay. Much like our plant-based mosquito repellent service, we rely on natural sources of gnat control to diminish the population.

Like our mosquito treatments, we attack all stages of the gnat’s life cycle. Fungus gnats have larval, pupae, and adult stages.

Anti-larval treatments

1) The primary treatment involves the use of cinnamon. We are using a cinnamon spray (cinnamon bark, cinnamon oil, water, and baby shampoo to reduce surface tension) applied twice a day to deter the gnats and create an uninviting environment for them. Cinnamon is a fungicide, reducing the larvae’s food supply.

There are two types of cinnamon: ceylon (cinnamomum verum), and cassia (cinnamomum burmannii). Most cinnamon found in conventional North American stores is cassia, but this form is not a fungicide.

cinnamomum verum on the left and cinnamomum burmannii on the right

2) We are also using Summit mosquito/gnat bits, with the active ingredient bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis. These bacteria are a biological control for larval Dipterans such as mosquitoes and fungus gnats due to the presence of cry toxins. When fungus gnat larvae eat bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crystals, the cry toxins bind to receptors in the gut and the larvae cease to eat. The gut wall breaks down and the toxin spores and other gut bacteria enter the larvae’s body, which results in death.

The bits are scattered throughout the soil and replenished every two weeks.

Bt does not affect beneficial insects or plants and is a naturally occurring soil bacterium.

According to the EPA, thirty years of widespread Bt use has produced no confirmed reports of immediate or delayed allergic reactions despite significant oral, dermal, and inhalation exposure to the product. Bt has not been found to affect the endocrine or immune systems. Although it does not proliferate in aquatic habitats, it should not be applied to drinking water.

Studies have shown no toxicity or pathogenicity to birds, non-target insects, honeybees, freshwater fish, and estuarine and marine mammals. However, it has been found to be moderately toxic to Daphnia freshwater invertebrates and is under further study. Since our affected site is an indoor planting site, in this particular case we are not concerned about the affect on Daphnia species.

Anti-adult treatments

1) We have applied yellow sticky pads on wire stems hidden within the foliage. The gnats are attracted to the color. We change these out when the surface area of the pad is covered.

2) We have filled jars with apple cider vinegar with a couple drops of baby shampoo or dish soap to break the surface tension. We poke a couple holes in the lids to allow the fungus gnats in but not out. The jars are better for office spaces and bathrooms, and seem to be quite effective.

Additional treatments:

1) ‘Damping off’ is a condition cause by fungi such as Phtophtora and Pythium. The gnats help the fungi proliferate. The fungi infect seedlings and result in a constricted stem and eventual death. The condition can be prevented by the application of chamomile tea. Although this does not attack the gnats themselves, it treats a related condition.

A plant that has experienced 'damping off'

2) Adult fungus gnats like to lay eggs in moist soil. We recommend applying a sand topsoil, which drains quickly and thus prevents the laying of eggs.

3) Sliced raw potatoes placed throughout the affected area attract larva. These can be deposed of and replaced as often as is deemed necessary (they can get pretty infested).

 

We have been treating the green walls for about two weeks now, and have noticed a huge decrease in the fungus gnat population. The workers and customers at the studio have also had positive reports. Not only is the cinnamon spray affective, the aroma of cinnamon pervades the space and complements the character of the studio. EcoBrooklyn will continue to test natural methods of insect control at its job sites.

 

 

Natural Mosquito Repellent

Brooklyn’s beautiful summer days coax us outdoors to converse and lounge in our parks, backyards, and porches. In the heat of the summer, water features are a welcome cooling sight and draw the abundance of people looking to maximize their free time. However, these same water features are also home to pesky mosquitoes, diminishing the quality of our outdoor experiences.

At Eco Brooklyn, we are developing natural methods of mosquito control. These methods aim to diminish the mosquito’s presence while maintaining the balance of our fragile local ecosystems. We have a mosquito-repellant service with several components and options, which we make available to the community in an attempt to combat the mosquito problem on a larger scale.

Our service uses three main tools to reduce mosquitoes:

1. Landscaping Mosquito repellent plants – yards, pots and living walls.

2. Water features for mosquito predators – Fish and Dragonfly ponds.

3. Natural oils applied to the skin and garden area surfaces.

New York and Brooklyn were originally full of marshes, rivers and wetlands, which most probably had lots of mosquitoes. The difference now is that those areas are gone, and so are all the creatures and plants that kept mosquitoes at bay.

Now, with little left but clogged gutters and putrid waterways like the Gowanus Canal, there are few predators to the mosquito. Add to that the introduction of non-native mosquitoes from Asia that have even less predators here, and you have a real mosquito heaven (for the mosquito that is. Not for us humans).

Mosquitoes are a problem worldwide.  A wide variety of defenses have been put into effect to reduce the impact of the insect, some with more success than others.

Many of these methods have negative affects on the surrounding environment and may in fact be simultaneously attacking the mosquito’s natural predators. Broad-spectrum insecticides such as the organic pesticide Pyrethrum may kill mosquitoes and other insect pests, but they also kill beneficial pest-controlling insects such as ladybugs and lacewings.

Any attempt to reduce mosquito numbers must be founded in the natural lifecycle of the mosquito itself. The mosquito lays its eggs in standing water and hatches as larva before changing into pupae, then emerging and taking flight. Any standing water greater than a bottle cap’s full can serve as a mosquito-breeding site.

As such it is very important to eliminate small containers that have the potential to fill with rainfall and remain inactive. The elimination of all rainwater collection sites, however, is far from necessary. Slightly larger ponds can be effective methods of mosquito control by acting as habitats for the mosquito’s natural predators.

Some of the mosquito’s natural predators are dragonflies, damselflies, bats, and numerous fish species. While bats do consume mosquitoes, they are at most 5% of their diet. Extensive bat preservation policies, while beneficial to the bat, may not in fact greatly diminish the inhabiting mosquito population. Many fish will consume mosquitoes, but some are better adapted to the task than others.

Fish

The highly touted mosquitofish Gambusia affinis can consume 42-167% of its body weight in mosquitoes per day.  Its mouth is faced upwards towards the sky, allowing for more efficient consumption of mosquito larvae. It can tolerate various temperature changes in the water, salinity, decreased food supply, and organic pollutants and is compatible with goldfish, koi, and karp.

A nonnative species, it was first introduced to New York’s waters as a biological control for mosquitoes. However, mosquitofish were found to be ill-adapted to the cooler waters. Most importantly, it is not compatible with native species and very few instances of coexistence exist.

As such EcoBrooklyn does not recommend the introduction of mosquitofish into existing garden ponds. If your brownstone garden already includes a fish pond, we recommend finding a hardy native fish species that can reproduce in the local climate, such as the fathead minnow.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Fish are not the only mosquito predator reliant on a pond source. Dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in foliage above or below the waterline of a pond. They then hatch as aquatic predators, consuming mosquito larva to feed and grow.

Depending on the species, this stage of life takes 1-2 months to 5 years. The larva then climb out of the pond via a plant stalk or rock and seek protection in nearby foliage before taking flight and attacking mosquito adults.

The life cycle of dragonflies and damselflies therefore shadows that of the mosquito, but the predator-prey relationship remains the same effectively controlling mosquito populations. Adult dragonflies and damselflies return to water features to feed and sun themselves, and eventually lay eggs in the pond.

Eco Brooklyn offers a dragonfly pond building service as a component of its mosquito solutions. Dragonfly ponds are a beautiful addition to a brownstone garden, and the insects provide welcome entertainment on a summer’s eve.

15% of North America’s 307 dragonfly species are in danger of extinction, and a new dragonfly habitat can help the graceful insects to reestablish themselves while also providing a welcome solution to the mosquito problem!

A dragonfly pond by Carole A. Brown

A dragonfly pond should vary in depth, with a segment around 2 ft in depth and flat rocks such as slate on the shallow side. Water plants should be included in the deeper parts of the pond to serve as nurseries, with perching sedges and rushes on the side for adults. It is also recommended that a small wildflower grassland be planted on the side of the pond.

The pond should include erect and submerged plants to allow for dragonflies and damselflies at all stages of the life cycle. A small pump can be included to keep the water clean and oxygenated, although this is not necessary for larger ponds. While the best dragonfly ponds are 20 feet wide, this width is not practical for a NY lot nor is it necessary to maintaining a healthy population.

In fact, adapted whiskey barrels, fountain basins, and earthen or plastic lined ponds can all provide welcome habitats as long as there are sloped sides and varying depths. The dragonfly larvae like to hide in the depths of the water to escape predation, but sufficient plant cover may substitute for that in the case of shallower ponds.

A simple stake in the pond can substitute for erect perching plants. It is very important that the pond be 70% in the sun and that no fish are added to the water.

Fish consume dragonfly larva as well as mosquito larva and are therefore incompatible, unless we design the pond to have two sections so there are safe places for the larvae to escape.

Once the pond is built we jumpstart it with a few spadefulls of soil from a nearby pond with a known dragonfly population.

The following plants work well in a dragonfly pond:

Deepwater -submerged plants

Curly pondweed – Potomogeton crispus

Water Starwort – Callitriche spp

Hornwort – Ceratophyllum demersum

Spiked Water Milfoil – Myrophyllum spicatum

Deeper water Floating Plants

Stiff-leaved Water Crowfoot – Rannunculus circinatus

Frogbit – Hydrocharis morus-ranae

Broad-leaved pondweed – Potomegetum natans

Amphibious Bistort – Polygonum amphibium

Yellow Waterlily – Nurphar lutea

Fringed Waterlily – Nymphoides pelatata

Shallow water emergent plants

Flowering Rush – Butomus umbellatus

Water Horsetail – Equisetum fluviatile

Bur-reed – Sparganium erectum

Water Plantain – Alisma plantago-aquatica

Common Spike Rush – Eleocharis palustris

Bog Bean  – Menyanthes trifoliate

Plants

EcoBrooklyn also installs plants as  a direct means of mosquito control. We offer several plant-based services:

-vertical frames planted with mosquito repellant plants, to be hung on the walls of porches, balconies, and other outdoor activity areas. The frames are made of cedar or pine as both of these woods repel mosquitoes.

-plant troughs filled with mosquito repellant plants, placed near outdoor activity areas

-herbal oil concoctions designed to specifically repel mosquitoes; these can be applied directly to the skin or sprayed on the surfaces of an outdoor activity area

-dried mosquito-repellant plants placed into sachets to be hung in desired locations

Below we have organized known mosquito repellant plants into two categories: native and nonnative species. Edible plants are subcategorized. We work with clients to offer aesthetically pleasing plant combinations.




Once planted, it is advised that plants be brushed before engaging in outdoor activities in order to release some of the scent. The compounds citronellal, geraniol, geranial, and pulegone are all known to repel mosquitoes. Plants containing these compounds are the most effective.

It is important to note that the plants themselves will not repel mosquitoes, it is the oil within their leaves that acts as a repellent. This is why brushing the leaves (resulting in small breaks) helps to repel mosquitoes. Our plant troughs and vertical installations  are meant to be a reliable supplier of leaves for your own herbal concoctions while also aesthetically ameliorating your home.

We highly recommend troughs consisting of edible mosquito repellent plants, which provide the additional ecosystem service of providing food.

Herbal solutions

While there are many variations of mosquito repellant liquids, they are made similarly.

The first method uses actual plant leaves from mosquito repellant plants. These are steeped in water, strained, and then the liquid is added to isopropyl alcohol.  Any combination of plants works well as well as using a single plant per batch.

The second method involves mixing 2 ½ teaspoons of any combination of essential oils (basil, cedarwood, cinnamon, citronella, juniper, lemon, myrrh, palmarosa, pine, rose geranium, rosemary) with 1 cup of 190-proof grain alcohol. These concoctions can be applied directly to the skin or used in a spray bottle. If applied to the skin, it may take some experimentation to determine what combination of oils works best with one’s body chemistry.

As described by the above overview, there are many natural means of combating the mosquito problem in Brooklyn. EcoBrooklyn is constantly improving its services through experimentation in the Green Show House and offers its solutions to the community.

These solutions aim to repel mosquitoes, add to the aesthetic value of Brooklyn brownstones, and support native species and the local ecosystem.

Green Building and Food

In my ongoing self education on green building I watched a movie tonight called Forks Over Knives. Food and building are intimately connected, just like fast food and habitat destruction are connected and healthy food and green building are connected.

Keeping our “temple”, our body, healthy is so important. What kind of building you live in, what kind of food you eat, and the people you associate with will for the most part determine your health.

I liked Forks Over Knives a lot. It was a powerful argument for eating a plant based diet. The argument was not moral in terms of animal rights. It was purely health related. Simply put the movie showed conclusive evidence that if you eat a plant based died you will be significantly healthier than if you eat an animal based food.

The movie dispelled a lot of myths about food:

Myth 1: Meat is needed for health and protein. Actually meat is not healthy and not needed for protein. They show a vegan cage fighter as an example and also provide lots of others where meat causes cancer.

Myth 2: Cows milk is healthy and needed for calcium. Actually cows milk is not healthy and not needed for calcium. It actually can sap the body of calcium.

Myth 3: A plant based died does not provide you with the protein you need. Actually it does.

If you are wondering why there can be such contradictions you guessed right: corporate interest. The government scientists who proclaim what is healthy (and thus determine menus in schools, army, hospitals etc) are also working for large corporations who sell food….

Who created the 4 food groups? Corporations lobbied for it to sell what they were selling.

I read a book called Nourishing Traditions, that made a huge impact on me. It argued that most traditional cultures actually ate large amounts of animal fat. It condoned eating butter, eggs, and organic meat. The book made a lot of sense to me so I followed the died.

Two months later I was 15 pounds fatter and my cholesterol had gone too high. “Duh!” you say? Well maybe but the book was pretty amazing. Despite that I backed off the diet and began searching elsewhere. Forks Over Knives is the direction I’m going.

The facts are very clear. Watch the movie. It is empowering.

 

Food and Green Building

In my early twenties I was a vegan for ethical reasons. It only lasted a year because I did not know how to eat a good vegan diet. But ever since then I have been a vegetarian who eats meat….Yes I know that makes no sense.

Anyway, now as a New York green contractor I revisit the dilemma of eating meat constantly.

The facts overwhelmingly show that a vegetarian diet is better for everyone – people, animals, the planet. I spend my days improving the ecology of New York and thus can’t help but ignore that a vegetarian diet furthers my efforts.

At this point I only eat meat from the Farmer’s Market and a local butcher who sells grass fed meat. If you ignore the whole killing part these animals have a pretty good life. I get my eggs from a local farmer and at this point I practically know the free range chickens by name. And I only eat meat sparingly – maybe once a week.

But I still look forward to the day I can eat no meat. The reasons are too compelling.

Below I share with you two powerful videos on this topic. I prefer to focus on positive things since it is much more satisfying than focusing on what is wrong with the world. But it is important to educate oneself and this sometimes requires taking an in depth look at what is wrong.

These videos are not pleasant. They point out the horror of the animal cruelty industry – meat, milk, fur….

I suggest you watch them when you are centered, honest and strong. Moving to a vegetarian diet does not happen overnight. To be effective it must happen over time in order for your lifestyle and body to adapt and lock it in for the long run.

I do believe a vegetarian diet is a good thing to move towards and it makes the lives of so many – animals and humans alike – much better.

After checking out these videos you may want to watch Food Inc.

A Green Wall in Brooklyn

This weekend we get a special treat: we’ll be taking delivery of over 250 tropical plants and installing two indoor living walls. It’s the culminating step in a complete renovation of Area Yoga Studio in Downtown Brooklyn and promises to transform the character of the space.

 

Arranging and installing the plants presents lots of artistic and technical challenges, but a lot of the success of the green wall has taken place quietly over the last few months, in the careful process of plant selection.

We enjoy pushing the envelope of green contracting in New York City, and we like to think outside the box in our species choices too:  the challenge is to avoid the tired old themes of corporate and institutional plantscaping without compromising ease of maintenance and good growth.

We start with a process of elimination based on temperature range, the space available, the access to sunlight and the budget.

Then we look at the things we can control, like light and water, and base our plant selection on what we can provide in a sustainable way. In this case we’re using T5 fluorescent lights, which have a great balance of energy efficiency, affordability and strong, broad-spectrum light for plant growth.  Water for the green wall is recycled from the sink of a nearby bathroom, reducing the building’s water use as well as the outflow to our overburdened sewer system.

Next we list what functions we want the plants in our living wall to perform. Where an outdoor green wall installation would consider the effect on insulation and shading, in this case we were looking mainly for air purification, and managed to include plants that reduce levels of formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia and others.

This brings us to the most gratifying step in species selection: aesthetics. A complex palette of leaves and flowers that will add a sense of depth to the space has to be balanced with need for a meditative atmosphere of concentration. It is a yoga studio after all. At the same time the plants and their built context have to be matched: a challenge in New York when most of the viable indoor plants are native to the faraway tropics.

And finally we have to source our plants. We try to get everything as locally as possible, but there’s only one place in nature where conditions match the low light and moderate temperatures found in a New York City building: the understory of a tropical forest. That’s where almost all houseplants come from, and it means that our closest source is Florida.

Transporting plants over those distances is decadent in energy terms, but it does give us an opportunity to advance state of the art green design. We may have brought the plants a long way, but we’re using them to experiment with indoor living systems for grey water purification, and creating a magical space for Brooklyn yoga students to rest their eyes in shades of green while they practice.  We think that’s work that needs to be explored, if anything to ultimately decide the process is not ecological enough.

So that’s how we arrived at the following list. They’re a beautiful bunch of plants and we can’t wait to get their hands on them.

Anthurium,  assorted colors

Bromeliad Guzmaniam, assorted colors

Gold Dust Croton

ZZ

Dracaena Dragon Series,  assorted varieties

Aspidistra

Spath

Aglaonema, assorted varietes

Spider Plant

Dens Orchid

Bird’s Nest Fern, Japanese and Kangaroo varieties

Nephthytis Allusions, assorted colors

Philodendron

Hoya

Pothos

So come take a class at Area Yoga on Montague street in Brooklyn and check out the new indoor living wall installation. It promises to be magical!

Benefit Corporations law signed and active in New York State!

Finally, a way to pursue the “triple bottom line” (people, planet and profits) with legal backing! It is called the Benefit Corporation (as opposed to a normal C or S Corporation for example). Signed into NY legislation by Governor Cuomo the new law allows businesses to be recognized and filed a for more than their financial goals.

Benefit Corporations have a legal responsibility to all stakeholders, not just the shareholders like a traditional C or S Corps.  This means they are obligated to take into account the effects of their decisions on the community, the environment, employees, etc.  Benefit Corporations can also voluntarily undergo certification by the nonprofit organization B Lab that makes them “Certified B Corporations” and ensures they have a social purpose and benefits for stakeholders.  More on that here .

With the new law, New York is joining states that have already passed similar legislation, including Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia, Hawaii, California.

The key distinctions of Benefit Corporations from traditional corporations are these three things:

1)    Purpose: They must have a corporate purpose to create a material positive impact on society and the environment;

2)     Accountability: They must expand the directors’ and employees’ fiduciary duty to require consideration of the interests of workers, community and the environment and all stakeholder

3)     Transparency: They must publicly report annually on overall social and environmental performance against a comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third party standard

Other than these three additions, the Benefit Corporations is set up and taxed as a traditional corporation would be.  However, for social entrepreneurs like EcoBrooklyn, this changes everything. It protects the mission and purpose of the business and holds up the triple bottom line as a priority.  In other words, it legally never puts profits for shareholders above the stakeholders – something that social businesses have been trying to do for decades.

B Lab is a nonprofit that helped create the Benefit Corporation and now works to establish the option of a Benefit Corporation in all states through legislation.  Much of the above information came from their website.  More information on the requirements and specific details of a Benefit Corporation here.

Turning the Bronx Green with Steve Ritz

Here is a great local green builder from the Bronx. His name is Steve Ritz and he is a classic example of how green building is much more than the daily activity. He may grow vegetables but like he says, he is not a farmer.

Like so many green builders he is driven by love of humanity and life. The building is actually secondary.

As a New York green contractor we totally relate to Steve Ritz drive to turn NY green and healthy. We consider him an ally and inspiration. We share a unified vision of not only lessening our impact on the world but actually going a step further and bringing life back to the world.

That is the difference between doing no harm and actually doing good, treading water and swimming.

Steve Ritz swims.

True Green Building

Unable to sleep at 4am in New York I came accross this video of an abandoned town renovated by a small group of utopians. It is one of the most inspirational green building stories I have seen in a long time. So often green building is housed withing the capitalistic context where it is just another product to be consumed by and profited from financially.

But here we see a story of true green building. For me green building is almost not about the building but rather about the framework of the people involved. If the people have simply shifted to consuming green building just like you might shift from one brand to another then you really haven’t accomplished much.

But as you see in this video the people have shifted their whole context. Green building is no longer a consumer product. Green building is a lifestyle that required a complete change in consumptive habits, a complete change in how people interact with each other and a complete change in how they interact with their surroundings.

I think this change is good. Do we all need to move to an abandoned village on a mountainside to be truly green? Obviously that might help but no. Your baggage always catches up to you no mater where you go.

It is the mentality of these people that is most important, not their place. Very simply put, they have found that a simple, wholesome lifestyle is better than any consumer product. That is the key to true green building. Waki Sabi, man.

I see the irony of consuming this on my computer in the middle of the night in the city that never sleeps. That is the nature of today’s constantly ON planet. It is not sustainable. Time to go to sleep, or at least try to. Some cycles happen by themselves, others you have to help along.

The cycle of finding a greener way of life on this planet will not happen without us helping it. Like the people in this video who worked very hard to achieve what they have.

Clean Air Day

The web site CleanAirNY.org has an email list worth subscribing to. Sponsored by the NY Dept of Transportation, the alerts tell you whenever NY is at risk of smog. You’ll get an email the day before saying, “Hey tomorrow is a clean air day!” with advice on what to do: drive less etc.

It is common sense advice but what is cool is that they are keeping you updated on the air quality of NY, which changes daily.

It is nice to know when the city is especially smoggy since you may be able to plan around it, or AWAY from it….

As a NY green contractor we try to reduce our footprint by bicycling as much as possible. We have a diesel pick up that has been converted to run on vegetable oil from a local doughnut shop but whenever we can we use our bikes and foot scooters for small runs to the hardware store.

Bikes in Copenhagen

Copenhagen has become the model for making streets bike friendly. I went there about 15 years ago as part of a construction and city planning tour to check out the city and it was amazing. At the time they had a 15 year plan to drastically reduce their cars and turn the city over to pedestrians and bikers.

Now 15 years later they are reaping the fruits of that long term vision. Their city is amazing to move around in as a wlaker or biker.

Brooklyn and Manhattan are perfect for a similar conversion. We have a very compact building grid that makes it very easy to walk or bike pretty much anywhere. The biggest impediment is the noise, dirt and danger of the cars. Reduce the cars and it becomes really a great place to live.

DIY Laundry Detergent

Eco Brooklyn’s clients usually get a gray water system. And our clients tend to be natural minded anyway, with a healthy dose of liking to save money. Thus comes the interest in making your own laundry detergent.

Store bought laundry detergents are full of chemicals. In fact they are packed with fertilizer! Plants love laundry water that has store bought detergent. And so do plants in the sea. All our super strong laundry detergent is helping the algal blooms that increasingly are cause for concern since they kill off all other marine life through suffocation.

Stopping the water from getting to the sea in the first place. Thus doing gray water systems is a great start to stop unwanted toxic runoff to the waterways. The second is to make sure that what does get into the water is as natural as possible. Thus the interest in natural soaps.

algal bloom

Above is an algal bloom that occurred off the SW tip of England.

Check out this great one minute video on how to make natural detergent. It is SO easy to make! You only need a couple easy to get ingredients. And they are cheap. Forget about the ecology, the money you save is huge!

These are the ingredients for laundry detergent:
Borax
Baking powder
Soap flakes

Other ingredients you may want to try:
Hydrogen peroxide (great for blood/wine stains)
Few drops organic essential oil (Lavender, mandarin, pine, peppermint, whatever you like)
Organic flower powder (Lavender or rose or whatever)
Scented castile soap
Eucalyptus essential oil or soap flakes (in winter/for colds)
Tea tree oil (antibacterial)

By the way, with simple modifications you can use these basic ingredients to make most of your cleaning products including shampoo, scouring powder, mopping solution, deodorant, and more!

Brooklyn Farmers’ Market and Twinkies

I see the Brooklyn Farmers’ Market as the antithesis of a Twinkie.

The Twinkie is always the same. It lasts forever, is full of chemicals and is made on some distant planet. And never does it create a healthy sense of community.

The Brooklyn Farmers’ Market on the other hand is possibly the most powerful community force since Indians sat around camp fires on the banks of the East River.

The Farmers’ Market is never the same, bursting with a variety of heirloom vegetables, intelligent people and seasonal fare. It does not last forever but rather only happens during a certain window of time at a certain place, thus pulling you into the immediate world around you. It is devoid of chemicals and unites local people and food together. And it creates such a powerful sense of community.

As a Brooklyn green builder I am passionate about things that build community – not only for people but for the diverse species of plants and animals in the world. The Farmers’ Market encourages farming a diversity of small ecosystems where humans and nature interact in a more balanced way.

You can feel this at the Farmers’ Market. The people selling their food are passionate about health and holistic thinking. Everyone has found themselves in a supermarket asking a question of the supermarket employee to realize not only do they know nothing about the food they are stocking but couldn’t care less.

Not so at the Farmers’ Market. I educate myself on food and the environment but I look to these people for advice. The guy who sells cheese not only knows the scientific names of the cheese cultures but what temperatures they work best at and what foods bring them to live. The mushroom vendor knows all the medicinal attributes of their food. Never will you look at a shitaki mushroom the same after hearing about their psychological and physiological impact on your body.

Today I went to the Farmers’ Market, like I do every Sunday and like always it was an enlightening joy. I ran into neighbors, I discovered new fruits and vegetables, and it was pointed out by the bread guy how the organic flower that is sprinkled on the freshly baked bread had a “cool zen garden pattern”:

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I saw exotic colors and unusual shapes. Life had come back to food. Food had come back to life.

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The market was buzzing with smells, music and invigorated people. There was a bioculture. There was life. Healthy life. Despite the sweltering heat people were being part of and actively making community.

Just for fun, for a dose of contrast, I popped into the local box store across the street. Its super air conditioned halls were so cool and refreshing compared to the heat outside. And yet the halls were empty. The place was lifeless. The worker didn’t know if they sold Twinkies but he did point me to the food isle, if you can call it that, just beyond the candy isle and before the footcare  isle. It had an variety packaging, all containing dead food, all a variation of corn syrup and salt.

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It is a sad fact that people actually consider this a place to buy food. The Farmers’ Market, despite its wonder, is VERY expensive. The people from the projects two blocks away do not and can not shop at the Farmers’ Market. They shop at the box store, where you get what you pay for.

You see, the Farmers’ Market charges up front. When you buy an heirloom tomato you are paying for the real cost of food. You are paying for a living wage, for healthy crop yields, for small scale economy, and for health. It is like paying in cash. You leave the market not owing anyone anything.

When you buy the tin of processed food you are not paying up front. Despite the sub par quality of the food, you don’t pay for the soil erosion, the chemical contamination, the diversity extinction, the poor wages or the many other costs associated with selling a product under cost. It is put on a credit card you that you pay later. In fact we may well be paying for many generations to come.

And yet “poor” people can’t afford anything other than buying on credit. The Farmers’ Market is out of their economic reach. They are stuck in a system they not only keep alive by consuming it’s output but are the slaves that run it. They produce the garbage in the big box stores and that garbage is all they can afford.

How do we break that cycle. How do they get access to the Farmers’ Market?

I don’t know. I am a green builder. I know about other things. I however do appreciate the Farmers’ Market and am grateful I am part of its cycle.

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New York Cancer Clusters

The NY Dept of Health released the latest figures for cancer in New York State. It is in the form of an interactive map where you can click on an area and see the amount of cancer cases since 2000 as well as the population.

Zoom into the Brooklyn area and click the “Identify” button to activate the areas. Then you can click on an area to see the numbers.

I immediately looked at the areas around the Gowanus Canal. The old locals say that area has higher rates of sickness. But to my surprise the number of cancer cases around the canal was no greater than other areas in Brooklyn.

What did surprise me was that Red Hook had high rates. For example a typical area in Brooklyn may have 25 cancer occurrences in 1000 people which is 2.5%. If you click around you will see this number is pretty constant.

But the coast of Red Hook has 26 cancer occurrences out of 208 people. That is a whopping 13%. It is strange that only 208 people are listed but that is a pretty barren area. See below for the area I’m talking about.

These numbers are still raw data. So for example a hospital in an area will show the area to be very elevated and you won’t know why.

But the Red Hook info is worth looking into further. It is coincidentally bordering on the Red Hook Park that has been in the news lately for being highly toxic. Interesting….Summer is coming, anyone up nice picnic on the Red Hook Park lawn?

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