Chemical vs. Natural Swimming Pools

Natural swimming pools or living spas are much more common throughout Europe, but are increasingly becoming more popular in the United States. Now that the spring weather is beginning to surface, it’s time for Eco Brooklyn to open up our Natural Pool for the swimming season. We use it as a showcase pool for clients considering installing a Natural Swimming pool in New York. And we also use it to cool off and enjoy during the summer!

So how does this compare to tradition swimming pool maintenance? Like our design philosophy, Eco Brooklyn’s swimming hole should blend low energy costs with little to no waste or hazardous chemicals.

Here is a simple diagram from Inspiration Green that depicts exactly how natural swimming pools function.

Self Sustaining Pool

Natural Filtration

 

The first step in opening our natural spa is to turn on the tiny 100 watt water pump that feeds the soiled plants, bacteria, and critters that filter the pool’s water.

Next we turn on a very small aeration pump which enriches the water with oxygen, to encourage more plant growth and aerobic bacteria function.

Lastly Eco Brooklyn interns get to spend the morning scooping up algae that has accumulated over the winter. Adding some barley straw is also helpful in controlling algae by producing lignin, which is then converted to hydrogen peroxide in the presence of sunlight.

Natural Swimming Pond

So how does opening a chemically intensive pool compare?

Step one is controlling the pH by keeping it at 7.0 or slightly below. If the pH is above 7.5 the chlorine is only about 10% effective. In most cases this involves the addition muriatic acid.

Step two is to check the alkalinity, which should be between 80-140 ppm. Alkalinity is a measure of the water’s resistance to a change in pH. An improper balance of pH and alkalinity can reduce the effect of sanitation, cause cloudiness, and/ or deteriorate the concrete or siding.

Step three involves determining your Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and Calcium Hardness. Both of these measurements will affect how corrosive the water is and often requires draining the pool.

Step four is backwashing the filter for cleaning when the gauge moves from 8-10 psi away from clean.

Step five comprises of cleaning the skimmer basket and scrubbing the walls of the pool weekly to prevent plaque build-up.

Lastly, running the filter and vacuum skimmer, often for a couple hours a day, for proper water sanitation is essential.

Considering the immense construction costs, the harsh chemicals additives, high energy pumps, and the endless hours of labor to produce and maintain a traditional swimming pool, it’s no wonder the Natural Pool phenomenon is catching on in America. The aquatic ecosystems are almost completely self-sustaining, and after the initial cost of construction you are basically done with the expenditure.

Eco Brooklyn is very excited to be a Natural Swimming Pool installer for the New York area. We feel the benefits to building a natural swimming pool, or even better to converting a chlorine pool to a natural one, are massive. Because of it’s natural features and fresh water t is such a joy to swim in and look at. It also adds so much to the local ecosystem.

-Anthony Rivale

How Can We Clean Up the Gowanus?

Before New York City as we know it today existed, the Gowanus was a tidal wetlands and stream ecosystem. In the 1860s, the area was dredged to become the Gowanus Canal, a major route for oil refineries, tanneries, chemical plants, manufactured-gas plants and other heavy industries who settled along the canal’s banks. These factories dumped wastes and leached pollutants like PCB’s and heavy metals into the water, putrefying it into a lifeless sludge.

NY green builders

By the 1960s much of these industries had left the area. Now the Gowanus’ is surrounded by residential neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, and Park Slope. Despite industry’s absence, the water has remained so toxic that the US Environmental Protection Agency has declared it a Superfund site.

Though there have been efforts to clean the canal, we have not progressed far enough. In 1911, The Gowanus Flushing Tunnel was installed. This tunnel, in an attempt to get rid of the canal’s powerful stench, flushed its dirty water into the Buttermilk Channel. Alas this effort made little to no difference. In 1999, the water flow was reversed so that clean water from the Buttermilk Channel would be pumped into the Gowanus. The idea was to add oxygenated water to the canal to eliminate the anaerobic bacterias which cause the bad odor.

ny green roof

Today the odor has waned; though you can still get an unpleasant stench after a rainfall. Still the water remains contaminated. It is reported that the air around the canal is “acceptable” in terms of contamination standards. People have the right to use the canal for canoeing and such, but the EPA strongly warns against swimming in it or eating fish from the canal. Of course, “acceptable” is not good enough for those of us living near the canal.

The canal continues to be polluted today by toxins that are still leaching from the former industrial sites, street surface runoff, and combined sewage outflows (CSOs). CSOs are the city’s solution to flooding. When a rain is so heavy that a water treatment center cannot support the inflow of water, it will release a combination of raw sewage and rainwater into the ocean. (Watch a video)

brooklyn landscaping

Landscape architects and designers have proposed numerous ideas for how we can creatively rehabilitate the Gowanus Canal. “CSO-to-Go,” developed by Local Office Landscape Architecture, is one such design. The architects recognized that New York City’s waterfront property is too expensive to purchase for a city-funded project and worked their design around that reality. Their solution was a portable barge that would house a series of phytoremediation tanks. Each tank would hold plants that absorb specific contaminants like heavy metals, petrochemicals, and excess nutrients out of the water. The barge could be parked directly at the outflow point of the CSO; that way the dirty water is caught and treated before entering the ocean.

soil remediation

The barge could be moved to various other outflow points around the city. Residents and tourists could visit the site to learn more about the problem and the process of cleaning it up. They would even be able to monitor the pollution levels at each tank to see how well the  phytoremediating plants are working.

eco-landscaping

“CSO-to-Go” and related projects have yet to be implemented as they lack the funding needed. We hope the city of New York and the EPA continue to make strides in cleaning up the Gowanus Canal, but until then there are a few things that those of us  living in the Gowanus’ watershed (the area of land that eventually drains its water into the Gowanus– see image below) can do.

ny pond designer

By reducing our water consumption across the board, we can mitigate how much water we are putting into the sewer system. We can do this by installing low-flow faucets and shower heads, using native plants that require less intensive watering, and by making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of water we use on a daily basis. Also by creating more green spaces in our city, we can provide storm water with a place to infiltrate instead of washing over pavement and into the sewer system (see “Bioswale Basics“). This could be done by installing more garden space in your backyard or a green roof.

As an NY green contractor and landscape designer, Eco Brooklyn can help you find ways to reduce your water consumption in your home and increase your permeable surfaces/green spaces in your yard. Please contact us to learn more about how you can help protect the Gowanus!

 

By: Malone Matson

Abundance, The Book and it’s myopic viewpoint

I recently heard about a book called “Abundance” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, so I checked out Diamandis’ TED Talk available below. He has some good points, namely that technology will continue to create abundance for humans…..but his view is so incredibly human centered I am skeptical. It reminds me of when humans thought the earth was the center of the universe.

To make my point I counted the key words in his speech:

1. All words like “human”, “people” or references to people like “A lady…”, “All of you…”.
2. All words like “technology” or references to technology like “computer”, “phone”
3. All words like “oil”, “gas”, “fossil fuel”
4. The word “Abundance”
5. The words Nature, Plants, Animals or references like “Dog”, “Tree”

The numbers came out like this:
1. Human words: 85
2. Technology words: 65
3. Gas words: 1
4. The word “Abundance”: 3
5. Nature words: 0

His message? Humans are the only life forms that are important, and our intelligence will harness technology to stay great. Technology is what has driven us to our current success (not oil). Technology will give voices to the voiceless (all humans).

Plants, other animals and nature in general is not part of the equation, and if they are then they are simply raw materials to harness (sun, water etc).

He does mention nature three times and water fourteen times but they are purely human centric:
1. He uses the word “environment”: For survival reasons we are programmed to monitor how the “environment” can harm us. In this case the word is not really about nature but about the things surrounding humans (cars, muggers, falling pianos).
2. He mentions “climate crisis” and “species extinction”. It is used dismissively, though: Yes we have problems like climate crisis and species extinction but still humans are great.
3. His mentions of water are nothing to do with nature but merely about how humans can use technology to collect the raw material “water”.

I don’t disagree that technology and humans are great but I have a problem with his myopic view that excludes all other life forms. How different is his view to that of a white male a hundred years ago who’s decisions may have never considered women or blacks? I guess he is more open minded because he has broadened his view to include all humans?

His web site lists people who endorse his view:

  • Jeff Skoll Co-founder of eBay
  • Arianna Huffington CEO, Huffington post
  • Richard Branson Chairman, the Virgin Group
  • Ray Kurzweil Inventor & Author, The Singularity is Near
  • Matt Ridley Author, The Rational Optimist
  • Elon Musk CEO, Tesla Motors, Co-founder, PayPal
  • Stewart Brand Author, Whole Earth Discipline
  • Timothy Ferriss #1 NY Times bestselling author
These people are all pillars of what I call new capitalism, which is a slight variation on old capitalism. They love technology, they still love growth, and they exalt the power of humans to overcome all obstacles. Yea, they are pretty similar to old capitalists, the ones who trashed the planet in the first place.
Only this time they are way cooler. Capitalism Lite; still the great consumerist taste but with less guilt ridden calories.
They are in denial that all our progress so far has not been technology but an abundance of cheap energy in the form of oil. When a barrel of oil provides more energy than ten years of one person’s labor you have a society moving so fast they make a coke addict look sloth-like.
Could fuel have been the jumping stone to get us to our next technology driven stage? Maybe.
But that is not my point. When your global plan completely ignores the opinions of 99.99% of the planet’s life forms, as Diamandis’ human centered viewpoint does, you are being extremely narrow minded.
His presumption is that humans and technology can do it alone. We are that great. My answer to that is, first why would you want to? and, second, I don’t think so.
Diamandis and his cronies need to wake up and smell the flowers. They need to calm down from their oil induced speed binge and realize that the last hundred years were a blip in the planets overall trajectory. And we may very well look back at these hundred years as a momentary time of “irrational exuberance” and unrealistic bubbles.
Over the past several thousand years humans have moved from infancy to youth to middle age. I think it is time to start acting like adults and not teenagers with our father’s car, regardless of what fuel that car uses.
How a grown up would act is for another blog post, or more accurately it is all the blog posts on this site. The answers are not single bullets. They are a web of connected awareness that go far beyond humans and their meager little technological playthings.

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.

Riverside Park: Flushing Away the Porter Potties, Adding Composting Toilets

In 1875, Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Riverside Park, in 1935 Robert Moses built a highway right thought, but somehow the park has prevailed and it now going to be home to one of the greenest structures in the city – a composting toilet.

Riverside Park is home to the cities only clay tennis courts, this of course results in waits up to two and three hours. Waiting on a grassy knoll with perfect views of the Hudson doesn’t sound to shabby, but as nature calls, there is an inevitable need for a bathroom. That is why the Riverside Clay Tennis Association has decided to build a facility that will accommodate the needs of the parks visitors while being ecological, something public toilets rarely are.

The Riverside Tennis Association has commissioned Rick Cook of Cook & Fox to design a facility equipped with composting toilets and solar panels. Cook & Fox are also responsible for the LEED certified Bank of America tower across from Bryant Park.

Cook & Fox are taking this incredible concept one step further by designing this center to the Living Building Challenge standard, which is one of the toughest green standards out there. We recently wrote a blog about Bucky Fuller and the Living Building Challenge -a standard that we at Eco Brooklyn aspire to.

Living Building Challenge is difficult to achieve for multiple reasons, but the most challenging aspect of the standard is the water limitations. Buildings have a hard time qualifying for the LBC because bathrooms use such a large amount of water. The standard is so tough that in most places it is illegal, as most building codes demand a connection to water and sewer – the LBC standards call for net zero water (capturing rain water and discharging it onsite).

The design proposed a small building; the majority of it located underground, equipped with composting toilets, the compost generated by the toilets will be used to fertilize the greenery. Which is the one of the main reasons that we, at Eco Brooklyn ae so excited about this project. As green builders, we have installed numerous composting toilets. The design also incorporates photovoltaic panels which will be scattered in tree-like formations to power the building. Solar panels are another element that makes this project to actractive to NY Green Contractors like ourselves. We currently have plans to install solar panels on the rook and siding our the Ecpo Brooklyn Showhouse.

Composting toilettes typically use about three ounces of water compared to the 1.6 to 0.8 gallons per flush that typical high efficiency toilets use.

The design incorporates other green aspects besides composting toilets and solar panels. The architects plan to use recycled building materials, a green roof planted with native species and blast furnace slag in the concrete to circumvent the carbon heavy manufacturing process of cement.  For the past two weeks, we have been researching and planting native plants in the Show house. Last week we were weeding and plantings native species on a green roof in Brooklyn. We are excited to see that Cook + Fox have taken native species into account to create this NY design.

The Green design came out of necessity. The high water table and proximity to the Hudson makes it impossible to install a septic tank and leach field, in addition to those obstacles there is no connection to the city sewage system (sewage lines stop on the other side of the Henry Hudson Highway). Essentially their only option was to go green. Once again green building pushes past limitations that we humans have created for ourselves.

The bathrooms replace two portable toilets, a small brick shack and a repurposed shipping container that is used for storage; it will be built on the southeast corner of the courts.

The facility’s estimated cost is around $5.5 million and is scheduled to open this summer.

Bioswale Basics

Do you ever think about where all that water goes when it rains?

In a natural system, most rainwater gets absorbed in the ground where it falls. It gradually flows, or percolates, through the soil until it reaches the water table (the point in which an underground area is saturated with water.) As the water percolates through the soil, it gets filtered of contaminants like pathogens, pollutants, and silt. Gravity slowly pushes the groundwater to a retention area, a place that holds the water like a river, lake, or the ocean.

Managing stormwater

In an urban environment where rainwater falls on impermeable surfaces, surfaces that water cannot pass through like parking lots, the rain becomes runoff which flows over the impermeable surfaces picking up pollutants like lead and then directly into a manmade drain. This water flows through a city’s sewer system where it is eventually treated, which takes a lot of energy and money, and is then released (usually not entirely clean and with harmful chemicals like chlorine that are used to treat the water) into local waterways. During times of flooding, which are becoming more frequent in the Northeast, sewer systems become overwhelmed and cities are forced to release untreated, raw sewage into nearby rivers and oceans.

urban runoff

 

To reduce the damaging effects of flooding and wastewater overflow, urban dwellers should create more permeable surfaces like gardens, specifically ones with bioswales. A bioswale is a low-lying area designed to remove silt and pollution from runoff and to manage flooding.

Many considerations need to be taken when designing a bioswale:

  • Location: must be in a low-lying area where water tends to collect.
  • Gradient: flat areas or areas with a slope greater than 5% are not practical for bioswales.
  • Drainage: use highly permeable mediums like gravel or coarse sands. Do not build a bioswale in an area with a high water table.
  • Plants: choose plants that are both flood and drought resistant. Native plants are better because they do not need fertilizer, will handle the climate more heartily, and will increase biodiversity.
  • Purpose: design your bioswale to solve a specific problem like flooding, high levels of nitrogen/phosphorus, pollution mitigation, or lack of biodiversity.

As an NY green contracting company with landscape design services, Eco Brooklyn can help you design and install a bioswale that will effectively resolve flooding problems, reduce the amount of contaminants entering local waterways, increase groundwater volume, and aid local biodiversity all while adding beauty to your backyard.

backyard flooding brooklyn

This is an example of a bioswale designed specifically to reduce the effects of flooding. It is placed at the lowest point in the yard and is sloped downward to move water to either a drain or retention area. The gravel allows water to enter the ground quickly to stop flooding. We would add more plants to this one if it were ours.

NY green builder

Rain Gardens are a type of bioswale. They tend to have a more aesthetic focus while still redirecting stormwater back into the ground and away from sewer systems.

As part of the city’s plan to retrofit New York, a number of 5 x 20 ft bioswales will be built along city streets.  Read more here.

Eco Brooklyn is planning on building a 5 x 13 ft tree planter that will act partly as a bioswale in the sidewalk outside the Green Show House. We are getting our applications in and revising our design so we hope the project will be underway shortly! More on that as we progress…

 

ADDENDUM: WATER CONTAMINANTS 101

  • Silt: Silt is made up of fine particles of soil, sand, and dust. It is easily transported by runoff because it is so light. When silt enters a waterbody it tends to linger at the surface of the water and eventually settles at the bottom. Not only is the cloudy effect of silt unattractive, but it also blocks sunlight from reaching the aquatic plants inhabiting the water body. Without sunlight those plants will die, diminishing habitat and food sources for aquatic animal life. Aquatic plants also play a major role in adding oxygen to the water. Without them, water bodies can become anaerobic, devoid of oxygen, which makes them inhospitable to plant and animal life and undrinkable for humans.
  • Phosphorus and nitrogen: These are the two elements that drive plant growth. Excess nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) enter groundwater mainly from fertilizer that gets washed away as runoff. Large amounts of N and P in waterbodies tend to support large algal blooms. Algae is microscopic and lives at the surface of the water. With enough sunlight, N, and P, blooms can become so large that, like silt, they can block sunlight from entering the water, starving the aquatic plants. When the algae eventually dies, it sinks to the bottom of the water where it will be decomposed, a process that uses up oxygen, thus subtracting further from the water’s oxygen levels. Further, some algal blooms can be toxic, harming the animal life around it, or can be ingested by fish then making them toxic for humans to eat. If you use fertilizer in your yard, consider using plants that have high-phosphorus absorption.
  • Pathogens: A pathogen is a virus, bacteria, or other microorganism that can cause disease. Pathogens are most commonly introduced to water through agricultural runoff of manure and animal wastes.
  • Pharmaceuticals: When we ingest drugs, traces of them are excreted in our urine. These chemicals make their way through the sewer system and into local water bodies. Scientists are not entirely sure how much of an impact pharmaceuticals really have in water systems. It has been suggested that increased levels of estrogen, which come from birth control pills, may be effecting sexual development of some aquatic animals.
  • Heavy metals: Heavy metals enter the hydrosphere mainly through industrial practices like mining and smelting. Heavy metals are dangerous because in large quantities they can be poisonous to humans and animals. If your backyard has a lead problem, for example, use plants that absorb metals. Eco Brooklyn also offers soil remediation services.
By Malone Matson

 

The Living Building Challenge- Winner of the 2012 Buckminster-Fuller Challenge

Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos.   What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”

 

One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.

His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.

According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”

In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative.  According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:

-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.

-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.

-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.

-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.

-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.

-a VISIONARY PATH TO A RESTORATIVE FUTURE

The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.

For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.

With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”.  This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-­‐toxic, net-­‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-­‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”

This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.

 

https://ilbi.org/lbc  -living building challenge website

http://challenge.bfi.org/Winners/Challenge_Winners

http://bfi.org/  -Buckminster-fuller institute website

Natural Pools

We at EcoBrooklyn engage in a number of exciting green building projects and experiments throughout the year, but with the hot months ahead at the top of our list is the natural pool for the show house and with its completion so close we can almost feel the cool, energetic, life infused water on our toes.

A “Natural pool” is more about incorporating nature into the design and functions of the pool, harnessing natural processes to maintain quality, swimable water and blurring the line between built and naturally occurring.

A healthy body of fresh water has a number of checks and balances that keep it in balance. A Natural Pool simply recreates these elements. Nature does the rest.

A Natural Pool has the swimming area and then another area called the regeneration zone. This zone contains plants and, most importantly, surface area usually in the form of gravel that microbes can live on.

The plants and microbes compete with algae for food and since you pack it with surface area the microbes beat out the algae. In essence you create an environment where food (leaves, soil, bugs, and other organic matter) is scarce, so what food there is becomes eaten by plants and microbes instead of algae.

The process is fairly flexible and can be as simple or complex as you like as long as you have a few basic elements:

-No chemical fertilizers/ pesticides used adjacent to the site

-Natural filtration system

-A variety of different plants, surface area and microbes to promote a balanced ecosystem

The beauty of natural pools

The primary appeal of a natural pool is the absence of the typical cocktail of harsh chemicals designed to kill pretty much everything in the water, except the swimmer more or less.

The second attraction is the positive ecological effect; this is something you can build with salvaged and recycled materials while helping to reinstate local/native ecosystems.

As with most things green there is a degree of time and thought investment not usually associated with the typical energy sapping, chlorinated eyesore.

there’s no competition really

 

Maintenance is still simpler and less expensive, but one needs to learn and follow a set of steps and rules, which as one grows with the pool these steps become second nature, or perhaps first nature…

Thankfully there are always pioneers braving new frontiers and providing the general populace with valuable resources and tools to implement in their own projects.  The Europeans especially have been at the forefront of the natural pools race for over a decade now. They have built massive public natural swimming pools that cater to thousands of people with great success.

beautiful design

wide range of options

Below is a list of websites and organizations specifically geared towards natural pool construction; they provide excellent technical suggestions for all types of designs and constraints as well as helpful trouble shooting for any problems that may arise.  Also they can provide you with competent local green contractors and builders in your area familiar with this sort of construction.

Eco Brooklyn hopes to become a leading natural pool installer in the New York area. We feel this is an excellent option since it adds so much to a garden, both for humans but for native wildlife.
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/2002-08-01/Natural-Swimming-Pool.aspx
http://www.biotop-gmbh.at/

http://www.ibnature.com/

http://www.totalhabitat.com/p&p.html

http://www.clear-water-revival.com/

 

-Michael DiCarlo

Review: Anthony Archer-Wills, Water Garden Designer

green pond designer Anthony Archer-Wills is a world class water garden designer who has built over 2,000 ponds, water gardens, waterfalls, and streams across the globe.

He has several books out, among them The Water Gardener and Designing Water gardens: A Unique Approach.

Gennaro Brooks-Church, Eco Brooklyn’s Director, had the opportunity to take a course with him on designing natural swimming pools, hosted by the US distributor of Bionova Natural pools. Eco Brooklyn is building a natural swimming pool at the Green Show House.

Anthony sets the bar for water design. He is best known for his mimicry of natural water systems and the resulting subtlety of his designs. Where most “watershapers” go wrong, Anthony says, is how they design the inflow of water. Often it is not well-concealed or does not attempt to appear natural. Water fountains, for instance, do not resemble any kind of natural event (and, if I might add, increase water consumption through evaporation.) That’s why they look out of place, tacky even.

The most successful water gardens are the ones that you can’t tell are manmade, that look as if nature had placed them there hundreds of years ago. Not only are they more aesthetically appealing but they also work more harmoniously with nature. Read more here.

Here are some examples of his work:

Backyard pond design NY

NY Green Contractor

NY Sustainable construction

 

The one hitch in his amazing designs is the amount of energy used to pump water. His projects are sometimes so large – lakes, rivers – that the pumps used to move the water are massive. Though we are in complete awe of his art there is definitely an element of energy waste.

Some of his clients have the money to move mountains, and although the water work is amazing, the drive behind the work is not always ecological but rather somebody’s desire to have a lake view where there previously wasn’t one, cost and waste be damned.

Building water places, or in some cases rebuilding them, is important work. Of paramount importance is to consider the amount of waste produced and what is done with it during the construction phase, how much energy is used to maintain the water system, and what the water garden’s implications are for the surrounding ecosystem (it is likely that such water systems add to the biodiversity of an area but you cannot forget about the area that was destroyed to make it).

Eco Brooklyn is interested in learning from Anthony Archer-Wills’ naturalistic design and applying those techniques to smaller scale, low or zero energy green water gardens, natural swimming pools, streams and pond designs in New York City.

By using gravity fed rain runoff and gray water with solar power we are learning how to make water features perfect for the New York City garden.

As NY green contractors and innovators of sustainable design, we are pushing ourselves to build with as little ecological impact as possible while trying to maintain the design tradition pioneered by Anthony Archer-Wills.

Our latest job is being build in a Brooklyn garden that had very high lead levels in the soil. We used the digging of a small natural swimming pool as an opportunity to flip clean soil from deeper in the ground over the contaminated soil.

Then, using walls from salvaged brick and broken sacks of cement we built a container. The end result will be a pool for people to play in that uses no chemicals and integrates naturally with the rest of the garden, designed by Eco Brooklyn with stones and native plants to look wild.

Another job we completed was a pond and little stream.

We wanted the pond to look like it was as natural as possible.

Eco Brooklyn was largely inspired by Anthony’s work in the design of this pond and waterfall. We tried to imagine how the rocks and pebbles would fall and settle in a real river, where riparian plants would most likely take root, what kind of nooks create the best hiding places for our fish, and so forth.

Keeping in mind Anthony’s warning, we have tried to make our water source as well concealed as possible so that it looks like the water is seeping out of the rocks.

We are constantly rearranging the pond’s plants and rocks in an effort to best match nature (and, to be honest, just for fun.) But we feel that this constant rearranging is yet another imitation of nature as we know that rocks, plants, and animals are always in motion in a stream environment.

Green water garden/green pond

Here is a video of a robin bathing in our stream!

Fracking Song

Check out this song about fracking. As a New York green contractor we do a lot of eco kitchens because people want cabinets without formaldehyde, a cancer causing chemical. Fracking releases formaldehyde into the water, as well as Benzene, both very toxic and cancerous chemicals. We understand these chemicals and have made a conscious effort to remove them from our services. We are not interested in the chemicals coming back in our tap water.

Bus Roots on Bus Routes

Interactive designer Marco Castro has recently developed an innovative idea about how to efficiently increase green space in overcrowded urban settings through an interesting new reinterpretation of the term “green vehicle”.  The “Bus Roots” project is working to establish rooftop gardens atop buses in New York City and around the country so as to counteract the negative impacts of an environment warmed by cities lined entirely with asphalt, concrete and steel.

Castro has developed his first Bus Roots prototype with a garden topped bus known as the Bio Bus displaying a 15 ft2 green roof weighing a total of 225lbs (the estimated weight of one NYC public transit passenger).  With 4,500 buses in New York City’s Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) Fleet, Castro estimates a potential 35 acres of garden space lies atop New York City buses alone.

Bus Roots aims not only to beautify the city but to concurrently utilize green roof buses to reduce rising temperatures and increase CO2 and storm water capture. With this project Bus Roots aims to stimulate the conversation on urban planting, nomadic agriculture and environmental remediation that is imperative to the future of urban planning.   Since Ecobrooklyn is a New York green roof installer we appreciate and support this concept.

Digital mockup of a bus-top garden (Image: Marco Castro Cosio)

More information about Bus Roots is available at their website.

 

Gardening, Done Vertically

The folks from GardenUp just stopped by the EcoBrooklyn Green Show House to tell us more about their great new products for gardening.  They’ve created a simple vertical system based on hydroponic technology that is great for small spaces, easy-to-use and highly efficient – perfect for city living.


An example of one of GardenUp’s towers in Philadelphia

Basically, the vertical garden towers GardenUp has created can grow herbs, vegetables, flowers, whatever you like, in a small self-contained space.  The towers can be used indoors or out and could be a wonderful addition to a green roof or backyard.  They even have different sizes for home or commercial use.  We think it’s a great step forward in the realm of sustainable, locally grown food!

Check them out here

Gennaro Brooks-Church, founder of EcoBrooklyn meeting with Scott Seger, CEO and Boris Alergant, VP of Strategic Business Development and Planning for GardenUp

As a New York green contractor they contacted us to see if we could incorporate their product into the eco gardens we build and design. The GardenUp planter could be a great addition to any edible garden design.

Sub-Irrigation Planting – the most sustainable urban gardening method?

Being a New York green contractor we consider urban farming to be an important consideration for every project. Given every building has walls and a roof it is always worth asking wither they are well suited for vertical or roof farming.

Sub-Irrigation Planting Systems (SIPs) are a perfectly sustainable answer to urban farming, according to Frieda Lim, creator of Slippery Slope Farm, a rooftop micro-garden in Brooklyn that utilizes this technology.  This is not your typical urban garden – the beds are portable for one, the plants are also healthier, they produce far more veggies per square foot and require up to 90% less water.  Pretty impressive for a garden that can be created in just about any outdoor space available, requiring very little green thumb and using virtually whatever containers you have available (salvaged wooden boxes, storage tubs, re-purposed soda bottles)
These benefits are all basically achieved by watering from below (hence sub-irrigation).  A water and air reservoir is contained at the bottom of each plant container, with the soil and actual plants suspended above.  The plants get their water through their roots, and the owner waters them through a “fill tube” which eliminates the waste of traditional top soil watering.

Want to get started on your own SIPs garden this spring?  Check out the website, http://www.slipperyslopefarm.us/index.html, where Frieda offers services for those who need help designing and constructing all types of sub-irrigation systems.  She also explains the methodology in more detail here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el1tn0FpiVE

Happy Gardening!

Dual flush toilets in American homes

New York green contractors and homeowners are applying a modern innovation to an age-old technology.

The body creates two types of waste, so the logical approach is a toilet capable of two types of flush: a gentle gurgle for liquid waste and a more generous gush for solid waste, resulting in water conservation through more efficient performance.

Dual flush toilets originated in Australia and have gained popularity through government rebates for homeowners converting from old single flush toilets.  In America, dual flush toilets are also catching on among conservation-conscious green contractors and policy-makers.

The Energy Policy Act of 1992 mandates that toilets must use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush.  Dual flush toilets push this limit further by using only a half flush, less than a gallon, for liquid waste and reserving the full flush for solid wastes.

Dual flush toilets are also widely available for the homeowner: leading brands like Kohler and American standard offer many models, and while dual flush toilets tend to be more expensive and complex than their single flush cousins, Amazon now sells retrofitting kits that allow homeowners to convert their own toilets for as little as $22.95.

As a practical downside dual flush toilets generally need more frequent cleaning, but homeowners can also refer to a toilet’s Maximum Performance (MaP) score to purchase a toilet that meets their needs.  Scores range from 250-1000: the higher the number, the more powerful the flush.  A high efficiency toilet, which can use as little as 1 gallon per flush, is required by the EPA to operate at a minimum MaP score of 350, sufficient for daily household use.

Let’s calculate each toilet’s daily water consumption, assuming the average person defecates once and urinates six times during the course of the day.

Single flush: 7 flushes x 1.6 gal/flush = 11.2 gal

Dual flush: (1 flush x 1.6 gal/flush) + (6 flushes x 0.8 gal/flush) = 6.4 gal

High efficiency: 7 flushes x 1 gal/flush = 7 gal

The dual flush toilet still wins out in overall efficiency (0.91 gal/flush), but only when used properly.   High efficiency toilets are another great option that simplify the process and can potentially be cheaper to purchase.  Either way, as green-conscious builders and homeowners in America struggle to catch up to Australian and European counterparts, expect to see many more of these innovative toilets replacing standard ones in both public buildings and private homes.

Harvard installed dual-flush toilets as part of their commitment to moving toward sustainable facilities and maintenance.  Click through for more examples of energy-efficient and green technology in Harvard’s buildings.

Newsflash: Oysters Occupy the Gowanus

We are now accepting checks to buy oysters.

Here’s the deal: around the corner from lies the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal. The industrial landscape of this former tidal creek is surreal in its bleakness – but to us it offers the exciting possibility of a rock bottom wasteland that has nowhere to go but up.

Kate Orff gave this inspiring TED talk on her vision to restore the Gowanus Canal (highly recommended). The idea is that most of the canal pollution can be filtered by growing oysters. Simply put, they get a food source, and we get clean water. And oysters. Maybe. Later. A lot later.

Great idea. Why wait? What does a bucket of oysters costs anyway? Why not buy them, chuck them in the canal and see what happens.

We call it Guerrilla Remediation.

We see no need to sit and wait for someone else to fix the Canal. It’s our community and we don’t need billions of dollars and a doctorate degree for permission.

So join us!

Send a check and we’ll take care of the rest. We’ll buy the oyster spawn and propagate them (that’s fancy for “throw oysters in canal”). There is no overhead so your donation will be used to directly purchase seed oysters.

We’ll take photos and film it so you know we aren’t spending your money on beer. You can even come and do it with us.

Please make checks out to Eco Brooklyn with the comment “Gowanus Oysters”. Send checks to 22 2nd street, Brooklyn, NY 11231.

Lets do this together!

*courtesy http://www.archdaily.com/165568/oyster-tecture-and-the-gowanus-canal/1269470583-dsc06228/

Eco Brooklyn’s Eco Garden

Eco Brooklyn’s show house is now home to a beautiful new landscape which has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.  Nestled among many homes in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY this garden provides a home for a wide variety of  shrubs and perennials that have invited in a number of different pollinators.

Planted with all native species, the garden is thriving and teeming with life. Honey bees have been spotted coming down from the roof to visit the new garden. The butterflies flutter from garden to garden and take their time to enjoy some nectar before moving on.  Other beneficial insects, including some ichneumon wasps, have also been spotted buzzing around the garden. They help to keep the detrimental invasive species of insects at bay.

A small pond and meandering stream also occupy the site giving it a place for birds to bathe, fish to swim and the relaxing, harmonious sound of moving water that completes the desired effect of being in a natural setting.

NYC Sprays Toxic Chemicals over City

This NYC government web page lists the times, zip codes and dates that helicopters will spray pesticides over the city. They call it the “Aerial Larviciding Schedule”, and define Aerial Larviciding as:

Dropping natural bacterial granules by helicopter to marshes and other large natural areas to kill mosquito larvae before they grow into adult mosquitoes. Does not take place in the residential areas of NYC.

Unfortunately their definition is misleading and omits important facts. I’m not a chemist but as a New York green contractor I’m very sensitive to green-washing. The main lie is their reference to “natural bacteria”. What the hell is that? Are they dropping yogurt on us? It sounds so wholesome unless you think about the absurd vagueness of the statement and see that is says absolutely nothing except create a false sense of safety.

They are playing on the common misconception that “natural” is good while not giving any real facts.

Lets look at some examples of natural bacteria.

Of course you have yogurt. You have the billions of bacteria growing on your kitchen counter which is harmless enough. But there is just as much harmless as lethal natural bacteria.

Anthrax, that substance that kills people, is a natural bacteria. E coli is another effective natural bacteria if you want a painful death.

Maybe you have heard of biological warfare? That’s when you expose your enemy to natural bacteria.

From Wiki:

Biological warfare (BW) — also known as germ warfare — is the deliberate use of disease-causing biological agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or biological toxins, to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons (often termed “bio-weapons” or “bio-agents”) are living organisms or replicating entities (viruses) that reproduce or replicate within their host victims. Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of BW.

You may remember Sadam Hussain. He used natural chemicals to kill a whole bunch of Kurds.

As you can see, natural has no bearing on how harmful something is.

The city says they are dropping pesticides to keep the mosquitoes, and thus West Nile Virus, in check. The only natural bacteria I know of that is harmful to mosquitoes and harmless to most other life forms is called Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI), and it is commonly sold in granule form.

BTI is great because it is harmless to fish and other small animals. You can put it into a pond and remove the mosquito larva without hurting the other animals.

BTI defined:

This naturally occurring bacteria is used as a larvacide in ponds and other areas where mosquitoes are breeding. The larvae die when they feed on it in the water.

BTI is commercially produced by companies that grow it in fish meal or soy flour and sell it in pellets. The pellets are sold at home and garden stores, usually by the brand Mosquito Dunks. The pellets can just be dropped into water, where they will float and slowly release Bti.

Once the larvae eat the bacteria, it develops into several toxic substances in their stomachs, quickly killing them.

BTI is not harmful to animals, birds or even most other insects. It is effective against larvae only and has not effect on adult mosquitoes.

However the city web page states that they are dropping a pesticide called Anvil 10+10, also known as Sumithrin, and this does not contain BTI. Is the city confused because there is absolutely nothing natural about Sumithrin?

Anvil 10 + 10 is comprised of 10% sumithrin and 10% piperonyl butoxide (PBO) as the two “active” ingredients. Sumithrin is the trade name and it’s common chemical name is Phenothrin (d-Phenothrin). Sumithrin is usually the one people refer to as the main active ingredient. PBO is there to boost Sumithrin’s effectiveness. The remaining 80% consists of white mineral oil and polyethylbenzene.

Pesticides such as su­mithrin are not natural and are not made from chrysanthemum flowers as is often claimed. Sumithrin, resmethrin and permethrin belong to a class of pesticides known as pyrethroids, which are synthetic analogs of chrysanthe­mums (Anvil) and dandelions (Scourge). Pyrethroids are not natural! These pesticides are often promoted as “safer” than malathion, an unrelated organophosphate, but this is not true.

Pyrethroids are toxic to the thyroid and immune system, among other concerns. No safe exposure level has been scientifically established for avoiding hormonal and other ad­verse effects, nor has the Occupational Safe­ty and Health Administration (OSHA) set an exposure limit. Source

Sumithrin and its other chemicals are highly toxic to other life forms, especially insects and fish. For us humans it isn’t that great either. Lets start with the standard pill bottle list of symptoms from exposure:

headache, nausea, vomiting, cramps, weak­ness, blurred vision, pin-point pupils, tightness in chest, labored breathing, nervousness, sweating, watering eyes, drooling or frothing of the mouth and nose, muscle spasms, coma, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, runny or stuffy nose, chest pain or difficulty breathing, mental confusion, frequent urination, stomach cramps, diarrhea and seizures, delayed neurological effects including chronic pain, numbness and weakness in the extremities, which may persist for months or years, central nervous system damage (memory, mood, motor coordination, etc), delayed long-term neurotoxic effects, including optic and peripheral neuropathy, as well as rashes, itching or blisters. Source (although I read this elsewhere too)

Those are the “minor” issues with this pesticide. The main concerns are it’s connections to cancer and neurological disorders. Read more on that here. On that page you will learn lots of good facts, one being that one of the pesticide’s ingredient, organophosphate malathion, is­ a derivative of nerve gas, and thus causing concern that this pesticide causes neurological damage to humans, especially developing babies. Autism anyone?

The cancer concern is that this pesticide is part of the Pyrethroids family. Pyrethroids disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking the effects of the female hormone estrogen. This in turn can cause breast cancer in women and lowered sperm counts in men…

Sumithrin also kills bees. The “mysterious” bee die off that is occurring across the globe (aka Colony Collapse Disorder) may not be so mysterious unless you are a large pesticide producing corporation very eager to continue selling your chemicals to farmers who spray the stuff all over bees’ natural habitat. But that is another tangent down the vary large road of capitalism gone terribly wrong.

What is of concern to me and many other beekeepers right now is how to keep our roof top bee hives, located in full exposure to spraying helicopters, from being killed. And if we succeed what solace do we have from the bees ingesting the chemicals and passing it on to the honey we will eat?

My mail box has emails from bee groups with headings like, “URGENT ALERT: PROTECT YOUR HIVES – DOH IS SPRAYING FOR MOSQUITOES WITH SHORT NOTICE”. Great, another thing to worry about.

According to the EPA, an agency not noted for their strict chemical protocol, has a lot to say about one of this pesticide’s main ingredient Sumithrin (aka Phenothrin). One snip from their 54 page review of the chemical:

In the year 2005, flea and tick spot-on products with phenothrin as the active ingredient were cancelled for use on cats and kittens due to incident reports and companion animal studies which indicated apparent neurotoxicity symptoms resulting from treatment, including excessive salivation, tremors, and/or seizures.

The same EPA paper lists the “Target Pests” as:

Phenothrin targets ants, aphids, bed bugs, bees, beetles, billbugs, box elders, borers, cockroaches, cadelles, caterpillars, centipedes, crickets, daubers, earwigs, fleas, flies, gnats, hornets, crawling insects, flying insects, grain insects, lace bugs, leafhoppers, leaf miners, lice, moths, mites, mealy bugs, midges, millipedes, mosquitoes, rust, scab, scales,  scorpions, silverfish, spiders, sow bugs, thrips, ticks, wasps, waterbugs, weevils, worms, and yellow jackets.

If these Target Pests are the “bad” bugs, what about all the other “good” bugs. Do they have a “Get out of jail free card”? Does this pesticide magically discriminate between “good” and “bad” bugs? You bet your ass it doesn’t. And do you know what is ten times worse than “bad” bugs in your garden? No bugs in your garden. That is called an ecological wasteland and is a ripe environment for one plant or animal to grow out of control and kill everything else in its wake.

More from the EPA on how Sumithrin kills:

Mode of Action: Phenothrin works upon physical contact with an insect or after ingestion. Phenothrin is a nerve stimulant which forces the sodium channels of insects to remain open beyond their normal timing thresholds, causing repetitive action inside the nerve channels and eventual paralysis.

So basically apart from respiratory and cancer concerns the main issue with the pesticide being sprayed on us New Yorkers is its neurological damage, part of a list of human related suffering way too long to list here.

The pesticide’s “non-active” ingredient,  polyethylbenzene is also very toxic to people and animals. Again from the tame EPA here is what they say about polyethylbenzene:

toxic to freshwater fish.

very toxic to aquatic plants.

chronic toxicity hazard to invertebrates.

Basically, although the studies did not show much damage to people, the chemical decimates water life. And where are they spraying this chemical? From their definition above we see they spray “on marshes and other large natural areas.”

As some sort of assurance they note that spraying “Does not take place in the residential areas of NYC.” That is small consolation to our water friends. And it is also the height anti green building mentality: the belief that we are not interconnected and thus the toxins will not get to us. As if you can isolate the wind and water of New York so that those chemicals will only stay in the “natural areas.”

These chemicals will not kill us tomorrow. They will add to the toxic soup of human made chemicals we surround ourselves with daily. Along with the “harmless levels” of formaldehyde in our furniture, the “imperceptible” toxins leaching from out plastic drinking cups, the smog in the air and the millions of other stressors in our life, this pesticide will be yet another toxic substance our bodies have to fight against.

This layering of “low level” stressors creates a toxic cocktail called the Synergistic Effect, aka Additive Effect or Antagonistic Effect:

A biologic response to multiple substances where one substance worsens the effect of another substance. The combined effect of the substances acting together is greater than the sum of the effects of the substances acting by themselves. Source

So even though this pesticide may be “perfectly harmless”, it is yet another straw on the camels back that further antagonizes our normally dormant genetic predispositions such as heart attack, addiction, mental illness…etc. And even worse, when combined with all the other toxins we are subjected to what may have been perfectly harmless alone becomes lethal when combined with something else.

Do you know anyone who was happily on anti-depressants and who killed themselves when they added another medication to their diet? I do. Alone the anti-depressants were helpful but when combined with the other drug they became toxic.

Try mixing milk and lemon juice, two delicious drinks that together turn bad. This is the problem with willfully adding another chemical to our already toxic mix, especially if that chemical is highly dubious to the health of humans and obviously tragic to the health of aquatic animals.

What are we trying to avoid? West Nile Virus? How harmful is that really compared to the harm of this pesticide?

And are we really addressing the problem? Is the mosquito abundance not simply the result of us destroying the natural habitats of mosquitos’ predators – fish, birds, dragonflies, bats etc. – and of us chopping up the natural waterways of New York so that normally healthy self cleaning bodies of water are now laying immobile and perfect for larvae?

Spraying chemicals on the New York ecosystem will only further increase mosquitoes since the pesticide destroys the natural aquatic habitats and in its place leaves dead bodies of water free of any mosquito predator. And this doesn’t even touch on the human damage caused by the pesticide.

The solution to our mosquito problem is to increase the health of the New York waters by fostering fish, insects and plants. We also need to increase environments friendly to birds and bats.

Instead of acting like neanderthals the city of New York needs to wake up to the multiple layers of ignorance their spraying efforts reflect and start addressing the real message that the mosquitoes are sending: our ecosystem is out of balance and dying. Baring a mass human exodus of New York, only us humans can bring the ecological balance of New York back.

I expect more from NY. Spraying is a 1950’s solution, back when we thought the modern marvels of chemistry could solve all our problems. It’s like that quote from the Graudate: “Plastics, it’s the future” Well, we all know that isn’t true. Most people now realize that a can of bug spray causes more problems than it solves.

Each time those morons send helicopters out to spray they are making the job harder for green building companies like Eco Brooklyn who are focused on turning NY green.

New York Rain Garden

Here are some great links on rain gardens. Rain gardens are a great way to add character to a garden while reducing the water that runs off the property (that is a good thing). Eco Brooklyn is a rain garden installer but anyone with some time and interest in gardening can do it.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

West Michigan Environmental Action Council

Glover Perennials, in Cutchogue, N.Y., carries a wide selection of native plants suitable for rain gardens; (631) 765-3546 or gloverperennials.com.

“Rain Gardens: Managing Water Sustainably in the Garden and Designed Landscape,” by Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden, is a valuable guide for designing and building a rain garden.

The Stone Center, in Bridgewater, N.J., has a good selection of river stones and boulders; (732) 469-4433 or thestonecenter.com/bridgewater.

A first-person how-to, “Rain Gardens: Using Spectacular Wetland Plantings to Reduce Runoff,” by Janet Marinelli, who built one with her husband, Don, on Shelter Island, is available on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Web site (bbg.org/gardening/article/rain_gardens). The article includes links to other excellent online guides.

Water Gardens Ponds and Fountains Book

The book “Complete Guide to Water Gardens Ponds and Fountains” gives you everything you need to know to build and run a small to medium sized water feature in your yard.

The book lays out every detail in clearly worded and well organized sections with plenty of supportive photographs and images.

It is focused on all garden water features but it is not a book on natural pools. The reason I read it was to increase my knowledge in natural pool building and upkeep because even though that is not the focus of the book, natural swimming pools share everything in common with a typical natural pond.

From that perspective I did learn a lot about how to build a natural swimming pool.

But if you are simply looking to build a pond then this book is more than adequate.

Eco Brooklyn offers as one of its eco garden design and construction services the construction of natural ponds, bogs and wetlands. A Manhattan or Brooklyn garden is not big but the NY ecosystem  lends itself wonderfully to water features.

Brooklyn gets 4 inches of rain per month regardless of whether it is August or January. If your average plot is 80’x20′ then that is a monthly deluge of 3700 gallons of water.

For your average brownstone that is not a local problem since all that water flows into the sewer system to become somebody elses very big problem. There is a reason our waterways are cesspools of sewer.

But when Eco Brooklyn does a green renovation of a brownstone we disconnect all drains from the sewer system.

This makes the water our problem and not somebody elses. It is a big resposibily, especially if you are thinking long term like we are. What if every brownstone disconnected from the sewer system. That is a hell of a lot of water to deal with on site.

The last thing you want is everyone’s back garden to become a flood zone every time it rains.

And this doesn’t take into account the extra brownstone average 2000 gallons per month of gray water produced that you are also now diverting from the sewer.

So what do you do?

Enter the water feature, part aesthetics part water management.

WATER_GARDEN

Depending on how visible you want the water feature to be you can go from one extreme where half your garden is a natural pond to the other extreme where you barely see the water in your yard because it all drains below the engineered ground.

A natural pond, or ideally swimming pond, needs areas for plants to grow since the water plants filter the water and keep it clean. It really comes down to how much of the yard you want to allot to the filter area.

This area is full of plants so like any planted area you don’t step on it. So it doesn’t effect you much if that area is a shallow pond, a marsh, a bog or a rain garden – all different options for water management.

Each option has its character in terms of how it looks and the plants it has. They are all beautiful in their own right. It really just comes down to the design of the garden.

Back to the book, the one thing they don’t stress enough is the importance of using only native plants in the water feature. They list the really dangerous invasive plants which is great. They do a good job at pointing out how these invasive plants can get into waterways through seeds and other means and clog them up with growth that is inedible to local wildlife, thus creating a monoculture dead zone that can continue unchecked forever unless people actually go in and physically remove the plant – an expensive and almost futile effort.

Many parts of the US are getting overgrown by invasive plants and it is a real problem.

I have a VERY liberal view when it comes to US immigration law but when it comes to imported plants and animals I am a downright isolationist.

The book has a great list of plant options but unfortunately a lot of them are not native so use the list with care and seek out only the plants native to your area. The plants you choose are very important because a natural water feature is nothing without the right collection of plants to aerate and filter the water.

Eco Brooklyn has expanded this year to offer Ecological Garden and Water Management Services to the Manhattan and Brooklyn home owners. This may be a natural swimming pool, a rain garden or an integrated system of managing all the house hold water. We look forward to growing this very important part of our business.

NY Native Trees, Holistic Green Building and Water

As part of our service in the green renovation of a brownstone Eco Brooklyn looks at the brownstone plot in its entirety. This means we don’t just gut and renovate the interior. We also look at how the interior effects the exterior. As a NY green contractor we look at the whole system, from the inside of the house, to the roof, the gardens, the block and the whole city.

The reason for this is that a Brooklyn and NY brownstone is intricately connected to all these parts. The main connection is through water, most specifically water waste and run off. Your normal brownstone is designed to remove all water (rain, toilets, showers, sinks) immediately off the property into the one sewer line. Inside the house you have your drain pipes. Outside the house you have your roof and garden drains.

This mix of clean rain water, semi clean sink and shower water (gray), and dirty toilet water (black) sometimes pass to the overworked water refining plants in the city. But often the water passes directly to the canals and rivers of NY – millions of gallons a day of toxic water polluting our water runways.

This is a problem set up by the city when they mistakenly combined their rainwater runoff and sewer lines during the construction of New York City. So all the rain water from the roofs and streets goes to the same pipes as our toilet, sink and shower water. The pipes can’t handle it all and so they have overflows into the NYC waterways.

And there is no going back now since to separate the two is too expensive.

So we at Eco Brooklyn keep this in mind when doing a NY or Brooklyn green renovation. When the budget allows we implement gray water collection, rain water collection, composting toilets, a green roof, rain gardens, dry wells in the gardens, and a tree pit in the sidewalk if there isn’t one already with a dry well under it. Basically we attempt to completely stop all water from leaving the site.

Our understanding of how a brownstone is connected to the rest of the city propels us to DISCONNECT the brownstone from the overburdened city.

Which brings us to sidewalk tree planting. If the sidewalk in front of the house does not have a tree then we file to install one. Here is an example of what that application would look like:

Tree Pit Application Example

In our desire to reduce the city’s amount of hard surfaces and increase the amount of permeable soft surfaces we make the tree well as large as legally possible which is 13.5’x5′. The city actually likes us to go to the legal limit since it allows max space for the roots and reduces future sidewalk buckling. You can’t go much larger than 13.5×5 because emergency people like fire fighters and medics need a wide pathway from the street to the house and along the sidewalk along the front of the house.

The act of planting a tree is actually not that important in the short term. In the long term it is imperative of course. But more immediately we need to remove the concrete sidewalk and create yet another place in the brownstone ecosystem where water can pass.

Eco Brooklyn digs a lot deeper than your typical landscape company. We dig down a good six feet. We then line the bottom of the hole with root barrier and two feet of gravel. That way we have created a small dry well. Then we put the soil and tree on top of that.

We make a barely perceptible cut in the sidewalk so that water is diverted into the drywell. We also make a little cut in the curb so water from the street can pass into the well. It won’t capture all of it but it helps.Tree Pit Water Collection

Once we prep the dry dry well we then install the tree.

When you submit an application a NYC tree inspector comes to the site and decides what tree you can plant depending on the site and the rest of the block’s character. Light, water exposure and the other trees on the block are considerations.

They pick the tree from a list of allowed trees that have been chosen for hardiness, non invasiveness of roots, non invasiveness of species, aesthetics, and size. If you look at the last two pages of NYC Tree Planting Standards (a wealth of info BTW) you will see the list of permissible trees.

One very important thing to note is that the NYC list is NOT limited to native NY trees. This is a real shame since trees that are native to our area contribute so much more biodiversity. The local animals, insects and plants have a long standing relationship with native trees. Non-native trees are much less friendly to local critters and thus are no way near as beneficial to creating a vibrant ecosystem.

So what I have done is gone through the list of allowed trees and highlighted the native ones. As reference I used the book Native Plants of the Northeast by D Leopold which is a great book. As cross reference I used the NYC Dept of Parks native and non native trees, which is also listed below:

General NY native and non native trees

The two lists matched up except for Shingle Oak which one listed as native and the other non (underlined in red). I believe it is native.

Here is the NYC permissible list of trees for sidewalks with the native ones highlighted.

Permissible NYC Trees with Native Tree Highlighted

My two favorites are the Tulip Tree and the Shingle Oak. You can’t go wrong with an oak. They live for hundreds of years and a full grown oak provides a habitat for literally thousands of animals, bugs and plants. Planting a tree is a true exercise in the Build It Forward ethos, especially with Oaks.

When you plant an Oak tree you are not planting it for yourself because it takes a good 50 years for its greatness to emerge and it doesn’t reach adulthood for a good hundred years.

Planting a tree is an act of humility in that we are acknowledging our short lived lives in the greatness of the time’s continuum. And it is a great act of selfless kindness since it is a present to future generations who we will never meet. For those two reasons alone we must plant trees.

We plant the tree as a long term investment for the planet and then let it be. It won’t be very impressive and will look like a spindly little tree for most of our lives. But we aren’t planting it for us.

Then we plant small plants and bushes for our own enjoyment. We create a beautiful little oasis on the street for bugs, animals and the occasional human to rest around. We put large river rocks that we salvage from cellar dig outs. We border the tree pit with smaller river stones to keep plants away from being stepped on by pedestrian traffic.

Plastiki

The boat Plastiki is a boat built entirely out of salvaged plastic. I presume it is a play on the original boat called Kon-Tiki that THOR HEYERDAHL built out of reeds.

You have to check out their site. Check out the pictures and the vids. They are on such a high that it is really contagious. These guys and galls are living their destiny. It is really cool to watch.

I love water and have a special thing about all the plastic that pollutes it. Through an act of ignorance we got into the habit of using disposable plastic tools like bottle and forks. And not these items are littering the world in a very dangerous way.

What were we thinking? Did we think the plastic would just disappear? We thought that after that birthday party or school reunion we could just put all the plastic cups, plates and utensils into a plastic bag and send it off to some magical far off land where it would go away and not be a nuisance to anyone.

Well guess what, the plastic does not go away. And now we have billions of plastic bottle tops floating around in the oceans like lost souls stuck in purgatory.

Next time you go buy a bottle of water or get a Styrofoam cup of cafe remind yourself you are not an ignorant idiot and then don’t d it.

Brooklyn Rainwater Capture Design

We are designing a rainwater capture system on a Brooklyn brownstone. The system will feed the toilets and showers with cold water. The overflow will go to feed the garden. Below are the drawings.

This will eliminate any rainwater going down the municipal drain.

As Brooklyn green builders one of our main focus is to find ways for the green brownstone to use the rainwater intelligently. This may be rainwater capture, green roof, water for toilets and showers, rain gardens and even drinking water.

This keeps the brownstone lush and also eliminates strain on the surrounding waterways. Right now the rain goes into the sewar and it all (used tampons etc) overflows into the rivers….yuk.

Here are the drawings. Eco Brooklyn Landscape Designer and Ecologist Sarah Bray is designing this job.

Exisiting Roof

rainwater design 1

Proposed Roof

rainwater design 2

High Efficiency Toilets (HET)

High Efficiency Toilets (HET) are the only kind of toilet anyone should be buying for their Brooklyn green brownstone renovation. If you have an old toilet I think this is a worthwhile and justifyable new purchace. You can get one starting at $125.

There are a couple ways they could be HET – dual flush, low flush, pressure assist – but the end result is they use less water without giving a crappy flush, pun intended. Another label you will see is WaterSense, which is a good one to go by.

Here is the most recent HET study I have found – Sept 2008. It is almost a year old at time of posting but unless you are one of those people who absolutely MUST have the latest year toilet (yes these people do exist!) it should serve your needs just fine.

The graph shows MAP Flush performance, which is the amount of grams the toilet can flush at any one time. Your grandma who eats like a bird barely produces 150 grams. Your fat uncle who eats like a pig probably produces 500 grams.

Legally the toilet needs to handle 350 grams so they all can handle that. Some can go above 1,000, which is a very American thing. That way we can brag about the flush power of our toilet and impress the neighbors.

It is also a great pick up line: “Hi sexy, my toilet has a MAP Flush Performance of 900 grams. Would you like to come over and see?”

MAP – watersense toilets

Rain Barrel Design

We design rain water capture systems for Brooklyn and NY homes. The rain water can be used to water gardens, flush toilets, for showers, and even for drinking water.

Capturing rain water has large benefits. Here in NY state we tend to be nonchalant about water. We have access to plentiful and clean water.

But most of the world is dealing with water issues. They either have scarcity or pollution issues.

What people don’t realize is that New York state’s water abundance is not guaranteed indefinitely. Increasingly there are issues with contaminants entering the water. And the cost to provide water is going up.

Then on the other end New York City has very poor water runoff and sewage control measures. The rivers and canals are constantly being polluted by sewage when a large rain hits the area that floods the sewage pipes, thus releasing the cesspool into the natural waters around New York City.

All this means we need to consume less water and discharge less water.

Rain water collection solves both these problems. It reduces the run off into the sewage as well as reduces the amount we consume. I also think that rain water is of a higher quality than city provided water.

City provided water is full of toxins, some of which are added to kill bacteria, and others that seep into the system from contaminated earth and old pipes that either leak or give off chemicals themselves.

When we design a rain water capture system there are several considerations:
1. Making sure the storage and collection materials are non-toxic.
2. Designing it so it works, and works for a long time.
3. Making a low to no maintenance system.
4. Keeping the dirty water out and clean water in.
5. Making it aesthetically pleasing.

One of the people we work with is Victor Hinojosa. He specializes in rain water and composting barrels.

In terms of item 5, making it aesthetically pleasing, one of the options is to paint the barrels. This is done a lot in 3rd world countries where rain water collection is a lot more popular than in Brooklyn. Also in those areas artistic talent is abundant and money is scarce, which lends itself well to the low cost of painting a barrel.

Below are some examples of barrels Victor did last week.

First he primed them with Fusion spray paint for plastic (this stuff is nasty but it works great on plastic and lasts) Then he used flat AFM safecoat for the image design. Finally, an application of AFM Polyureseal was added to give a shiny look and for protection.

rain water barrel design in brooklyn

rain water barrel design in brooklyn

rain-barrel-design-brooklyn

brooklyn-rain-water-capture-company