Climate Change Fueling the Rise in Disease Carrying Mosquitos

by Danielle Bongiovanni

On Sept 2, 2021, Bergen County Mosquito Control sent an advisory email to Ramapo College students encouraging them to shut their windows to limit contact with Duet adulticide, an insecticide used to reduce populations of adult mosquitoes and their larvae. This simple alert, sent one day after Hurricane Ida hit New Jersey with torrential rains and flooding, is the outermost layer of the complicated relationship between climate change and insecticides.

An article by Dana Bate for WHYY reported that climate change is indirectly affecting mosquito populations in New Jersey. Increased rainfall has created more available pools of freshwater which many species of mosquitoes use for breeding.

Climate Signals, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping explanations of the impacts of climate change publicly accessible, shared that as the atmosphere warms its average moisture content increases. Extreme precipitation events like Hurricane Ida have more fuel, cause more rain and flooding, and leave more standing freshwater to become mosquito breeding grounds.

Cattail mosquitoes, Coquillettidia perturbans, are one example of a species gaining numbers due to having more places to breed. An annual report from the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District detailed how the catch rate in 2020 was 127.3 cattail mosquitoes per CO2 trap. The report stated that year “Coquillettidia perturbans averages were higher than the 20- year average.”

Asian tiger mosquitoes, Aedes albopictus, are an invasive species that also breed in freshwater and have been observed in increased numbers in New Jersey. Both they and cattail mosquitoes are known vectors for diseases such as West Nile Virus. The Center for Disease Control recorded case numbers jumping from 8 in 2017 to 61 in 2018, then dropping back to 8 in 2019.

Preventing the spread of disease, combating invasive species, and improving citizens’ quality of life are all understandable motivations for Bergen County officials to want to reduce mosquito populations. Whether the consequences of using truck-mounted sprayers and hand spraying insecticides outweigh the benefits, however, is debatable.

Duet adulticide is one of three insecticides used by Bergen County Mosquito Control. Its use was approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2016. EPA approval does not label a product as harmless. Even when used correctly, the product causes moderate eye irritation in humans, and users are advised to wash their hands and launder and change their clothing after each use. Heavily contaminated materials must be discarded.

The Bergen County Mosquito Control Division has released more extensive fact sheets on the adulticides in its arsenal. Overexposure to Duet can cause symptoms in humans such as “irritation to skin and eyes, respiratory and nasal irritation, irritability to sound or touch, abnormal facial sensation, sensation of prickling, tingling or creeping of skin, numbness, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive salivation, and fatigue,” although the risk of overexposure when the product is properly used is low.

The EPA reports its usage also has environmental repercussions. Duet adulticide is highly toxic to aquatic organisms such as fish and invertebrates, and contaminated runoff is hazardous. The insecticide is also highly toxic to bees that are sprayed or exposed to sprayed plants.

Insecticides are not the only methods of mosquito control used by Bergen County. Maintaining drainage systems and stocking water with fish that prey on mosquitoes reduce the ability of populations to successfully reproduce. However, as climate change creates more available breeding grounds, it follows that Bergen County’s current dependence on insecticides like Duet adulticide will only increase, as will the resultant harm to people and the planet.

At the time of this article’s publication, Bergen County Mosquito Control and Bergen County Department of Public Works did not respond for comment or to answer how the list of overexposure symptoms was acquired.

Sunrise Movement Protests to Urge Menendez to Support Climate Bill

by Danielle Bongiovanni

On July 31 at 11 am the Hunterdon County chapter of the Sunrise Movement organized a protest outside of Senator Robert Menendez’s office in Jersey City to demand he cosponsor the Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act. The legislation would hire 1.5 million Americans to make communities more resilient to the climate crisis and transition them to renewable energy.

As Sunrise is primarily a youth-driven movement against climate change, most of the attendees were in middle or high school. They brought a hand-painted banner, signs, and a few even wrote speeches, songs, and poetry to perform.

Alpha Vasson, a rising junior at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, started the protest by leading attendees in a song they wrote themself called “People Power,” which included the refrain “We got the power / And we’re gonna get louder.” Throughout the event between speeches, they led the group in more well-known protest songs, such as the version of “Which Side Are You On?” Sunrise adapted from Florence Reece.

Rey Watson, another rising HCRHS junior, was the first to speak. They acknowledged the land they stood belonged to the Lenni-Lenape tribe, and climate justice depended largely on recognizing the continuous impacts of colonization.

They gave examples of climate change becoming visible nationwide, from the recent pacific heatwave to frequent thunderstorms in New Jersey. “For the first time I can remember, my basement actually flooded,” they said. The ongoing climate and economic crises could not be ignored. “We need a CCC that will kick off the decade of the Green New Deal.”

Ben Dziobek, President of the Environmental Club at Stockton University, emphasized the legislation’s importance in his speech. “What we can do with the civilian climate corps is endless,” he said, but the consequences of not taking action would be endless as well.

Dziobek stated he would not tolerate excuses. “I don’t want to hear a damn thing about costs… our Mother Earth is being killed.” He referenced the original CCC created during the Great Depression and called for similar programs to be implemented. He ended his speech by asking, “Will you be brave with us, Senator Menendez?”

Another non-profit organization rallied for the creation of a new CCC with Sunrise that day. Matt Smith, the NJ Director of Food & Water Watch, spoke in support of Senator Menendez co-sponsoring the legislation.

Smith acknowledged the consequences of pollution, capitalism, and the pandemic that hit the most vulnerable people the hardest. “These same communities have been systematically denied… the support we need to thrive on this planet,” he said.

Nearly 3 million people living below the poverty line in New Jersey was a sign of a broken economic system, but change was achievable. “Another world isn’t just possible, it is on the way here,” Smith said. “Let’s keep fighting.”

Madelyn Hoffman, the Green Party’s 2021 candidate for governor of New Jersey, was one of the final and recognizable speakers. She spoke on the similarities between the lessons she learned from her time spent with the indigenous peoples in the Amazon and the purpose of the protest. “We need solidarity with the earth, the peoples of the earth, and the creatures of the earth,” she said.

Hoffman reaffirmed her dedication to be a politician for the planet, not for polluters with deep pockets. “As a candidate for the Green Party of New Jersey, I am proud to say I will take no money… from those who are raping the land… and I will push for the Civilian Climate Corps.” 

Once all the speakers had finished, Sunrise members marched around the block with their banner and signs. Vasson and Watson led several chants, attracting attention from vendors and customers participating in Jersey City’s Smorgasburg, an open-air food market.
The rally was small but mighty, with members ranging from preteens to seniors, students to politicians, and first-timers to diehards. Together, they publicly called for Senator Menendez to cosponsor the Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act, putting Americans to work protecting the environment and fostering the transition to renewable energy. Whether or not he will listen remains to be seen, but the planet cannot wait indefinitely for an answer.

5 NJ Municipalities Become Battlegrounds for Clean Energy Initiative

By Danielle Bongiovanni

What do Woodbridge, Cherry Hill, North Brunswick, Teaneck, and Long Branch have in common? Their form of government allows anyone to place an initiative on the ballot if it is supported by a set number of registered voters. This summer, a nonprofit organization, Food & Water Watch, is using direct democracy to implement a clean energy initiative in these towns, and victory is within reach.

The organization combats issues regarding the food system, clean water, and the climate across the country. F&WW utilizes the power of the people by mobilizing individuals to uplift political causes and support campaigns to ensure safe living conditions are not sacrificed for corporate profits.

The organization’s current fight centers on putting a 100% clean energy ordinance on the ballot of five aforementioned NJ municipalities. If the ordinance passes, Community Choice Aggregation programs would form and enable the local governments to purchase bundles of clean energy for residents. CCA programs allow towns to switch to renewable sources for electricity without altering the existing utility provider, maintenance, or billing.

F&WW organizing fellows collect signatures from registered voters to meet the referendum requirement through creative and varied approaches. Cold calling, door-to-door canvassing, and putting up informative posters are all ways they have been gathering support.

When asked what drew them to this work, Rey Watson replied, “I joined Food & Water Watch because it was an opportunity to make a real difference in my local community. Our organization is actively engaging with the public and fighting for policy changes that will benefit both the people and the planet. We need bold change in order to ensure a livable future for my generation, and I am excited to be a part of making that change happen.”

The campaign requires dedication, but the fellows’ passion matches their patience, and their efforts are paying off. F&WW fellows recently passed the quarter milestone for their total goal, having collected over 1,500 signatures from across the five municipalities.

Zettie Shapey, a Clean Energy Climate Organizer, could not be more proud of her fellows. “I have loved working on a campaign where winning feels so within reach– I really do think we’ll win. It’s a rare and exciting thing to enter into a project fighting towards justice of any kind and feel almost certain that we’ll succeed- it feels powerful and exhilarating. I can’t wait to throw a party when we win and celebrate the hard work of the young people who worked so hard to win their communities clean energy,” she said.
Signatures are due by July 14 and the organizing fellows have a long way to go, but victory is possible with continued outreach efforts and support. If you are a registered voter in Woodbridge, Cherry Hill, Teaneck, Long Branch, or North Brunswick, sign and share the petition to ensure clean energy is available to everyone. If this cause speaks to you, Food & Water Watch is still hiring organizing fellows regardless of where you are from or what previous job experience you have.

How to Start Composting

By Megan Dalton

Earth Day passed on April 22, and at this time each year, we witness a lot of “green” products and initiatives roll out that insist purchasing more will save the planet. The truth is that overconsumption is detrimental to the environment, and you should use everything you already have before purchasing anything new. For example, if you purchase a metal straw, don’t just throw away all of the plastic ones you still have. The plastic straws are going to end up as waste regardless, so it only makes sense to get your use out of them or give them to someone who will before discarding them. 

By adopting this method of using what you already have, there are tons of creative ways to recycle and reduce the amount of waste you produce. One of these methods that tends to be underutilized is composting your food waste. The United States Environmental Protection Agency outlines that composting can lower your carbon footprint, enrich soil, and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers in plants and gardens. Composting is a simple method of giving back to the environment because it makes use of food scraps you already have and does not require more than an air-tight bin or dedicated outdoor space.

How to Compost

The EPA’s basics to composting include understanding the three parts- browns, greens, and water. Browns are items like dead leaves or sticks, and greens are items like fruit and veggie waste, grass, and coffee grounds. The amount of browns and greens in your compost should be about equal and composed of materials of various sizes to allow room for microbial growth. It is recommended to bury food scraps about midway down your compost to prevent any pests, rodents, or smells from arising. You can also keep a tarp over your pile to retain moisture and keep out anything that is not supposed to be there.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance explains that composts should have a moisture content of 50-60%, which can be determined by completing a simple test. Grab a handful of your compost materials and squeeze. A few drops of water should escape your handful, indicating that there is the correct amount of water in your compost pile. If you do not see any water come out, try adding more and reduce the amount of water if your compost is soaking. 

Within a few months, compost should be ready to use as fertilizer. Using compost as fertilizer is what reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and enriches your soil. You will know it is ready to be used when the material at the bottom of the bin is a dark, rich color. 

Once your compost pile is established, maintaining it is a pretty simple task. Identify what food scraps you produce that are compostable. This might include the grounds from your morning coffee, the eggshells from breakfast, the skin, or even any part of a fruit or vegetable that you don’t like eating. You can add these each day or keep a small container of things to add at the end of the week. When these greens are added to your compost pile, add an equal amount of browns like dead leaves or wood chips, and make sure there is enough water. 

Ramapo Green and 1-STEP Screen The Sacrifice Zone

By Danielle Bongiovanni

On April 16, 1-STEP and Ramapo Green hosted a virtual screening of The Sacrifice Zone, a documentary on the work of the Ironbound Community Corporation to combat pollution in Newark from industrial sources. Melissa Miles, who was featured in the documentary and currently serves as the Executive Director of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, spoke to the audience afterwards.

The documentary began with stunning visuals of Ironbound-Newark residents going about their daily activities while planes from Newark Liberty International Airport flew over an incineration plant emitting ominous smoke. ICC Environmental Justice Director Maria Lopez and ICC Environmental Educator Emily Turonic led the camera crew on a bus tour of the area, pointing out the lack of buffer between the industrial and residential sectors. Within a mile of where people lived was an area nicknamed “Chemical Corridor,” which contained many health risks, including the perpetually-burning Covanta Energy Center.

Most of the documentary hinged on the ICC’s fight against the negative effects the garbage incinerator plant had on residents. The protests were not new. Footage rolled from 1984 when Nancy Zak, who still works with the ICC today, argued against building the incinerator because it would emit cancer-causing air pollutants. Camden and Newark were chosen as the locations of the new plants. These counties were known for being some of the poorest in New Jersey with high minority populations.

Lopez called Ironbound-Newark a sacrifice zone, “a zone that deems these lives don’t matter so much.” Outraged by these environmental injustices, she and other ICC members were working to replace the current dependency on fossil fuels with a regenerative economy.

Representatives from Covanta claimed ICC members had always been hostile. They stated incinerators were better than landfills because they produced less methane, and the energy from burning garbage provided electricity to about 45,000 homes in the surrounding community. Director of Sustainability Mike Van Brunt and Vice President Richard Sandner agreed the community would shut down if the incinerator ceased operating.

ICC representatives combated this argument by citing Covanta’s repeated violations of permit pollution limits and greenwashing campaigns. At the meeting to renew Covanta’s permit to continue operating, one protestor spoke up, “This facility emits more than 600 tons of air pollutants each year.”

Proud of the protests her organization had led against environmental injustices inflicted on marginalized communities, Miles said, “For the first time I felt like my identity was my strength instead of my weakness.”

“I would actually love a future in which my job is irrelevant,” Lopez said toward the end of the documentary. Currently, though, the idea of giving up when there was so much work left to do felt like severing her humanity and giving up on her community. She refused to stop fighting until there was justice.

In closing, the documentary stated Covanta’s permit was still pending based on public health concerns. The fact that it was not automatically renewed could be counted as a victory in itself, as these concerns were mostly raised by the dedicated work of the ICC.

Miles then spoke live to the audience. She explained how the Department of Environmental Protections considered individual facilities rather than the cumulative effects of having several clustered in a small area. Environmental justice activists like her pushed for a new law analyzing the cumulative impacts, which has been passed but is currently undergoing a finalization of the rules.

Miles cited the Black Lives Matter movement as a large source of aid. “Suddenly everyone cared. No one wanted to be on the wrong side of history,” she said.

Miles inspired attendees to join the movement. “Our lived experience is our expertise… you do not need a degree to be an environmental organizer,” she said. They needed to collaborate to build a circular waste economy. “We have to think about the way we design products, we have to think beyond individual responsibility.” Permission to screen The Sacrifice Zone can be purchased online, and the RCNJ library owns a copy. Anyone interested in taking action can get involved with the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN), a student-led zero waste movement of which RCNJ is a member.