HARLEM — Three Harlem groups are among the city outlets that have been given a portion of $1 million in state Environmental Justice Grants to help combat pollution and promote health.
St. Mary's Episcopal Church on 126th Street will use the funds to clean toxins out of the soil at its urban farm while WE ACT For Environmental Justice and a.i.r. Harlem will work to educate the public around environmental issues such as asthma reduction and how the environment affects their health, organizers said.
“The Environmental Justice Community Impact Grants are an important resource to low-income and disadvantaged communities facing pollution and other environmental burdens across the state,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation grants.
“From expanding green space and increasing homegrown produce to clean energy projects, pollution remediation activities, and education efforts, these initiatives can help contribute to a healthier environment and an improved quality of life for residents in these communities.”
Cecil Corbin Mark, deputy director for WE ACT For Environmental Justice, said the $50,000 grant will be used to fund its environmental health and justice leadership program.
WE ACT will educate area residents about how environmental issues impact their health. In the past they have covered things such as the use of #6 heating oil, asthma and even lead poisoning. The idea is for these leaders to then go out and further educate people in the community.
"This training gives people greater clarity about the link between environmental problems and their health. It talks about what can we do about it and how can we organize people and get them to change some of these issues," said Corbin-Mark.
The group a.i.r. Harlem will use their $50,000 community impact grant to reduce asthma triggers in 100 households to demonstrate the benefits of such efforts on people's health.
St. Mary's will use their almost $10,000 grant to continue with the remediation of soil at the urban farm they have set up at the church on West 126th Street in West Harlem. Right now, the farm uses 26 raised beds to grow tomatoes, collard greens and beets in 1,000 square feet of space because the soil on the property is contaminated with heavy metals.
The church uses the food it grows to supply food for its food pantry which feeds 60 families per week.. The money will be used to continue cleaning the soil through a natural process called Bokashi, which introduces fermented food waste laced with microorganisms into the soil. The microorganisms help block the absorption of heavy metals and convert the soil back to a healthy state.
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said the grants will "implement projects that will beautify and preserve green space, provide fresh vegetables through community gardens and address air and water quality issues" while benefiting "communities that already suffer disproportionately from a high concentration of pollution sources."
The grants — which were doled out to 18 groups around the city — are each capped at a ceiling of $50,000. DEC has also launched a Green Gems grant program to help preserve and maintain green space such as community gardens and fund tree plantings. The maximum award is $10,000. More than $110,000 was given for the smaller-scale projects around the state.
Other winners around the city include the Gowanus Canal Conservancy in Brooklyn which will develop a middle school curriculum about environmental challenges on the canal and Rocking the Boat in the Bronx that will habitat restoration and water monitoring to develop leadership skills in underserved young people.
In Staten Island, the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy will identify areas prone to flooding and develop recommendations to solve the problem.
Check DEC's website for a full list of winners.