Bronx Residents Raise Grievances

By Damien Walton | November 13, 2008

MORE THAN 100 South Bronx residents attended a public meeting held by Mothers on the Move (MOM), a community organization that has mobilized around local issues such as funding and safety for public housing, students rights and, most recently, environmental justice.

Among the grievances expressed by residents was the continued deteriorating condition of New York City public housing due to the lack of funding for crucially needed maintenance projects. There was testimony, especially from the elderly and disabled, on how building elevators are constantly out of service. Some said there were times they had to walk up 20 flights of stairs to get to their apartments.

There have been several demonstrations at City Hall to address these issues, but the city continues to cut funding for public housing. At the same time, the city charges the New York City Housing Authority $73 billion for the "special services" provided by the New York Police Department. Those "services" basically mean occupying subsidized housing facilities and harassing residents for suspected crimes. The city also wants to spend $550 million for jails in the South Bronx.

The environment has become a huge concern as well. The asthma rate is the highest in the South Bronx especially among young children, and the cancer rate is 25 percent higher in the Bronx then the rest of the city.

Tanya Fields of MOM spoke on the ongoing environmental degradation in the South Bronx. Tanya along with MOM has been involved in a campaign against a sewage plant run privately by the New York Organic Fertilizer Company. For years, residents have complained about the interminable stench that permeates nearby neighborhoods. "There's a lot of bureaucracy and empty promises, and the company's actions have been very different from their words," she said.

The student wing of MOM, called Youth on the Move, spoke of a recent victory in a local high school, where students pressured the administration to allow them to have an independent voice on school policy and implementation.

City Council member Christine Quinn attended the meeting and talked about a November budget proposal by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that threatens to close 40 community dental clinics. There was also dissatisfaction with city plans to build new detention centers in the Bronx--a plan that a large majority of residents opposes.

With the worsening of the financial crisis, it's become increasingly obvious that the livelihoods of working-class New York City residents will be drastically affected for the worse. Along with putting pressure on politicians who supposedly "represent" the people, building networks and coalitions were put forward. Several spoke on the need to unite local community organizations like MOM with other community, labor and political organizations throughout the borough.

Local Bronx labor struggles such as the Kingsbridge nursing home strike and the strike against the bakery company Stella D'oro should be linked together in solidarity with community organizations like MOM. This is the type of grassroots organization that will win real change in this country. Yes we can!


City Room | Blogging From the Five Boroughs


Move to Curb Odors From Bronx Fertilizer Plant

By Sewell Chan | October 8, 2008, 5:49 pm

fertilizer plant

In July, when the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the New York Organic Fertilizer Company, residents met at Barretto Point Park in the South Bronx for a news conference, with the plant in the background. (Photo: Ruby Washington/The New York Times)

For more than a decade, residents of the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx have wrinkled their noses at the odors emanating from the New York Organic Fertilizer Company’s plant there. The plant, which began operation in 1992, converts sewage sludge into fertilizer pellets — a good thing, it would seem, but for the odors, which have been said to evoke rotten eggs, feces and worse.

On Wednesday, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation announced that it had taken the first of three steps intended to “tighten controls on odor-generating processes” at the plant.

The department’s regional director, Suzanne Y. Mattei, said it had issued an amended solid-waste permit requiring the company to install an air-pressure alarm, improve maintenance, prevent build-up of unprocessed sludge and hire an independent “Odor Response Monitor.”

The permit — and the conditions attached to it — resulted from extended negotiations with the company, Ms. Mattei said.

Two more stages of action are expected, Ms. Mattei said: “more specific odor monitoring and control measures,” and, by the fall, “new conditions for air pollution stack testing and air pollution equipment maintenance.”

However, neighborhood activists and environmental advocates, whose complaints about the plant are longstanding, said they would continue to press a lawsuit they filed in July.

“The state’s draft permit reaffirms what our clients have long been saying, that these noxious odors from the sludge plant continue to plague the air they breathe and interferes with their quality of life,” said Albert Y. Huang, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is representing 10 residents in a suit against the plant. “We’re still litigating the case and will continue to hold the defendant to their binding legal commitments to eliminate these odors.”

In the mid-1990s, the city cited the plant several times for air pollution violations. But the federal Environmental Protection Agency tested the air and did not find unusual odors or unacceptable levels of pollution.

In 1997, the company appeared to be cleaning up its act, hiring an odor specialist as it was being considered for a 15-year contract with the city.

But the smells eventually returned. In 2004, a consortium of nonprofit organizations, including an environmental advocacy group called Sustainable South Bronx, bought shares of Synagro Technologies, which owns the fertilizer company. They proposed a shareholder resolution requesting that Synagro report how many toxins, molds, pathogens and other substances are released from the plant, and how those pollutants affect local health and safety.

And in 2006, a teacher and students at St. Athanasius School, a Catholic school half a mile from the plant, printed about 400 “Smelly Calendars” on which neighbors could down particularly noxious days to report to 311, the city government hot line.

Things came to a head this summer. In July, the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the plant in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, on behalf of the 10 residents, as well as a community group called Mothers on the Move. They claimed that odors had nauseated residents, forced them to stay indoors and possibly even caused medical problems. The Hunts Point Water Pollution Control Plant was also named as a defendant.



Protest Victory As State Orders Bronx Fertilizer Firm to Cut StinkMothers on the Move activists stand beside coffin to protest outside New York Organic Fertilizer in Hunts Point, the Bronx, in March. Company has been ordered to reduce smells.

BY BILL EGBERT | Thursday, October 9th 2008, 8:38 PM


Mothers on the Move activists stand beside coffin to protest outside New York Organic Fertilizer in Hunts Point, the Bronx, in March. Company has been ordered to reduce smells.

South Bronx residents will be able to breathe a little easier now that state environmental officials have ordered a local fertilizer plant to clean up its act.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued an amended solid-waste permit on Wednesday that requires New York Organic Fertilizer Co. of Hunts Point to take extensive new measures to reduce odors.

The move was prompted by a lawsuit filed by local residents and advocacy groups.

The lawsuit, filed in Bronx state Supreme Court in July by the Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of 10 named plaintiffs and Mothers on the Move, a community group, seeks court-ordered odor abatement at NYOFCo, which transforms half of the city's sewage sludge into fertilizer pellets.

The suit, which does not seek monetary damages, claims regulators failed to improve conditions despite numerous administrative "consent orders."

The DEC's action requires NYOFCo to install an air-pressure alarm to help keep odors from escaping the plant, undertake several maintenance measures to prevent odors, prevent excessive buildup of unprocessed sludge in the plant and pay the costs for an independent "odor response monitor."

"We needed to do a major technical review of all of their operations to identify all the different points in the sludge process that could generate odors," said DEC Regional Director Suzanne Mattei. "I can't promise we'll get to perfection, but we believe substantial improvements can be made."

The modified solid-waste permit was the result of extended negotiations with NYOFCo, Mattei said, and members of the public had an opportunity to comment on the draft permit.

DEC intends to further modify the solid-waste permit to require more specific odor monitoring and control measures, as well as tighten restrictions on emissions.

"We know more about the sludge pelletization process than we did when this plant first opened" in 1993, Mattei said.

NYOFCo will be able to challenge the new provisions in an administrative proceeding.

Lawyers for local residents said the state action vindicates their concerns, but said the lawsuit would go on until all nuisance odors are controlled.

"The state's draft permit reaffirms what our clients have long been saying - the noxious odors from the sludge plant are a continuing plague on the air they breathe," Albert Huang, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The Point Community Development Corp., a party to the suit, applauded the state's action as movement in the right direction.

"It does show a renewed commitment by DEC to take the public's concerns seriously," she said.

NYOFCo did not return a call for comment by press time.




Tenants rally for better housing

Photo: Katherine Santiago

By Katherine Santiago | May 02, 2008

Ninety-year-old Margaret Brown lives in fear of not having a place to call home.

She has lived in John Adams Houses for more than 54 years, raising five boys and taking care of 47 foster children. But with New York City Housing Authority operating with a $225 million deficit, she is afraid that she will no longer have a home.

“Where will [senior citizens] go?” asked Brown, who decided to take a bus ride on May 1 to City Hall, provided for Bronx residents by Mothers on the Move. With a disheartened voice she said, “They’ll put me in a nursing home, I guess.”

But Mothers on the Move and many other community groups that attended the protest are working to keep this from happening. Nova Strachan, the public housing organizer of Mothers on the Move, said that she will fight and motivate housing residents to change the “deplorable living conditions.”

“If you could put $300 million into Yankee Stadium–and they’re not even winning–then they can put funding for public housing,” said Strachan, 26. Instead, she said, the housing department has been cutting corners, which has hurt residents.

Mothers on the Move, a community organization working to mobilize Bronx residents to speak up about their concerns and demand more funding for housing, says on its Web site that “nationwide, public housing is being demolished and privatized, while tenants are being displaced and forgotten.”

“It seems the mayor has been putting money elsewhere,” said Ray Smith, a 70-year-old resident of St. Mary’s Park Houses and a member of Mothers on the Move. “[Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg] wants to build new prisons, but [housing] hasn’t received any funding.”

Smith said that at St. Mary’s apartment complex, situated at 649 Westchester Ave., there is only one maintenance person who takes care of the buildings and the grounds.

A housing authority official said that that they are encouraged by the strong show of support at the public housing rally.

“The message is clear: we must preserve this extremely critical affordable housing resource for all New Yorkers,” said Howard Marder, a spokesman for the New York City Housing Authority, in an e-mail.

The housing authority has 343 developments in the city, which are home to 174,102 residents as of January. The Bronx has 98 developments, with 44,211 apartments. Mayor Bloomberg, along with Acting Secretary Roy A. Bernardi of U.S. Housing and Urban Development, recently announced a $75 million program to be administered by the housing authority to house homeless veterans.

To make its budget, the housing authority has been cutting jobs, said Luz Jusino, a grounds and buildings caretaker. Jusino is not only afraid of losing her home, but also her job. She said that she has noticed that when employees leave the department, they are not being replaced. She and her co-workers worry that the next step will result in layoffs.

“Right now, [the housing authority] is doing their best, but there’s no funding going inside because they don’t have too much money,” said 55-year-old Jusino, who has worked as a caretaker for five years. “They’re trying, but we need much more.”

Jusino said that sometimes resources have been so limited that she has run out of cleaning supplies for the buildings. This may be one of the reasons why public housing residents say they often see dirty hallways and elevators in their buildings. Maintenance work is also delayed.

“I’ve had neighbors that needed their toilets, doors, stove, Frigidaire fixed and had to wait a long time,” said Smith. “And the elevators are broken almost every day. They’ll fix it, but it’s just temporary.”

New York City Councilwoman Annabel Palma came to the May 1 rally, where thousands of New Yorkers came to support increased funding for public housing.

“We’ve often heard the squeaky wheel gets the oil, so we’re gonna keep shouting,” Palma said. “We deserve dignity and respect. We deserve to have a place for our families to be safe.”



Activists Hold "Toxic Bus Tour" Of South Bronx

By: NY1 News

Some Bronx residents said Saturday that they are tired of the stench of sewage in their neighborhood.

A community activism group called Mothers on the Move led a so-called “Toxic Bus Tour” along the Hunts Point riverfront, where residents say they can smell fumes from sewage plants.

The group says exposure to the fumes also leads to chronic health problems.

"My daughter has for the last three years needed to go see a pulmonary specialist and have all of these different issues that have been happening,” said Tanya Fields of Mothers on the Move. “So only in six years these things have affected me tremendously and shaped my life. I can't imagine those who have been in this community for decades."

A rally was held after the tour in front of the New York Organic Fertilizer Company, which the group claims is responsible for the fumes.

The company did not respond to NY1 for comments.

The group also blames the Hunts Point Water Pollution Control Plant.

The Department of Environmental Protection said the city is investigating the stench.