US Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Pete Lopez and other administrators visited Weehawken High School to meet with students to celebrate Children’s Health Month, discuss access to clean water, and talk shop with students in the high school’s Climate Club, which is now about a year old.
Lopez told attendees about EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s new proposal to ensure that water systems across the country are more transparent about lead-tainted water.
A proposed new rule Wheeler announced on Oct. 10 would require all water systems across the country to create and maintain a public inventory of all lead-tainted water lines, and notify consumers about whether their water supply is contaminated at or above the actionable lead level of 15 ppb (parts per billion).
It would be the first major overhaul to the EPA’s lead and copper rule since 1991, Lopez said.
Communities in New Jersey and throughout the country are still plagued by lead-contaminated water supplies, largely attributable to infrastructure and plumbing which predates the federal prohibition against lead water lines and plumbing fixtures.
Lopez said that students need to be stewards of the environment.
“To be a leader doesn’t mean you have to be an elected official,” Lopez said. “Environmental stewardship ties to environmental sustainability, agriculture, our culture, our history, and how we keep the economy going. The environment is everything, and it touches every portion of our lives.”
“We are running out of time to combat climate change.” – Climate Club member Nina Tremblay
He gave kudos to the Weehawken School District for working with the EPA in the past on a voluntary basis in get-the-lead-out efforts, well before federal mandates required them to, in order to ensure that children had safe drinking water.
“Because of Weehawken’s engagement and awareness, New Jersey created a statewide standard for testing water in schools,” Lopez said. “The state legislature passed laws to protect our young people, following the work that was done here and in other municipalities.”
Back then, it was known as the 3Ts program, which stands for training, testing, and taking action.
Several members of the Climate Club gave a presentation to their classmates and EPA representatives about the club’s accomplishments and ambitions.
They also gave EPA representative handcrafted, reusable shopping bags. The artists who made them were sixth graders Gabriella Bortone, Aki Chen, Kansas Day, Genevieve DeMarco, Audrey Ricciardi, and Ashley Tran.
Bees, butterflies, and beach cleanups
Newly-appointed Superintendent of Schools Eric Crespo gave a rundown of the work the Climate Club has done so far.
It’s instituted a comprehensive recycling program in the high school, planted a vertical garden, successfully pushed for refillable water stations in all three Weehawken public schools, and educated middle school students on the environmental problems caused by single-use plastics.
“The club was founded by five students and guided by our art teacher, Ms. Elizabeth McParland, and now it’s already 40 students strong, which, in a high school of only 552 students, indicates a high level of commitment by our student body to tackling the problems plaguing our environment,” Crespo said.
The club will take a school-sponsored field trip to Sandy Hook, where members will take part in a shoreline cleanup to clear debris from the beach.
The club hopes to create a butterfly garden and take up beekeeping, to foster local populations of pollinators, which serve a vital role in the natural food chain
Several Climate Club members said that the existential threats reported by many climate scientists and activists, along with other environmental harms, was a call to action to start the student-based movement in Weehawken. Their ambition has grown with each project they’ve undertaken and every supporter they win over.
“We are running out of time to combat climate change,” Climate Club member Nina Tremblay said. “But, thankfully, everyone here cares enough to try, because we’re part of the first generation to which a future isn’t promised.”