JeffCoH20:Baked, broiled, grilled or fried

More than 3,000 miles of sanitary sewer lines serve 480,000 people in Jefferson County.  This vital function makes it possible for customers to rise in the morning, get ready for work or school, and not have to think about what happens to their waste water after showering, brushing teeth, or flushing!  One challenge to the operation of the sanitary sewer system is the buildup of fats, oils, and grease – FOG – in the sewer lines.  Over time, these substances can create clogs and result in backups that cause sewage to overflow into homes, yards, streets, and waterways.  Not only are these events costly to repair, they also can be a health hazard.  One main source of FOG in the sewer system is households. 

Dirty dishes in sink

No matter what you cook or how you cook it, there usually is some fat, oil or grease involved in the process.  When the holiday meals are over and it’s time to wash the stack of plates, pots, pans, and casserole dishes piled in the sink, take a few minutes to make sure that FOG doesn’t wash down the kitchen drain.  Even if you have a garbage disposal or use hot water and detergent, it will not prevent FOG buildup in your plumbing or the sewer system.  If you are connected to a septic system, a similar scenario applies – FOG can build up and cause your septic system to malfunction.  

The good news is that the solution is easy!  Discard in the trash unwanted food scraps from plates and cookware.  Any remaining FOG can be cooled and poured or scraped into a plastic or metal container with a lid and taken to the nearest Jefferson County cooking oil recycling station.  New recycling containers are available to you for free at all recycling stations.  Preventing FOG from going down the drain can go a long way toward reducing plumbing emergencies and unhealthy sewer overflows.

Proper FOG disposal

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCO H20: Take the ‘Hazard’ out of Household Hazardous Waste

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The start of a new year often inspires us to get rid of clutter and organize our living space.  Sometimes we even become motivated enough to tackle what’s stacked in the garage, stuffed under the kitchen sink, or gathering dust in the pantry.  Often that includes a collection of old household products that we no longer need.  Before tossing these unwanted items into the trash, first take a look at what your collection includes.

Many products like drain openers, automotive fluids, adhesives, batteries, oil based paint, solvents, and cleaners containing bleach are considered to be household hazardous waste (HHW) because they contain corrosive, toxic, flammable, or reactive ingredients.  It is unsafe when these items are discarded with regular household trash, since some can emit harmful fumes or create a dangerous reaction if mixed with other chemicals.  And any of these products spilled on the ground can harm water quality in local creeks and streams when washed by rain into the nearest storm drain.  That’s why HHW requires special handling by a facility which accepts these items.

Some local municipalities offer opportunities for residents to drop off HHW.  If you live in an unincorporated area, the Alabama Environmental Center (AEC) website (aeconline.org/recycling) is a great resource for locating facilities which accept specific types of HHW.  One of those facilities is Mercedes Benz U.S. International (205-507-3300) in Vance which accepts HHW from the public at its Plant 2 on the third Friday of each month from 5 am – 8 am and 1 pm – 6 pm.

Certainly there are some household tasks that require specialized products for which there is no substitute.  When purchasing this type of product, try to buy just enough for the job to eliminate leftovers.  But in many cases, you can choose a less toxic approach to handle most household cleaning jobs.  Items found in your kitchen or bathroom easily can be used to make safe, inexpensive cleaners.  They are better for your family’s health and the environment, and they help reduce the need to purchase more toxic products.

There are many tips and recipes available online for making your own cleaning products.  Here are just a few:  Want to make your windows sparkle?  Mix a few tablespoons of white vinegar with water in a spray bottle, lightly spray the glass, and wipe dry with newspaper or a microfiber cloth.  Need to scrub the sink or tub?  A few sprinkles of baking soda or salt on a damp sponge should do the trick.  Add a splash of hydrogen peroxide to remove stains and mildew.  Time to disinfect the counter?  Heat 1 cup of undiluted white vinegar to 150º and carefully pour into a spray bottle. Spray the warm vinegar on the counter, let it sit for a few minutes, and wipe dry.  Got pesky streaks on the mirror?  Equal amounts of white vinegar, distilled water, and alcohol sprayed on the mirror and wiped clean with a microfiber cloth will give your reflection perfection in no time.  Fingerprints on the furniture?  A few drops of olive oil and white vinegar rubbed onto furniture with a soft cloth can make wood shine.  Want more?  A good place to start is GreenerChoices.org.

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

TCNP Currents: A fresh S.T.A.R.T. for Turkey Creek, Part 2

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At the end of the last post about S.T.A.R.T. (Society To Advance the Resources of Turkey Creek), the grassroots organization and the community of Pinson had successfully prevented a prison from being built at Turkey Creek, but S.T.A.R.T. was left to decide, What can we do for Turkey Creek now?

S.T.A.R.T. formed not only to relocate the prison, but also with the goal of protecting the beautiful area around Turkey Creek for future generations.  The members of S.T.A.R.T. came to the conclusion that the best way to reach this goal would be to create a nature preserve, where people would have a clean, safe place to relax, walk, swim, and enjoy this beautiful part of Pinson.  S.T.A.R.T. had the support of the area’s commissioner, Bettye Fine Collins, who created the Turkey Creek Watershed Committee as a starting point for creating the preserve.

S.T.A.R.T. was not only interested in protecting the land for the benefit of people, but also in knowing what animals could be protected by a nature preserve.  With S.T.A.R.T.’s support, the Department of Fish and Wildlife began surveying Turkey Creek.  Turkey Creek is home to three unique and rare darters—the vermillion, watercress, and rush darters.  After much surveying, the vermillion darter, found only in Turkey Creek’s drainage and tributaries, was designated as an endangered species in 2003.  S.T.A.R.T. now had a commitment to create a preserve not only for the enjoyment of Pinson citizens, but also to protect the habitat of Turkey Creek’s irreplaceable endangered fish.

DSC_0500Vermillion Darter (Center)

After much discussion, S.T.A.R.T. and the Turkey Creek Watershed Committee decided that the best course of action would be to nominate the Turkey Creek land to Alabama’s Forever Wild Land Trust as a preserve.  While S.T.A.R.T. nominated the area to Forever Wild in 2000, the area was not selected because multiple land owners owned the property.  S.T.A.R.T. took this setback in stride and began to find a way to consolidate the land ownership for the Turkey Creek property.

This was not a task S.T.A.R.T. could handle on their own, so the group partnered with the Freshwater Land Trust in 2001.  After many meetings and discussions between S.T.A.R.T., the Freshwater Land Trust, and local property owners, the land for Turkey Creek Nature Preserve was acquired by the Freshwater Land Trust.  S.T.A.R.T. could now go back to Forever Wild and propose the preserve with a single landowner.  Forever Wild unanimously approved the creation of Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in 2003.  When accepting the preserve, Forever Wild specifically acknowledged and admired S.T.A.R.T.’s hard work and years of dedication towards creating the preserve.

With the land now protected from any future development, the newly developed partnership between S.T.A.R.T., the Freshwater Land Trust, and Forever Wild reached out to Birmingham-Southern College’s Southern Environmental Center to provide onsite management and environmental education. Today, Birmingham-Southern College continues to provide some of the best opportunities for hands on, environmental education to thousands of students annually. Additionally, this partnership has lead to the further enhancement of the preserve’s recreational opportunities and overall safety.

Educational Programing: Aquatic Ecology Class
Educational Programing: Aquatic Ecology Class

It is due to the dedication of the Pinson community and S.T.A.R.T. that we have the amazing Turkey Creek Nature Preserve.  This area is unique, beautiful, and used by people from all over the Southeastern United States.  But just like the commitment to the area didn’t end once the prison plans were cancelled, the commitment continues past the creation of the preserve.  Turkey Creek Nature Preserve depends on the support of dedicated volunteers who help keep the preserve clean and enjoyable for all.  Without support and commitment from the Pinson community, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve would not exist.

Please keep this story in mind, on your next visit to TCNP. It has, and continuous to take a lot of work to keep TCNP clean and beautiful. Make sure that you leave the preserve as you found it, or better! Also, please consider supporting TCNP either through volunteering or financial contributions. It will go along way towards ensuring it’s continued success in the future.

This post was written by Sarah Gilkerson.

Sarah is interning at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve this summer.  She is from Atlanta and attends Birmingham-Southern College where she is studying biology.  Outside of work, Sarah enjoys canoeing and comic books.