On The Street

Don’t Strain Your Drain Campaign Seeks to Stop Cooking Oil From Clogging Pipes

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By Michael Gold

One of the easiest, cheapest ways to limit the effects of increased local flooding due to climate change is to stop pouring cooking oil down your sink.

This is the message that Dr. Diana Williams and Marvin Church are working to impart to Westchester residents.

Williams and Church, co-founders of Environmental Leaders of Color, recently educated me on the many problems caused by dumping cooking oil in the sink.

“When cooking oil is poured down the drain, the oil eventually clogs pipes. The oil limits the circumference of the pipe thus limiting the amount of water that can pass through,” said Williams, ELOC’s executive director.

“It’s like a clogged artery,” Church said. “The cholesterol won’t let the blood through.”

“When storm drains are clogged, stormwater ends up in your homes, basement, gardens and the street,” Williams explained. “Wet, dark areas in your homes create an opportunity for black mold and mildew to grow.”

Black mold can trigger or worsen respiratory problems and asthma symptoms, the Cleveland Clinic website states.

“After contact with certain molds, individuals with chronic respiratory disease may have difficulty breathing, and people who are immune compromised may be at increased risk for lung infection,” states the National Institute of Environmental Health (NIEH) website.

A NIEH study found that mold exposure during the first year of life may increase the risk of asthma.

“Clogged pipes cost building owners and municipalities millions in oil removal and repairs. For property owners, mold removal must be done by professional abatement teams at a hefty cost,” Williams wrote in an e-mail.

Throwing the cooking oil in the garbage isn’t a good solution either, Williams said. The cooking oil can seep into groundwater and “we don’t want oil in our watershed because it impacts aquatic animals,” she explained.

Large restaurants, such as McDonald’s, pay oil recycling companies to pick up their cooking oil. Small restaurants cannot afford that, and oil recycling companies do not serve homeowners.

The flood damage can cause health and financial problems for small restaurants and pizzerias, too.

“Small restaurants have a lot of cooking oil in bins. One (local) restaurant had five gallons of used cooking oil in plastic bottles,” she explained.

Williams, Church and their high school student members of ELOC, Felicity Jefferson, Jahneil Palmer and Kalyn Chisolm, persuaded the City of Mount Vernon to recycle residents’ cooking oil – from this past January to April.

Mount Vernon Fire Commissioner Deborah Norman allowed ELOC to set up collection cans at two fire stations in the city over a six-week period, as part of a demonstration project. Residents agreed to collect their oil at home, in glass, in metal containers or cartons. You can’t use plastic because oil dissolves plastic.

“The students educated the community on the impact of pouring cooking oil in the drain and garbage,” Williams said.

They wrote messages about the program on social media, posted flyers in the windows of local businesses and created a podcast. Mount Vernon’s mayor and City Council provided information about the project on the city’s website.

“The kids did the education. The adults carried the oil to the fire stations,” Williams said.

Project organizers collected 14 to 18 gallons of oil from homes and restaurants.

“People had oil stored in their freezer,” Williams said.

An oil recycling company, Green Network New York, supplied 30-gallon drums for collecting the oil, which they then recycled. The collected oil is used mostly as fuel for diesel cars and trucks.

ELOC wants to take the program all over Westchester and New York State.

“This is a problem for all communities, from Mount Vernon to Bedford. Because we’re experiencing more rain, it’s imperative we keep storm drains clean,” Williams explained.

Currently, Scarsdale is the only Westchester municipality that allows residents to recycle their cooking oil, at the town’s recycling center.

“Cooking oil is not considered a hazardous waste and can’t be recycled” through municipal authorities, Williams said.

“This is a program that can be replicated,” she explained. “It’s a simple solution for a simple problem.”

“I’m impressed that the children have taken on this task. ELOC will help young people get involved in their community,” Williams said. “We want them (the students) to recognize problems, seek solutions and take action for what’s happening with climate change. The biggest repercussions of climate change will happen after we’re gone.”

ELOC conducts summer environmental education programs for teens in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Yonkers, Ossining, Peekskill and Port Chester.

The students work in teams on environmental problems and propose possible solutions. This summer the program will culminate with an Aug. 8 presentation and awards ceremony at the Yonkers Public Library at 11 a.m.

For more information about ELOC, visit https://eloc.earth/what-we-do/.

Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, the Hartford Courant and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary publication.

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