“When I was growing up, I was pretty much a city kid,” Angel Montero says. “To me the Hudson River didn’t have much of an impact. To me the Hudson River was that blue thing you see on the subway map.”
As a 25-year-old college student, Montero is engaged in science research that will help all of us better understand the Hudson and its health.
His work at CUNY Queens College is part of a collaboration with Riverkeeper that is exploring how our wastewater depletes the life in the waters around New York City and threatens our own health; how our sewage treatment systems can be improved, and how a city of 8 million people can learn to live next to a dynamic estuary and – we hope – allow it to thrive.
For Montero, the importance of clean water came into focus after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. Kerry Kennedy came to speak at Queens College, and pointed out that the most pressing need was not so much supplies like medicine, but clean water for survival. “Without clean water, mothers can’t cook for their children,” Montero said. “Without clean water you can’t function as a society. That hit me like a brick.”
Montero was inspired to work with Gregory O’Mullan, Ph.D., our longtime science partner at CUNY Queens. He assisted graduate student Brian Brigham in research at Piermont Marsh, and found beauty in the wildlife, the reeds, even the water and mud. “I thought, wow. If people don’t step up, these are the things that will be threatened. And these are the things that help us the most.”
Field work has given him a sense of the human impacts on the Hudson; the contrast between the natural areas upriver and the degradation of the waters around NYC. He has traveled the estuary on Riverkeeper’s patrol boat, assisting water quality research. Last summer he helped Riverkeeper and CUNY Queens begin new research along the streams feeding the East River from the Bronx and Queens. These samples have expanded a Riverkeeper water quality database monitoring locations in New York City and the Hudson Valley for pathogens. He also tests the water for levels of dissolved oxygen – another important measure of the waterway’s health, because low oxygen means death for aquatic life.
Montero’s smile and his energy do not let up. And it’s been tested – like the 100-degree day he spent with us on the East River, testing water for bacteria and oxygen levels at dozens of locations, some horribly polluted.
“Angel was at full RPM when we started, and full RPM when we quit,” Riverkeeper’s Captain John Lipscomb said. “No matter what we ask, the answer is always an enthusiastic yes. He’s got a ready smile, and he’s got great spirit.”
The work only makes him more determined to do what he can, Montero says.
“The more evidence we have, the more government management and organizations will listen.”
Exploring polluted NYC waterways: ‘You have to decide, I’m going to do what I can’
On patrol in some of NYC’s most troubled waters