Ithaca Business Targets Toxins

By Alexa Besgen, 

GreenLeaf Intern

Before he was examining the toxicity of New York state, Walter Hang was trying to cure cancer. Spending hours in labs testing chemicals on mice and giving children doses of chemotherapy wasn’t as rewarding as he thought it would be, and he soon realized he wasn’t helping as much as he wanted to. Hang, who is the founder of Ithaca’s Toxics Targeting, says he knew exactly what he wanted to do after stumbling upon a cancer map in a library. His mission? To protect public health from environmental causes of cancer. “When I saw that cancer map, that’s when it hit me,” he says. “I thought, if we could prevent the public’s exposure, then we wouldn’t have to treat or cure anything.”

Hang’s interest in the effects of toxic chemicals started when he was a junior researcher with NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group), hired to look at wastewater discharges and dumps. After lobbying in Albany, and conducting endless amounts of research, Hang discovered that there were inadequately controlled wastewater discharges, which, when left untreated, can elevate the level of toxic chemicals in drinking water along with cancer mortality rates.

Growing up in the Hudson Valley, Hang says he, like most people, didn’t think much about the toxicity of drinking water. “People never thought, years ago, that there would be all of these problems,” he says. “But that’s now a reality.”

After marrying, Hang spent essentially all the money he had to make one map of an area in Brewster, NY, and figured out how to locate the surrounding toxic areas. He now has 27 categories of toxic site data. His company works on locating toxic areas all around New York State, from examining gas stations to looking at private lots and commercial properties. “We really started our company to help individuals protect their own health,” he says. “Go somewhere else where you won’t eat, breathe and drink toxic waste fumes.”

Hang’s work led him to launch the Toxics Targeting website, , where the user can type in virtually any address in New York State and see if there are any potential toxic threats to that area of land. The results come up in a bird’s eye view of the area, a street view and a Google map view. The toxic sites maps give a detailed view of the site and allow viewers to see landfills, dumps, leaking tanks and pollution discharges, and if they want, request a detailed report.  “The reason the website is great is because people can do exactly what I did,” he says. “They can find the sites and use the data to check out their neighborhood and see if they live near a toxic site… it’s important for people to take advocacy actions to make sure these sites are cleaned up.”

Making sure sites are cleaned up has been one of Hang’s major endeavors. “We’ve been working for ten years to clean up Cayuga Lake,” he says. Along with trying to rid Cayuga Lake of excessive amounts of phosphorous, Hang has been working to clean up the former Ithaca Gun site, long-abandoned and filled with hazardous waste. In 2008, former NY governor Eliot Spitzer announced a $2.3 million grant to rehabilitate the site. Hang says once he finds out about a toxic site, he raises the issue to everyone he knows, which leads to more press coverage and a better chance of cleaning up the area.

Still, Hang says he can’t do it alone and it’s important to realize that toxic waste is everywhere. “The further you go out in the country, the more risk of being near a landfill,” he says. He encourages people to do what they can to make sure that they don’t live near or on a toxic area. “Get editorial support,” he advises. “Then throw more fuel on the political fire and work with your assembly reps, who will write letters to get health authorities to help. Ordinary citizens can take action.”

Ultimately, Hang says that he is trying to help build a better community. “I believe that public service is a really good thing, and I want people to clean up their communities."

  • 04.10.15

    By Dan Hoffman,
Council Member

    2013 Dan Hoffman12th Moon, Kristen Kaplan, Eric Banford, Susan Beckley, Jessica Rossi and Mark Darling finished the counting in just under four hours.

    412 Total valid envelopes

    21 total invalid = 19- no ID, 1- first of two ballots, 1- no ballot in envelope

    Also = 1- name tag, 5- 2 cent slips, 1- Member Labor Request and two wooden nickles.

    Two thirds vote required to pass.

    Q#1 = PASS

    361 YES,

    12 NO

    Q#2 = FAIL

    222 YES,

    147 NO

    Q#3 = PASS

    311 YES,

    61 NO

    Q#4 = PASS

    331 YES,

    22 NO

    Q#5 = PASS

    340 YES,

    30 NO

    Q#6 = PASS

    366 YES,

    7 NO

    GreenStar member-owners are the only ones who have the power to change the Co-op's bylaws, the organization's most basic and important document. There is an opportunity to do so (or not) during this month — at the Fall Member Meeting, at the stores, or by mail.

    GreenStar's Council has established an ad hoc Bylaws Review Committee, which started meeting again earlier this year, after being inactive for at least two years. Council had referred a couple of issues to the committee, which identified several more on its own. In August, Council voted (unanimously, except in the case of #2, below) to send the committee's six recommended bylaws amendments to the membership for a YES or NO vote on each of the following questions:

    1. Should the Co-op be allowed to use a withdrawing member's refundable equity contribution [which could be up to $90] to pay off any outstanding debt the member has to the Co-op (such as for bad checks)?

    2. Should all Council candidates and members be required to satisfy any requirements associated with operational licenses maintained or sought by the Co-op (such as to sell or serve alcohol)?

    3. Should Council be allowed to conduct closed executive sessions for two additional topics — possible litigation or contract negotiations?

    4. Should the composition of Council's Immediacies Committee be changed to match that described in Council policy, and that of the Executive Planning Committee?

    5. Should the use of gender-specific pronouns (such as "he" or "she") be eliminated in the bylaws?

    6. Should three "clerical errors" made when the bylaws were amended in 2010 be officially corrected?

    Much more information on the proposed amendments, including detailed explanations, pro and con statements and voting instructions, are available in the Fall Member Mailing, which all current members should receive in the mail by October 6. Members can vote up until close of business on Oct. 31 at either store, by mailing in the ballot from the Mailing, or in person at the Fall Member Meeting, on Friday, Oct. 16, at the Space.



Current Job Postings

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Membership Manager

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    The morning after our Fall Member Meeting, I'm entranced by the experience of last night. I realize how far GreenStar has come over the years, and how integral and essential a partner we are in the wider regional food movement before us. Our roots as a buying club and grain store have matured into a multimillion-dollar community-ba...



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