It Takes a Village (one person, THE MAYOR, and NYS DEC)

MPH on the Pier

As the pandemic raged and then retreated, then returned with Deadly Delta weaponry, I watched the numbers, social distanced, wore my masks, and thankfully extended my arm in the CVS in Valatie, New York, twice to receive the Moderna vaccine. I worked from home, covered for my direct reports when they took COVID leaves, checked in with and carefully visited my beloved family. And as a Public Health professional (New York Medical College, class of 2010, MPH, Maternal Child Health) I sought to have some even small involvement in the fight contacting my Alma Mater for any volunteer activities, supplying hand soap and bleach wipes for my colleagues in my workplace, and putting up signs in restrooms with the CDC hand washing Happy Birthday twice protocol. ( https://youtu.be/F_rkjjCkxGo ) I had a contest with my staff challenging them to come up with other songs or rituals to accomplish the required soaping time (“Staying Alive,” “I Will Survive,” “The Final Countdown,” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”)

News, reports, statistics, graphs, and trends were constants: I had dreams about Anthony Fauci. One escape that was available was the Piermont Pier, an extension of land mass protruding for a mile into the Hudson River, the conduit for WW II troops embarking on ships to Europe, including the shores of France. The Pier had actually been closed for several months at the height of the pandemic, the local government fearful that even walkers, joggers, bikers wearing masks outdoors might be spreading the virus. On weekends the treelined promontory would fill with visitors, bus loads from neighboring towns, camps, and residents of New York City. An article in the local Patch on August 22, 2020, referred to our lovely Pier as a “social distancing nightmare;” shortly thereafter the police barriers went up across the entrance. We Piermonters were allowed access with permits and I could once again find refuge from the Corona.

One early spring day 2021, as I was running (electronic speed sign actually registered me at 4 MPH) I was encouraged by the signs of new life. My husband and I had just gotten our second shots, shops and restaurants in our little village were opening with tables and chairs on the sidewalks extending into the streets, I was dazzled by actual faces in Stop and Shop. On the Pier new sprouts were coming from the base of last year’s dead marsh grasses, the waterbirds, egrets and herons wading into the shallows eyeing little flashes of their breakfast beneath the surface, the loons and ducks and Canada Geese floating on the undulating waves surrounding me. (“Oh, Canada,” if only your border were open or I could fly in on the feathered wings of Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese “high in the clean blue air, heading home again,”
( http://www.phys.unm.edu/~tw/fas/yits/archive/oliver_wildgeese.html )
This one slice of life seemed to have finally returned to normal. I breathed the estuarial fog directly into my maskless nostrils.

But there was one disturbing detail that entered into my experience. Amidst the other hopeful new growth; there were a few glossy leaflets emerging from the muddy earth against the trunks of trees that gave me an almost undetectable twinge of fear. I tried to avert my eyes, refocus on a red red robin that was bob bob bobbin along the path, but too late. I knew what was insidiously hovering just below the surface of the soil on the southside of the pier. I knew those lovely green trifoliate leaves with the glimmer of red: POISON IVY.

Toxicodendron radicans, commonly known as eastern poison ivy, is an allergenic Eastern North American plant in the genus Toxicodendron. It is well-known for causing urushiol-induced contact dermatitis, an itchy, irritating, and sometimes painful rash in most people who touch it. The rash is caused by urushiol, a clear liquid compound in the plant’s sap.

Even for those of us for whom the danger of urushiol is known for causing the painful rash, there were places on the Pier where it was almost unavoidable. I recalled the previous summer when vines of poison ivy dangled above the roadway, so that a cyclist or runner might literally run head first into the leaves, or someone retrieving a ball or hat blown into the marsh grass would stick their hands directly into the low growing vines, or a dog would wander into the treed (and previously pee-d) areas to use a trunk for doggy business and rub against leaves, then to be petted by it’s devoted owner.

But as I had often experienced, there were many visitors to the Pier who did not know that the pretty shiny red and green leaves were dangerous. I met a couple walking on the Pier who were picking the leaves to add to a bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace and Cornflowers. I asked them please to take the leaves out and go wash with soap and water asap. But why? These leaves are so beautiful! There was a group of children playing tag with a stump covered with ivy vines as home base. I talked to their parents. They thought I was a little crazy for interfering with their children’s fun. And, the death-defying gentleman who stepped off the path and into the almost private space among the vines to relieve himself. I struggled ethically with this existential predicament, but did not converse with him about his exposure and possible exposure to urushiol.

These and many other experiences seemed to define me as a kind of nutty nature cop. Really, I didn’t want to intrude in anyone’s botanical aesthetics, or fun or “relief,” but the thought of people so unaware of the dangers of poison ivy was terrifying. Yes, to some people there is a nasty rash and itch, a contact dermatitis, which can last two to three weeks, and can be treated at home:

The most important action is to thoroughly wash the affected area with soap and water as quickly as possible. Also make sure your hands, including under your nails, are cleaned of any sap. This will prevent the oil from spreading and from contaminating other parts of your body. Pat your skin dry gently; do not rub as this can irritate the skin. Wash your clothing and any tools or equipment you handled that may have been in contact with the plants.
Once your skin has been cleaned, you may find relief from the itching by trying these remedies:
• Cold compresses: Soak a clean washcloth with clean, cold water and wring it as dry as possible. Place the cloth on the rash for about 15 to 30 minutes. This can be repeated several times a day.
• Oatmeal baths: Add oatmeal or oatmeal bath treatment to a running bath and soak in the tub for about a half hour.
• Topical lotions and creams: Over-the-counter products, such as calamine lotion and hydrocortisone creams (applied lightly) can help reduce itching and swelling.
• Over-the-counter antihistamine medications, such as Benadryl
It is very important not to scratch the rash or pop any blisters, as this can cause an opening for infection.
Oh yeah……That’s the tough part; when your skin is crazy itching, not to scratch!!!!! Just think about when you have a regular little itch that is in some hard to navigate area of your body’s geography. Then think about whole continents of itching. DON’T SCRATCH!!!!!
But for some people it’s beyond the redness and itching and submerging in an ocean of calamine lotion. Poison ivy can cause severe reactions to people who are allergic to the sap and can experience the following, requiring medical treatment.
• Severe swelling
• Swelling of the lips and tongue
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Even those who aren’t allergic to poison ivy, may need to see a doctor if they develop complications or have a severe poison ivy reaction, such as:
• The rash covers the face (lips, eyes, mouth) or genitals.
• The rash covers more than a quarter of the body’s surface.
• Breathed in smoke from burning poison ivy.
• Treatment at home does not relieve the rash or itch.
Scratching poison ivy rash or blisters can cause breaks in the skin that can become infected. If any signs or symptoms of an infection develop, a doctor should be seen as soon as possible especially it there is Increasing pain around the wound and fever.
Perhaps my vigilance about poison ivy is a flashback to my childhood. Shortly after my parents bought a piece of beautiful wooded property where they were to have our family home built in Stony Brook, New York, my parents, two older sisters and I, spent a day raking and clearing leaves and vines, which my father piled up and yes, he built a fire. We thought this was great fun, and as we cooked hot dogs and toasted marshmallows, we threw more and more leaves into the fire. The more and more leaves included some red and green glossy trifoliates. For the next couple of weeks we itched and tried not to scratch, bathed in oatmeal and smeared on the calamine. We went to the doctor, but miraculously none of us had breathed in enough of the smoke to damage our lungs. So even if the fear of poison ivy isn’t actually embedded into my DNA, it is certainly etched into my early childhood psyche.
So there I was on the Pier, early spring 2021. I foresaw a summer of warning people, interfering with fun, ethically challenged by some very personal behaviors in a public place. What to do? And then it occurred to me: this was a Public Health issue. Yes, a serious threat not just to individuals, but to a whole population of Pier visitors. It was time for government intervention.
As a governmental agency, here’s what the United States’ Center for Disease Control has to say:

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. This work is achieved by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases. Overall, public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country or region of the world.

 

The government of Piermont consists of a Mayor, Trustees, Planning Board, Building Department, governmental employees like the Village Clerk, the Department of Public Works staff, Parks and Recreation, of course the Fire Department, and our Piermont Police Department (who have come to my rescue in various situations like when during the first week I lived in my house in Piermont, I locked myself out of my bedroom and they had a clever way of unlocking it, and when I was brought home by my daughter after my ankle surgery, they carried me down the 20 steps to my house.) I considered the level of governmental involvement the poison ivy invasion required and went with the Office of the Mayor.

The Mayor of Piermont is Bruce Tucker, is a retired businessman (former CEO of a multi-million dollar textile company) and a Democrat. I looked on the Piermont website and got this little bio and his email address:

Bruce Tucker has been Mayor of Piermont since 2018. He has been an active member of the Piermont community for the last 27 years. Prior to becoming Mayor, Bruce served as a board member at the Piermont Community Playgroup, the Dennis P. McHugh Piermont Library, the Piermont Historical Society, and the Rockland Center for the Arts, additionally serving as Treasurer for the latter three groups. Bruce is also a member of the Piermont Democratic Committee, and a former Alternate on the Village of Piermont Zoning Board

Mayor Tucker (as he signs his emails to me) is up for re-election, so I thought maybe he would want a crusade to stake his campaign to…..poison ivy on the Pier.

I sent a nice email, identifying myself as a Public Health professional by adding the MPH to my signature, and expressed my concern for the residents and visitors to our lovely little village

Good afternoon Mayor Tucker,
My husband and I live I Piermont and we said a quick hello to you after the parade on Memorial Day. I am very concerned about the poison ivy on the Pier. It is rampant, enveloping trees, hanging over the road and so well established it is bearing berries. Although many of us know to stay away, I have concerns about visitors especially children who may touch, rub against it, even possibly pick the leaves, eat the berries. I realize that removing the PI from the Pier would be very difficult and we certainly don’t want to use chemicals that would undoubtedly end up in our river. I am wondering if we can post some warning signs at the entrance to the Pier, and along the way, and if there are places where it can at least be cut back without risking the safety of our DPW staff.

Please let me know if there would be some way that (short of ripping it out with my bare hands) I could assist.
Thank you.
Best wishes,
Karel R. Amaranth, MPH, MA

Hi Karel,

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation owns the south side of the Pier, so we are not allowed to touch it. I did make them aware of the situation – this was their reply:

Thanks for passing this on. But the DEC does not normally eradicate a native species like that. Is the poison Ivy encroaching on the road? I am not sure it would ever be possible to eradicate Poison Ivy… and I would imagine it would require an herbicide.

As you point out, we certainly don’t want to use chemicals that would undoubtedly end up in our river.

Perhaps an email to the D.E.C. from a concerned resident as yourself may prompt them to take action. You can email Heather Gierloff at:
heather.gierloff@dec.ny.gov

In the meantime, I will speak to Tom at the D.P.W. to see about posting warning signs.

Thank you,
Bruce Tucker, Mayor
Village of Piermont, NY 10968
478 Piermont Ave.
Piermont, NY 10968
(845) 359-1258 x304
btucker@piermont-ny.gov

Native species??????? Wtf????? We are talking about poison ivy here, not the Western Underground Orchid, Pitcher Plant or Jellyfish Tree. But ok….I’ll contact Heather Gierloff. Public Health knows no governmental barriers, and in fact I was pretty excited about moving up from the government of Piermont to the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation. (Note: In my email below I get right to being a Public Health professional!)

Dear Ms. Gierloff:
I am a resident of Piermont and I certainly enjoy our beautiful Pier. For the past few summers I have been concerned about the rampant and encroaching poison ivy. It envelops many of the trees on the south side of the Pier and is hanging over the road; some of the ivy is so strong that it is producing berries. As we all know, contact with poison ivy does not just produce itchy skin, it can be deadly, entering the respiratory system. I am deeply concerned about visitors to our Pier who may not know how dangerous this plant is: children who may rub up against the trees, adults who may pick the leaves and possibly think the berries are edible. Recently on a walk I had to ask a couple to please not gather the leaves which they were picking along with some other flowers and plants.

As a Public Health professional, I certainly understand that we do not want to endanger our river and river life with herbicides or chemicals to remove the poison ivy, but i am asking the Department of Environmental Conservation to find a way to control it, cut it back or use organic solutions (I use vinegar and salt on my own property.) I have contacted the Mayor of Piermont also requesting signage at the entrance to the pier and at certain points along the way to inform visitors about the dangers of poison ivy and how to identify it.
I would very much appreciate your response and attention to this danger to ensure safety for residents of Piermont and our visitors.
Best wishes,
Karel R. Amaranth, MPH, MA

Ms. Gierloff responded:

Karel,

Thank you for reaching out about the Poison Ivy issue.
I will be meeting with Bruce Tucker next week to look at the area and discuss options.

Have a good day
Heather

Heather Gierloff
she/her/hers
Regional Marine Habitat Manager, DEC Regions 3 and 4
Manager, Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Norrie Point Environmental Center, 256 Norrie Point Way, P.O. Box 315, Staatsburg, NY 12580
P: (845) 889-4745 x118 | heather.gierloff@dec.ny.gov
http://www.dec.ny.gov | | |

I didn’t exactly get to have a passionate 1854 John Snow at the London water well moment, in fact I wasn’t even invited to the meeting between Mayor Tucker and Heather. It was kind of anti-climactic; I was probably working at my office or home feeding the cats or weeding the garden or something relatively mundane when The Meeting took place and strategies impacting on the health and well-being of the residents of Piermont and our guests were being determined by powerful governmental officials.

But a week or so later, as I resumed my runs on the Pier, I noticed some brown, dry curled vines dangling from trees as I approached the Pier Road from the parking lot. And there, right there at the entrance to the Pier was a sign saying, CAUTION Poison Ivy and a labeled drawing of the three-leaf design. There were more signs arranged along the road, more dead and dying vines, as I later found out, doused with a solution of salt, vinegar and dish soap. I stopped and gazed out at the Hudson River and when I turned to continue my run, a woman approaching me said, “Well, they finally did something about the poison ivy.” I smiled and continued to run.

 

Grateful for our beautiful Pier

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: