Picking it Up

Green Collar Blues

Think police officers are more prone to line-of-duty injuries? Think again.

For the past six years, New York City’s sanitation workers—uniformed in green—have experienced a higher rate of line-of-duty injuries than most of the city’s workers, second only to firefighters.


In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobs performed by sanitation workers are among the most dangerous jobs in the nation, right up there with pilots, fishermen and loggers. In the nation, Refuse and recyclable material collectors had a rate of 33 fatalities per 100,000 workers, compared to a fatality rate of just 3.2 for all workers in 2013.

In New York City, sanitation workers are responsible for picking up 12,000 tons of trash each day, and for sweeping and clearing snow and ice from 6,000 miles of city streets. According to the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, an average New York City sanitation worker will walk 15 miles and lift 26 tons of garbage in one week.  In 2013, there were about 1,450 line of duty injuries to sanitation workers and supervisors in the city.

Line of duty injuries to NYC sanitation workers and supervisors in 2013


Harry Nespoli, the president of the association, said that the biggest threats on the job are being hit by other vehicles or picking up garbage with hazardous materials—like needles or acid.

Accidents that sanitation workers experience can be horrific. New York’s Department of Sanitation had its 17th line-of-duty fatality since 2000 when 43-year old Steven Frosch was killed last year. Frosch was performing maintenance on a street sweeper in a Queens garage, when another sweeper struck the man and pinned him between the vehicles. According to the Daily News, Frosch had had been a police officer for five years before trading in his blues for Department of Sanitation green.

Although Nespoli says being hit by a vehicle is the most common cause of injuries, “There’s always the mystery of what you are dumping.” more >

Tons of garbage NYC sanitation workers collect in one day


Hop inside a sanitation rig and meet the cheerful crew who make trash collecting look fun.

— George Liam Steptoe

Junk Boats

Hundreds of abandoned vessels are left to rust, leak gasoline and sink in NYC’s waterways.

If you see a half-sunken boat spoiling your view of New York’s shorelines and rivers, you may wonder: Whose jobs is it to clean that up?

The answer is not so clear. Over the time, hundreds of abandoned vessels are left to rust, leak gasoline and eventually sink into the bottom of a waterway in New York City, according to a salvage expert. Is the government doing anything to remove abandoned boats?

Jim Dambrosio, program support specialist at US Army Corps of Engineers, said the Corps team is only responsible for removal of wrecks if they “become hazard to navigation and are free-floating.” In that scenario, the debris will be towed away by “survey boats on missions of drift collection.” In other words, if the vessel is tied to the dock and or is halfway in the sand, the Corps engineers can’t touch it.

Normally, it’s the owner of the vessel who is responsible for that clean-up. However, if he or she fails to do so, the United States Coast Guard would intervene if the sunken vessels meet either one of following criteria, according to Charles Rowe, the agency’s spokesman: “First, the boat causes pollution. Second, the boat blocks navigation for commercial vessels.”

If an owner fails to act, figuring out who is responsible for a junk boat can be “a black hole,” said Brian Kempf, the director of Bureau of Marine Services at New York States’ Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. One challenging factor is the cost to have a marine salvage and wreck removal company to tow away a recreational boat–cost can ranges from anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000, according to Kempf.

In light of the expensive fees, some state tries to collect public funding to help remove the abandoned boats. However, New York City doesn’t have that program, according to Kempf. In 2008, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn and Queens) called for a federal aid package to subsidize a volunteer-led effort to remove 230 derelict boats from Jamaica Bay and other waterways around New York State, according to a Daily News article.

To help mitigate the situation caused by gray areas around wreckage regulation, volunteers from around Jamaica Bay have participated in a marine debris removal project since 2002 called “Jamaica Bay Clean Sweep” led by American Littoral Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protect marine habitat and life.

In 2013, the organization located  over 590 items of wreckages and removed 60 tons of marine debris including abandoned docks in Jamaica Bay. “We have a GPS map of over 590 boats, docks and large pieces of debris in Jamaica Bay,” said Don Riepe, founder of American Littoral Society. “It’s a long-term effort to remove the sunk boats there. We need to work on it every year.” By Siyu Qian and Shengying Zhao


Next: Where it goes >

We have a GPS map of over 590 boats, docks and large pieces of debris in Jamaica Bay. It’s a long-term effort to remove the sunk boats there. We need to work on it every year. Don Riepe

Founder, American Littoral Society