Environmental Justice Earth Day Conference

A Brief History of the KSU East Liverpool Campus Earth Day Environmental Justice Conference

By Dr. Patti Swartz

The first Earth Day Environmental Conference was conceived on a windy, winter day in 2006, on the loading dock of the then Main Building of the East Liverpool Campus.

The late Dr. Roxanne Burns, coordinator of the sciences and director of the Honors Program for the East Liverpool Campus, and Dr. Patti Swartz, then coordinator of English, frequently met on the loading dock between classes. On this particular day, when Dr. Burns came through the doors, she was obviously upset.

 “Patti,” she said, “we have to do something. My students don’t know anything about pollution or climate change. We have to help them understand!”

This conversation occurred in the early days of 2006 when the mainstream media was still denying that climate change was a problem and that pesticides and herbicides did not damage the environment and people, and when few people –  other than scientists – were talking about global warming, the dangers of pesticide use, the possible consequences of genetically modified seeds and foods, or the significant problems that face us with the rise and acidification of the oceans and the pollution of drinking water.

We determined to work together – with help from students in our classes – to sponsor an annual conference on the Saturday in April closest to Earth Day.

Dr. Lydia Rose, sociology and the current faculty advisor for the campus Environmental Club, joined in planning during her first year on the campus and expanded the conference to include online presentations.

Other faculty and cooperation from the Business Office were essential to the conference’s success over the years. A conference like this is a joint effort and requires many dedicated people to exist.

Henry Trenklebach, the former business manager for the campus, and his wife April, were advocates for the conference and for the environment. Paula Butler, of the business office, assured that all ran smoothly, that the student awards for the papers and posters were ensured and that the bills were paid in a timely fashion. Megan Rodgers began directing the nuts and bolts work of the conference in advance and on the day of the conference. The library and maintenance staffs provided equipment, set up, and moved the conference forward successfully.

Because we felt this should be an educational experience, we chose speakers that would inform students and community members who attended. That first conference featured Alonzo Spencer, local NAACP environmental chair and the recipient of the Howard M. Metzenbaum Citizen Action Award for his work in environmental awareness. Spencer has been involved with protests of the local waste incinerator, collection of air samples and is a founder of the environmental group Save Our County.

Other speakers for the first event included John Conroy of Ohio State University who studies the effects of pollution on the Great Lakes, focusing on Lake Erie; John Scherfel, senior manager, Beaver County Conservation District, who spoke on problems with erosion and farm run-off; and a panel put together by Dr. Augusto Soriano that featured him, Anuradha Eaturu and Beverly Christen, all of whom provided a global perspective to the mismanagement of the world’s resources.

Topics and speakers for the conference have been extremely varied over the years. They have included:

Julia Bonds, the recipient of one of the largest environmental awards, the international Goldman Award for Environmental Activism, and Coal River Mountain Watch activist Patty Sebok, spoke about mountain top removal mining.

Dr. Thomas Shevory, author of Toxic Burn, a history and assessment of the origins activation of the WTI incinerator, spoke to the history and current operation of the plant. Elizabeth Kline, an instructor of biology and environmental technologies at Zane State College, discussed water testing used to determine groundwater quality prior to fracking.

Caitlin Johnson, a former George Gund Foundation fellow and a broadcast, print and digital journalist, presently with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OAC), discussed the OAC’s “Listening Posts,” which are designed to gather information about fracking in Ohio.

Dr. Sarah Smiley, a geography professor on the Kent State Salem Campus, presented information about water and water quality in Africa. Smiley’s research interests lie at the intersection of urban, historical and cultural geography. She is especially interested in the ways that colonial legacies of segregation, housing and development policy, and amenity provision affect everyday life in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Roger Greenawalt, Sweet Meadow Farm Drainage, explained the process and operation of alternative heating and cooling of his 150 year old farmhouse and his new office space through geothermal technology. Timothy A. Thomas spoke about sustainable architecture for construction and renovation. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects, senior associate at BSHM, and a LEED accredited professional making recommendations on sustainable design issues.

Cassandra Clevenger and Stephanie Deibel, senior biology students at Kent State University, discussed cataloging the urban forest. Their presentation was also slated for presentation at the 68th Soil and Water Conservation Society Annual Conference in Reno, Nevada, and the 2013 Ohio Storm Water Conference in Cincinnati.

Professor Francis Graham explained and demonstrated some of his earth-friendly energy machines. Graham, a physicist and astronomer, also spoke about the rockets he developed and his work with a rocket group.

Success of community gardens and urban renewal efforts was the topic of “Big Jim” London, Jack Daugherty and Ian Beniston, director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC).  London’s work in the Idora Neighborhood is closely aligned to the YNDC.

Brad Melzer, of Oberlin’s George Jones Memorial Farm and Nature Preserve in permaculture farm, spoke of permaculture and of local food initiatives that take fresh and affordable food into areas of Cleveland that are without good food sources.

Chip Kohser detailed information about local food initiatives in East Liverpool and Pittsburgh, the importance of good nutrient local food and creating a subscription service to ensure the availability of local food.

Helene Moncman, community research navigator for the American Cancer Society, spoke about the Cancer Prevention Study 3 (CPS-3), a national study and a grassroots effort of the American Cancer Society’s epidemiology research program that selected Columbiana County as an area to be targeted in the CPS-3 study.

Water and damage from runoff pollution, pesticides and fracking was a topic examined in depth with chemist Tom Bonds of West Virginia and Dr. Aaron Barchowsky a faculty member of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health. Also speaking about issues related to water and fracking was Dr. Conrad Dan Volz, director and principal investigator of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, director of the Environmental Health Risk Assessment Certificate; and assistant professor in the department of environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health.

Jim Kerr and Tom Butch, both on the Beaver Creek Park Board and instrumental in the growth of the Nature Center, spoke about wildlife in the park and the endangered lizards whose homes are there. They also addressed possible problems with the creek level caused by water level drops from fracking, as well as the issue of pesticides leaking from drums of pcp’s and Mirax leaking into the water at the head of Beaver Creek in Salem. Audiences previously learned from a speaker from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that the development of a lodge and other amenities at Beaver Creek State Park had ended because of the pesticide contamination that is currently being addressed through the dredging of the creek.

Scott Shalaway, a columnist and journalist was a featured speaker at Kent State University East Liverpool’s fourth annual Earth Day Environmental Justice Conference on April 25, 2009. He detailed his world travels and the unique environments encountered on his trips around the globe.

The 2016 speakers included Stephanie Dyer, from Eastgate Council of Governments, spoke about problems of water quality and sewage containment in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys. Angell Hohvart, of Fox and Family Rescue, not only spoke about rescuing foxes, but of the requirements for becoming a rescue agency.  She included some of the foxes and other rescued animals in her presentation. Dr. Patti Capel Swartz read poetry designed to change people’s hearts and to help them to be more in-tune with the environment and the need for environmental justice.

Students have been heavily involved with the conference through coursework that included organizing and planning the conference, submitting papers and posters, as well as coursework that included gathering information, drafting press releases and compiling and editing conference proceedings.

Students Megan Rodgers, Eric Metz, Karen Pletcher and Christine Haas once represented the East Liverpool Campus at the Appalachian Studies Conference in Richmond, Kentucky, where they presented their experiences planning and executing the conference. This conference has always been an effort of the KSUEL Environmental Club. It was founded to expand student learning and always focused on the learning and creative thinking of students.