But not before making the air in Greenpoint cleaner for everyone
Irene Klementowicz in life, made life in Greenpoint better and safer. She passed away on January 20, 2023. The community is so sad to see her go and are so much better off that she was here.
Irene Klementowicz was born on January 8, 1929 in the Bronx. She made her first home there with her husband, Leon, near the Bronx Zoo close enough to hear the lions roar in the summertime. She may have picked up a few pointers from them.
In 1958, Greenpoint Brooklyn became this young family’s new home. Irene and Leon had welcomed three daughters: Joanne in 1951, Claudia Marie in 1955, and Monica in 1957. In 1959 their only son, Paul, came into the world. Then came a fateful day in 1960, when Irene noticed black soot on the laundry she had hung out to dry, then she noticed the soot on her windows. This soot came from the Greenpoint Incinerator. Irene the activist was born.
She first took on a chemical company across the street from her children’s school for emitting odors that could be harmful. The chemical company were made to place anti-pollution controls on their exhaust stacks. Then she set her sites on the Greenpoint Incinerator. As part of The Concerned Citizens of Greenpoint she participated in a determined force of stamina, an effort that took community activists 35 years, and in 1994 the Greenpoint Incinerator closed down.
She continued to fight for a cleaner environment, so her battle with garbage wasn’t over. Williamsburg/Greenpoint has long taken more than its share of garbage intake, and had the highest number of intake stations in 2001 when more were proposed to be added to the neighborhood. Irene fought against this.
But if a woman’s work is never done, a woman who is also an environmental activist in a neighborhood that has a toxic history and was about to get its first Superfund site (Newton Creek) — well that workload just got a whole lot larger.
Her purpose was to make a safer home for her family and her neighbors. She wasn’t looking for recognition, so recognition came looking for her. In 2001 she received the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Quality Awards in the Individual Citizen category. “In her role as President of the Concerned Citizens of Greenpoint, Irene Klementowicz has worked tirelessly to improve the environment of her Greenpoint community. Among the projects to which she has dedicated herself and her organization are shutting down the Greenpoint incinerator, advocating the upgrade to secondary treatment of the Newtown Water Pollution Control Plant, monitoring the consent order requiring Mobil Oil Company to pump out millions of gallons of petroleum contaminating the aquifer under Newtown Creek, increasing local access to the community’s waterfront and the pursuit of environmental justice for residents in the Greenpoint neighborhood,” said the EPA’s press release on the Earth Day event. This is only one of several acknowledgments.
On the news of her death, heartfelt loss was shared by elected officials and activist groups.
“On Friday, we lost one of the community’s greatest environmental leaders, Irene Klementowicz. Irene was a tenacious fighter who challenged polluting companies and city, state, and federal agencies in bringing substantial environmental improvements to Greenpoint and the Newtown Creek,” shared the Newton Creek Alliance on Instagram
“[Irene] Klementowicz was a founder of the Concerned Citizens of Greenpoint in 1994, which fought tenaciously to have the environmental hazards of our community acknowledged and responded to. [She] not only fought to have Newtown Creek declared a Superfund site, she also helped to prevent a massive waste incinerator from dominating the Williamsburg waterfront. Without her, North Brooklyn as we know would be unrecognizable and far be less safe,” stated NYS Assembly Member Emily Gallagher
Irene Klementowicz will be deeply missed and her memory cherished by her children and their spouses: Joanne Laszczych and her husband Raymond of Greenpoint Brooklyn; Claudia McGuinness and her husband Patrick of Brewster, NY; Monica Klementowicz Tillot and her husband Lamont of North Salem, NY; and Paul Klementowicz of Greenpoint, Brooklyn; her grandchildren who called her Babci, or “The Big Bopper”; her great grandchildren; her nieces and nephews; her great nieces and great nephews; and her friends.