Employee Spotlight: City of Toledo Celebrates Earth Day, Abed Semaan and the Division of Environmental Services

Monday, April 22, 2024

The City of Toledo is celebrating Earth Day by highlighting the accomplishments and goals of its Environmental Services division, led by Commissioner Abed Semaan. Under Semaan's leadership, the city has made significant progress in protecting natural resources, preserving clean air and water, and promoting a sustainable community.

Semaan immigrated to the United States from Beirut, Lebanon, in 1984 to attend The University of Toledo. His connection to the environment is evident in his work in Toledo. “We need to do everything we can to protect our environment,” he said. “We need to treat every day like Earth Day. It's our responsibility to ensure that the resources we have in our great city are available for future generations to enjoy.”

The Environmental Services division encompasses a range of programs and initiatives. Semaan emphasized the dedication of his team. “Our staff is the reason the division performs so well,” he said. “Their commitment to protecting our resources and residents goes beyond just a job.”

He praised his team for their hard work, dedication, and involvement in community events and educational outreach. “Their commitment to the residents and the environment is evident both during and outside of work hours,” Semaan said. The division also supports community gardens and aids neighborhood organizations with education and application processes.

The division engages in various water quality projects, including stream restoration in city parks such as Bandore Park and Jermain Park. By leveraging grant funding, the division has secured approximately $4.2 million for these projects. Semaan also highlighted the importance of the EPA Trash Free Great Lakes grant, which provided approximately $415,000 for the installation of trash traps and expanded educational outreach about the impact of trash on local health and the economy.

The division also focuses on maintaining air quality and monitoring the impact of industrial activities on the environment. “Our air monitoring engineers visit industries to ensure they comply with EPA and regulatory standards,” Semaan said.

Semaan and his team took particular pride in the Schneider Soccer Complex project, a collaboration between Environmental Services, Parks and Youth Services, and community partners. This important achievement highlights the use of green infrastructure technology, such as bioswales, to manage stormwater runoff and promote environmental health. These bioswales resemble flower beds and help beautify areas, support pollinators, and prevent pollutants from entering waterways.

"Schneider Park showcases how the city and community partners can achieve amazing results through cooperation," Semaan said. "It serves as a benchmark for brownfield redevelopment and sustainable design, including bioretention systems that treat over 3 million gallons of stormwater annually." The park's development earned Toledo a U.S. EPA Region 5 Brownfields 2023 Award.

Another important initiative, funded by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant, is the heat map study executed last year. “Extreme heat is the deadliest weather event in the U.S., affecting our most vulnerable communities the most,” Semaan said. “With the help of the NOAA grant, Toledo carried out an Urban Heat Mapping Campaign involving city employees and community volunteers to identify areas of high heat within the city. The data collected will guide equitable, purposeful community development plans and strategies to protect at-risk areas as part of creating a Climate Ready Nation."

Other projects close to Semaan and his team’s heart are initiatives like Bandore Park Restoration, Jermain Park Ottawa River Restoration, and the Ozone Action Season campaign, and Trash Trapper campaign to name a few.

In addition to these projects, the division collaborates with other departments such as Urban Beautification on initiatives like the Block-by-Block program, which helps combat blight by collecting debris and recyclable materials from residents' curbs for free. The division also hosts Clean Toledo Recycling Events, helping keep neighborhoods clean with drop-off events throughout the summer.

Semaan's dedication to the environment extends beyond work as he takes every opportunity to educate residents. Recently, while shopping, Semaan encountered a man buying a battery-powered lawnmower. “I stopped him in the middle of Costco and told him about our lawnmower rebates,” he said.

Through its comprehensive range of projects and initiatives, the Environmental Services division fights for a higher quality of life for all Toledo residents. “We are here to protect the residents and the environment,” Semaan said. “That's the role we have, and it's a mission we take seriously.”

Semaan believes that educating the community, especially the younger generation, is crucial for creating lasting positive change. He emphasized that it is not about instilling fear, but about teaching people how their actions can impact the environment positively or negatively.

Semaan's vision and leadership continue to guide the division toward greater achievements in environmental protection, ensuring that Toledo remains a vibrant and sustainable city for future generations.