The Hardworking Woman Battling Tucson’s Trash Pollution – Ms Engel


Before and after Ms. Engel’s clean-up

Jordan Myers, Reporter

During the past month and a half, Sahuaro orchestra teacher, Ms. Engel, has been working on cleaning up the Santa Cruz Riverbed one trash pick-up at a time. Just south of St. Mary’s and west of I-10, outrageous amounts of trash collects in the riverbed after each rainfall, and it surely doesn’t help that people continue to throw their waste into the wash, including full garbage bags, hundreds of styrofoam cups, and tons of thrown out clothing.

The Santa Cruz Riverbed

Sadly, hundreds of empty syringes are thrown carelessly into not only the Santa Cruz River but every wash in Tucson, only further disrupting the wildlife with our waste. On her clean-ups, Ms. Engel has encountered boxes full of used syringes beneath bags of trash and even some needles laying in plain sight. “Some of the syringes I find lying out in the open have two caps on each end, one covering the needle and the other covering the plunger, but so many don’t, so I make sure to search for loose needles on the ground at the end of each cleanup,” Ms. Engel said.

To this day, Ms. Engel has picked up close to 300 needles, if not more, using silk jugs given to her by our school nurse, Ms. Duncan. After collecting needles, she often takes them to the nearest hospital or police station for safe disposal.

However, needles and trash aren’t all she comes across during her trash clean-ups. Ms. Engel has had her fair share of run-ins with coyotes as well as road runners, the classic story of Wile E Coyote and The Road Runner taking place in Tucson’s own washes, except the roadrunners must navigate through filth to survive.

Just weeks ago as she was cleaning up the Santa Cruz Riverbed, Ms. Engel noticed an ammonite lying on the ground. “It was lying in the riverbed just like any other rock. But this thing is between 221 and 66 million years old,” she said. “For this mollusk that was alive during either the Juassic or Cretaceous periods to end up in the middle of the desert is a question, I will never be able to answer, but it is definitely the coolest thing I’ve found so far!”

Along with doing wash cleanups, Ms. Engel has picked up an interest for biking in her free time and that’s how she ended up coming across the area of Santa Cruz that she’s been working on. She explained, “This past year I’ve really gotten into biking. I have a goal to reach the equivalent of 100 miles a month, or 1,200 for the year on my bike.”

Ms. Engel is an avid biker and said she would consider riding in the Tour de Tucson in November. Fingers crossed!

In any other free time she gets away from fighting local pollution, she enjoys hiking and camping with her wife and dogs, as well as playing music as often as she is able to.

We at The Paper Cut recognize and appreciate the hard work Ms. Engel has put into our local washes and encourage National Honors Society students to join her in battling a fight worth fighting.

Thank you Ms. Engel!