By Mike Servedio
During my time working in the Communications Department at the Academy, I’ve had a lot of intriguing assignments—taking pictures of specimens behind the scenes, getting close to live animals, and venturing into the field with our scientists, just to name a few. But standing in shin-deep stream water with actor Mark Ruffalo, probably most famous for his portrayal of the Hulk in the 2012 blockbuster “The Avengers,” is high on my list of interesting assignments.
After having spent nearly an hour with the famous actor in Northeast Philadelphia’s Tookany Creek, I can definitely tell you he is more Bruce Banner than Incredible Hulk. Ruffalo visited the creek and spent time with members of the Academy’s Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), a massive multi-year initiative funded by the William Penn Foundation to protect and restore critical sources of drinking water in the Delaware River Basin. The actor and activist also worked alongside Philadelphia public high school students from the Academy’s Women In Natural Sciences program and streamkeepers from the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership. He was engaged from the start, joking with staff as he donned gaiters and asked questions about the team’s tools and research methods.
Academy Senior Director of Environmental Initiatives Roland Wall said, “Mark is a strong activist on water quality issues, and we’re so thrilled that he took the time and got into the creek with our staff and demonstrated how important this issue is.”
Ruffalo founded Water Defense, an organization with the mission to “use technology and public engagement to inform people about what is in their water, hold water polluters accountable, and keep our waterways and drinking water sources free from contamination and industrial degradation.” He is especially interested in our local watershed, as he owns a home on the Upper Delaware.
If you peruse Ruffalo’s social media accounts, you will be more likely to find links to articles on the impacts of natural gas drilling and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, than you will be to discover Hollywood gossip or movie reviews. At an event later in the day at the Academy, Ruffalo passionately called for more people to unite and discuss water quality issues. Like many of the water quality advocates the actor met during his visit, I was inspired by Ruffalo’s passion and his ability to use his celebrity in support of one of today’s most pressing environmental challenges.