Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Saving A Swamp: Citizens Unite for the Greater Good

By Sharon Meyer

It is incredible what people can accomplish when they put their whole heart into something; for instance, the people who helped preserve swamps, wildlife, the Farny Highlands and Sterling Forest. After reading this chapter titled “Saving a Swamp and Landmark Campaigns,” I have come to realize anything is possible with perseverance and determination.

These ordinary, everyday citizens put their minds together and stood for something they believed in. “On the other side were determined citizens who organized support of more than four hundred civic organizations in twenty-nine states, raised more than four million dollars to purchase the core of the land they sought to save, and saw it dedicated as a national wildlife refuge,” Jan Barry wrote of the Great Swamp campaign. In my life I have heard many people around me complain about things they do not like or problems they have, but instead of taking action, they sit and complain about it. To read that citizens have actually turned their thoughts into a real operation, creating civic groups, was shocking to me.

These civic groups and the people who have started them probably have affected my life more than I have ever realized. I remember going to the wetlands on an eighth grade class trip. If it was not for these groups, I may have never been able to experience the marshes and the wildlife I had seen there. Preservation of wildlife is such an important aspect of saving the environment, because they are a major part of our ecosystem. If we destroy and disturb the core of an ecosystem, the other parts of the ecosystem will ultimately fail, endangering human life as we know it.

The future lies in our own hands, and if more people do not start concerning themselves with the current situation the environment is in, then I really do fear for the future. I have never really cared about these swamps and marshes, as long as there was a mall I could go to, and a highway to drive on to get to that mall. Yes it sounds selfish and disgusting, now that I realize that type of thinking is what has ruined such a beautiful landscape and environment that surrounds me today.

Reading further into the chapter, I came across something very interesting. The Port Authority was the main reason there had to be a movement of saving the Great Swamp. Apparently they wanted to build an international airport on this marsh land that was popular with migratory birds. If this movement by a determined group of citizens never took place, this marsh land would have been gone, and I would have never even thought about its absence. In the book, A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, it says that this is now the most visited marshland, especially for avid bird watchers. Because of the courageous effort and the tenacity that was instilled in local residents and taxpayers to take action in the matter of saving the swamp, the ecosystem there is left unaltered and available for my future children to visit.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Toxic Legacy: An On Going Problem

By Sharon Meyer

I am blogging on the “Ramapoughs” aspect of Toxic Legacy. I chose this aspect because people are suffering and have been suffering for years because the laziness, greediness, and ignorance, of a corporate company, Ford Motors. When reading up on the section about the people of this “village,” “town.” I am horrified that these poor people have been dumped on for years and have grown up in a toxic wasteland and the paint sludge still remains in large quantities where these people live. Ford has slacked off for years on cleaning up the mess they have made for the Ramapough people. Not only have they found ways of getting around cleaning up the disgusting sludge that remains on this land, but also when they are forced to clean it, more sludge appears in later days.

This ongoing problem is affecting the health of all the people living on this land. Not only that but these people farm on their land, on the land that is polluted with toxic chemicals. The vegetation and water that they use to survive is contaminated and they have no other option. These people cannot move because they will not be able to sell their homes to people because of the toxic waste that remains on the land. No one would willingly buy that property, and without selling their homes; they will have no money to purchase a new place to live. Not only that, but I could not imagine having to uproot after years of living in the same place, especially in a time where the economy is so horrible and it is hard enough to put food on the table for some. Like the Toxic Legacy series had stated, the community has a reputation for being “ignorant, barbaric, and illiterate.” This reputation makes it nearly impossible for residents with this reputation to be hired for a job. Without income leads to even bigger problems of taking care of their families.

What really bothers me the most is that the government and EPA have lied to this residents numerous times and said that the land was cleaned and safe, but still more sludge appeared. It has come to a point that some residents have begun to lie and say that there is no sludge because they are afraid of being condemned and being left with no place to live. When it comes to a point that people are lying about cancerous material that was dumped there by a company because they are in fear of losing their homes, something needs to be done. The government is supposed to protect its people and their surroundings, and so far they have done nothing but lie and continue to allow these people to suffer in this wasteland. Action needs to be taken to the next level in order to keep the health, sanity, and lives of the Ramapough people. If you put yourself in these people’s shoes, would you not expect to be protected?

Toxic Legacy: Case of Environmental Racism?

By Stephanie Noda

The part of the whole “Toxic Legacy” scenario that bothers me the most is the way the Ramapoughs were treated by the Ford Motor Company. The paint sludge that was dumped illegally on their grounds did quite a lot of damage to this community. It destroyed the lands they called home; although the Ramapoughs have lived there for centuries, they will probably not be able to live there in the future due to the contamination. The story of Paul Eugene Van Dunk is a prime example of how the Ford paint sludge has ruined the Ramapough’s lives. Van Dunk’s nephew and daughter both died of cancer at an early age, which the family feels is from all the toxic sludge surrounding the area in which they lived. It sickens me that two children died just because Ford decided they didn’t want to properly clean up their mess and just dump it on people that had nothing to do with the factory. Those children could have lived a long, healthy life, but were unable to out of the selfishness of a car company that refused to take responsibility for their actions.

The fact that Ford decide to dump paint sludge primarily on Ramapough lands brings up another issue: environmental racism. Did Ford think that they could get away with polluting lands because they belonged to a group of Native Americans? This disgusting display of racism confounds me, especially since this situation hasn’t been resolved by the American judicial system. The actions of the EPA are also rather horrifying; their insistence that all of the sludge had been cleaned up when there was piles of sludge on the Ramapough’s front lawn boggles my mind. This was the institution that was created to protect us from environmental hazards; even its name, the Environmental Protection Agency, gives the impression that it is the group that will keep us from harm. However, the fact that they are turning a blind eye to this issue really makes me question the credibility of this institution and whether they really have American citizen’s safety as their top priority. It makes me wonder if there are cases similar to “Toxic Legacy” all over the country that we never hear of due to the government going out of their way to refuse to deal with these issues.

Another aspect of the poor treatment of the Ramapoughs that saddens me is the refusal of the national government to recognize them as Native Americans. Although the New Jersey government does grant this privilege, they are not given recognition beyond the state level. It is horrible that a group is being told that they are not who they really are, even though they’ve been part of the Native American culture probably longer than the U.S. government has been in power. What right does the government have to tell a group of people how they are allowed to self identify? Between the paint sludge destroying the Ramapough’s ancient lands and the inability of the government to recognize the culture of an ancient society, the Ramapoughs have not been treated with the respect that they deserve. The government needs to realize that these people are being treated unjustly and give them their rights back.

Toxic Legacy: When a Cleanup isn't Enough

By Tara Lafemina

People do not seem to care about each other. I do not get how and why a large corporation, or anyone for that matter, can hurt an entire community and not blink an eye. When the Toxic Legacy articles brought light to what Ford Motor Company did to the people of Ringwood, it was disappointing, although not surprising.

Ford decided to illegally dump their paint sludge, which has arsenic and lead, around a residential community. Actually, they dumped anywhere they could find. Why would they dump in an area where the paint sludge would eventually emerge on peoples’ front lawns? Even if they dumped the paint sludge in the middle of a forest, I still do not agree with that, but you really must have no remorse if you do it in people’s yards.

The town of Ringwood, New Jersey and the government once again have caused me to shake my head at humanity. I do not even know what to say about Ford and what they did.

I would really like to know what they were thinking. Ford claimed to clean their hazardous waste from the land; this was enough for the EPA to believe. Should at least double checking sites be part of the EPA’s job?

The high rate of cancer in the area should have tipped people off. This alone should have been more than enough reason for a full investigation. If I was a leader of a community that had a very high rate of cancer and other rare diseases, I would want to know why. It amazes me how blind and uncaring our leaders could be. Many people seem to take this out on the government, well how about our local governments? Our local leaders are the ones we are neighbors with, have something in common with. I think that the Toxic Legacy case should have been more important to the leaders of Ringwood. If it were, this mess may have not as been severe. Their town was counting on them and it was their responsibility to tend to their town. They should be ashamed for letting an entire community suffer.

Since the Native American Ramapoughs live in the Ringwood area, they are another reason why an investigation should have taken place. Was Ford dumping their waste in this area an act of hate or just a coincidence?

Toxic Legacy: The Dirty Truth

By Katie Lukshis

I’ve heard about “Toxic Legacy” before in a previous class, so I already knew some background about the story. The thing that is different now compared to when I first learned about it, is that I didn’t really pay attention to the actual story behind the report. What goes on behind the doors of the Ford Company is kept private for a very good reason; all the corruption that happens needs to be kept from those getting hurt the most from their actions. The Ramapoughs were taken advantage of because they are viewed as minorities or lower class. When they tried to speak out and get someone to notice what had been happening in their neighborhood, nobody listened. I don’t understand how people with money feel it’s ethical to treat those that don’t in such demeaning way. The Ramapoughs had to deal with bizarre illnesses with medical bills as a result, and ultimately, the death of children and other members of the community. The EPA, a governmental agency that is supposed to protect the environment, didn’t pay attention to this community and their cries for help. Instead, the EPA claimed all spots in this Ringwood area were cleared of paint sludge. The worst part of it all is that many, if not all, of these people want to leave the area but can’t. It may be a money issue, or it may just be fear, but they still live in toxic neighborhoods and are still putting their health and lives at risk.

Another shocking part of this story that I wasn’t expecting was the Mob’s involvement. The Mob is something you hear about every so often, but you never really hear details about their involvement with companies and the things they do. They were going into this community and helping Ford dump their waste. The frightening part about this occurrence was that when the people tried to stop the Mob from what they were doing, their lives were threatened. They no longer had any control over where they lived and what was happening there, and they had no one to try and stop it. These people knew that they had to take matters into their own hands and complain about it until something was done.

I think the most awakening aspect of this report is that you’ll never really know just how safe your water is, or how safe the area you’re living in is. Poor communities all around the country are treated unjustly solely because of the amount of money they have. They’re the ones being exposed to toxic chemicals and contamination of their water. It is unfair that people are forced into these conditions, and are rarely helped out in the end. The only way to help these communities out is to bring their stories, like “Toxic Legacy,” to the public so that there is more support for them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Toxic Legacy: Incompetence in Ringwood Paint Sludge Cleanup

By Karen Dougherty

In reading about the fiasco that occurred over the so-called “cleanup” of paint sludge dumped in Ringwood by the Ford Motor Company between the years of 1967 and 1971, one can’t help but be dumbstruck by the obvious flaw in the plan that allowed Ford to vouch for itself that the job was adequately completed. That the EPA continued, even after the toxic sludge was again found in areas that had formerly been pronounced sludge-free, to accept Ford’s word in this matter is truly mind-boggling.

Ford contracted with the consulting firm of Arcadis G&M to complete this cleanup and even though as early as 1979 when the job proved to be incompetently handled, the EPA allowed Ford to continue this relationship and rehire the company time and time again. In testing groundwater wells in the area, Arcadis deemed them to be clean while subsequent testing showed elevated levels of several highly toxic chemicals.

In an eerily familiar scenario, the Charleston Daily Mail of West Virginia ran a story in 2002 about possible dioxin contamination found in the drainage wells of the Heizer Creek landfill. During the 1950’s, Monsanto used this landfill to dump waste from its Agent Orange production. Wells in the area were deemed to be free from any contamination after being tested by Arcadis G&M. These results appear to contradict an earlier report by the EPA. Residents question the placement of the monitoring wells and the fact that nearly all the samples were taken within twelve inches of ground level. Since the dumping occurred fifty years ago, the speculation is that these chemicals have had adequate time to percolate downward.

Arcadis’ website contains all the appropriate buzzwords and catchphrases, including: “Not only thinking about our clients, but also thinking like our clients.” As Heizer Creek resident Renae Bonnett says, “Who are you supposed to believe? Would you believe the government agencies or a company hired by the polluter?” Unfortunately, in the case of the Ford Company and the EPA in Ringwood, both of those options seem woefully inadequate.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Toxic Legacy: A Follow-Up That Was Way Overdue

By Chris Brancato

“Toxic Legacy” brought about a lot of key elements concerning our environment and the disregard that many large-named corporations have for it. Unfortunately, a lot of corporations search for the cheapest means of disposal, no matter the result. I really liked how Toxic Legacy revealed the horrifying effects that the paint sludge from Ford’s waste had and just how much of an impact it had on a community that was losing it’s say on things with every day that passed.

What I found to be the most interesting in Toxic Legacy was just how little the higher ups and EPA were willing to listen to the members of the community that were being most affected. It was almost as if these people were being designated as second-rate citizens. The EPA deemed a failed attempt of cleanup during the last decade as being satisfactory, when in fact, based on Mr. Crumb’s standards, was nowhere near.

“That day in February 2004, EPA officials gave the same assurances as before – that some small amount of sludge got overlooked and Ford would take care of it. For representatives said they had done, and would continue doing, whatever the EPA wanted. I was astounded,” wrote Jan Barry in The IRE Journal. This statement alone to me signified how devastating the entire situation was. Not only were these horrible things occurring within people’s properties, but lives were being ruined, and on top of all that, the EPA was unjustifiably turning a blind eye. The people of the community must have felt entirely hopeless and alone.

The images that were being shown of these people who faced skin damage in complete relation to the sludge’s presence were graphic, but a cruel sign of reality. As time passed, a clean up become increasingly demanded, and although it was a matter that would take plenty of time to completely resolve, the fact that it took nearly 10 years to initiate to any sort of near acceptable level was preposterous.

The mob’s involvement was another curveball that obviously served a huge role in the matter, primarily as a scare tactic. Not only were people becoming more and more frightened to speak up, but I’m sure that they were feeling totally trapped. Nobody wanted to buy the property consider the recession and the condition of the property, yet the people who were living there were constantly fighting health threats every single day. It was the worst type of catch-22 imaginable.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Toxic Legacy: Paying the Price

By Amanda Valenti

There is not much about the Toxic Legacy story that does not bother me. But one thing that really sticks out in my mind is the fact that Ford managers thought they could get away with dumping such toxic material into land and water that people come in contact with. The illnesses this thoughtless process has apparently caused is simply inexcusable and the fact that many people are only just now hearing about this for the first time, including myself, is shocking to me. Ford should still be paying a price for those affected by this act of idiocy.

There is no possible way for all the toxic substances dumped by Ford to ever be completely removed, which means it will continue to be hazardous to the heath of those near the land. Ford got off easy and officials were not hard enough on the company. They should have been harassed and forced to act sooner, regardless of the money Ford has.

Ford should have to pay a continual price for the mess they caused. If this were up to me, Ford would be paying a yearly rate to lower taxes for those suffering from the act. They would also have to pay a high cost for the actual clean up that will most likely be taking place in the future, since it will never be completely clean. Ford should also be forced to have pamphlets available at their dealerships across the country so consumers will see what this company has caused.

I feel as though Ford must have known what they were doing was wrong as they were hiding it in the woods. My feelings on things done in the woods are that they tend to be secretive and not want people to know what is going on. It was such a selfish act on Ford’s part to think that paint sludge would not be toxic to those who would be encountering it. Apparently, they thought people would not trace it back to them and they thought they would get away with it. I am glad they had to do something about it, though I do not think it was enough.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Toxic Legacy: What I Learned

By Jennifer De Shields

Toxic Legacy is a pretty important story in my mind, but not just because of the good it did for the people living amid the toxic sludge. This story was one of the first environmental journalism stories I ever read. During my sophomore year I took my first news writing class with Professor Negron. We had to pick a topic to write our final story on and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Then she started talking about a reporter she knew from the Bergen Record who did a story about the land the Ramapough Indians lived on. The topic in itself was intriguing, but what really impressed me was the Toxic Legacy website. There was so much information and interactive material to take in, it was almost overwhelming. After reading the story I decided that I wanted to do my story about the Ford dumping scandal. It was the first story I ever wrote, and I got an A on it.

After writing the story I realized that issues like these really matter to me. The environment affects us all and we should all be aware of that. I always thought that I would write news, and in many ways I still will be writing news. But after reading that story I knew that reporting on environmental issues is important. I got into journalism because I believe that reporting makes a difference in people’s lives, and I’ve always wanted to make a difference in some way. I firmly believe that reporting on environmental issues will be the way that I will make a difference in this world.

The story has a little place in my heart because of my first news story, and the effect it had on me. Reading about the hardships those people have faced broke my heart. They’ve been treated like dogs since they first settled in the land centuries ago. People in the surrounding community think that they’re inbred violent people, when in reality they’re people with a rich cultural background and who have had a difficult past. It makes me sick to think how big companies can get away with endangering human lives like this. I don’t understand how somebody can justify doing what was done. How did the executives think that what they were doing is okay? When I think about it I already know the answer why. Although corporations are legally defined as people, they do not have any human qualities. Humans in general feel compassion, guilt, and empathy; businesses don’t feel anything. To them the only important thing are the profits and catering to their investors. Despite this I still believe that personal responsibility should factor in working in the business world.