Sunday, March 28, 2010

Agent Orange in Garden State

by Michael-Thomas Marciante

In January of 2005, the Port Authority in New York/ New Jersey wished to dredge the Newark Bay. In order to make it larger for cargo carrying boats to pass through. It seemed like a run of the mill request; bigger boats means more supplies to sell, and stimulate the American economy. However, environmental activists opposed the plan due to a very hazardous material that lay at the bottom of the Newark Bay: Agent Orange. This tragic tale is one that increases the need for environmentally friendly action to Earth, and disappoints environmentalists everywhere.

Perhaps an omen for this lost battle, the story begins in Vietnam during the American war on the Vietcong. America was losing its humanity as they desperately tried to force Communist regimes back into North Vietnam. One weapon used was the deadly chemical dubbed Agent Orange, an herbicide that was used to level forests in Vietnam, so American could see their hidden enemy. Perhaps a symbol for environmental destruction, Agent Orange not only lethally affected plant life, it was responsible for poisoning people in Vietnam, forever affecting them hereditarily. The war was lost, lives were lost, so had hope for people mutated in Vietnam. But the effects of war carried on, as the origins of Agent Orange would carry on for years, as the war with the hazardous chemical came home.

In an article written by F. Timothy Martin in a 2005 article in the Newstandard, “Activist Oppose Plan to Dredge up Agent Orange in N.J. Bay” the story of how activist fought the good fight against two of the environment’s worst enemies: Agent Orange and the Port Authority. While in Vietnam, America paid chemical companies to produce Agent Orange; one of those companies was the Diamond Alkali plant run by Occidental Chemical. The plant was located in N.J. and was one of the largest Agent Orange producing companies in the United States. Very much like other chemicals, Agent Orange has many unfriendly leftovers when being produce, a lot of which was conveniently placed in the Newark Bay. In an investigation on the marine life in the bay, mutated crabs were found; when tested, the crabs were found to be positive for Agent Orange exposure. Mutant Crabs!

When the Port Authority wanted their boats to come through the bay, activists protested. In an interview with the Hackensack river keeper Captain Bill Sheehan, who watches over the Bay, he said, “They’ve got this huge project to deepen the harbor because they insist there’s going to be 50-foot-draft boats here. The Port Authority in New York/ New Jersey wants to be the biggest, deepest ports—the top gunslinger on the East Coast. God help anything or anybody that tries to get in their bay.”

Green Faith, an independent environmental activist group put their feet in the water. Under clear violation of the Federal Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA), the Natural Resource Defense Council planned to sue the Port Authority. By proving Agent Orange was in the bottom of the bay, dredging it would bring hazardous chemicals to the surface and body of the water. This action would poison the environment even more than it already was. Victory seemed assured, as the obvious destruction to the environment would ensue.

The courts ruled in favor of t he Port Authority, deeming their need for economic expansion was more important that a hazardous chemical exposure. As of January 26, 2005, the Port Authority successfully dredged the river, making it one of the largest and deepest bays on the Eastern seaboard. The environmental took another hit, as a poison now travels through American water way. Just like Vietnam, the war was lost, the victor was not humanity.

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