Friday, February 4, 2011

Hidden Hazard at a Kid's Playground

By Graig Mihok

After viewing the five part series entitled "Toxic Legacy" I made a frightening discovery. It did not take me very long to notice my familiar stomping grounds in the woods behind the Sheraton Hotel and Sharp headquarters building in Mahwah, New Jersey. I had been told in my adolescence that it was at one time the site of a massive Ford plant. My cousins and I would go on short adventures in the woodlands behind the plant. For a kid, it’s a playground. There are lots of overgrown trails, deteriorating structures like bridges and rail tracks, and of course a multitude of bike ramps. Another vivid memory that stuck with me about that place was the color and texture of the dirt in particular areas. Only now, since reading "Toxic Legacy," I have realized that what puzzled me years ago was actually not dirt. It was paint sludge. And if I recall correctly, it was all over the area.

Being too young to understand the implications of it all, the place remained a playground for my brothers, cousins, friends, and me until high school ended. Now that I can comprehend the history of the zone, I wish I could forget everything I had just learned and remain ignorant of it. "Toxic Legacy" showcases the effects the chemicals in the sludge, lacquer, and thinners that were dumped so carelessly around communities in northern New Jersey. Many who have been exposed to the dumping have been diagnoses with serious illnesses. Cancer, Lymphoma, skin and lung conditions, nosebleeds, are just a few of the know side effects of having a close proximity to the toxic material. The pictures and videos are heartbreaking; people who unknowingly accepted the sludge into their community as a way of life are now poisoned by their surroundings until a serious cleanup is made. And the report claims that there had been several clean ups yet locals still find dump sites.

I wonder about my playground. Has that spot already been labeled as cleaned up? As stated earlier, I was not even aware of the history of the dumping nor did I have any reason to look for anything peculiar in that area, yet I did notice the discoloration of paint sludge and dirt enough that it stayed with me. So now I am faced with another dilemma, one that is getting the better of my curiosity. When all this snow melts I think I am going to take a leisurely stroll down the road, through the trails, over the busted bridges and into my old playground. I do not know what I expect to find. An overgrown and broken down bike circuit with no signs of pain sludge perhaps. Or maybe there will be pockets of it all over. It’s hard to say. I just hope the snow melts very slowly this year.

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