Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dismantling Environmental Justice

By Bliss Sando

In this country and in most other parts of the world, communities of the lowest economic class experience the effects of environmental devastation first hand in the most severe forms.  Personally, I was unaware of the commonness of such occurrences until an issue of environmental racism surfaced in my hometown.

Improving economic issues right alongside environmental ones seems to me to be the only way to eliminate the rapidly expanding problem of environmental injustices and racism across the globe. When examining problems in the current socio-economic structure of this country, the role that large corporations and powerful nations play in socio-environmental issues—specifically instances of environmental justice—becomes evident.  I’ll start by talking about my own personal experience with an issue of environmental justice in my hometown in the United States, and move to examples of more global and large-scale issues of the same nature.

It is obvious that current issues of environmental degradation are directly related to this country’s unbalanced economic structure when cases of environmental justice are observed.  In the United States and elsewhere, hazardous sites such as power plants, landfills, and oil/chemical refineries are often place in or near poor communities made up of mostly minorities. Consequently, many situations have arisen across the country in which members of these communities are financially unable to move themselves and their families out of these polluted and dangerous areas. On the contrary, most upper class citizens aren’t directly affected by such severe pollution and environmental degradation. They are therefore either unaware of these issues or ignore them because of the immunity that comes along with their economic status.
Although it may not be visible on the surface of this country’s structure, instances of environmental injustices and racism are present in all areas of the United States.  In his article "Environmental Justice in the 21st Century: Race Still Matters," Dr. Robert Bullard confirms the fact that many of these instances in which minority communities have poorer environmental quality and living conditions than white communities in the same area are a result of institutional racism within the government and the economy.

Environmental Injustice Hits Home

Several years ago, when my mother was elected mayor of my hometown, I began hearing of an environmental injustice that literally hit close to home. I grew up in Ringwood, New Jersey, a small suburban town that borders New York state to the north.  For the most part, Ringwood is a naturally beautiful and pristine area that is home to upper middle class citizens.  There is an exception to this description, however: an area known to locals as “Upper Ringwood” that is home to a community of lower class citizens who are mostly of mixed Ramapough Mountain Indian and African-American descent.

As Teresa Edmond notes in a 2008 article in the Suburban Trends, this minority community has suffered political and environmental mistreatment at the hands of the Ford Motor Company, a major corporation, for years. Over forty years ago, Ford dumped millions of gallons of toxic paint sludge in the remote woods of Upper Ringwood.  The dangerously polluted site was initially added to the National Priorities List of abandoned hazardous waste sites in 1983.  A cleanup followed, and the site was de-listed in 1994.  However, since then the presence of substantial amounts of remaining paint sludge and pollutants has prompted many complaints from residents in the area.  It turns out that the previous cleanup, during which Ford removed 8,300 cubic yards of paint sludge and contaminated soil, was left incomplete.  The Environmental Protection Agency is currently overseeing an ongoing reinvestigation of the location, which was re-listed as a Superfund site in 2006. 

The toxic material that remains in Upper Ringwood and its surrounding areas has been affecting this minority population for over a generation.  Toxins such as lead, arsenic, and benzene have been tainting the drinking water of the Ramapoughs and are believed to have been the cause of many serious health problems.

Paul Eugene Van Dunk is a current resident of Upper Ringwood whose family has been rooted in the area since it was an active iron mine during the American Revolution (Johnson).  Paul has lost two young family members, his daughter and his nephew, to cancer and he firmly believes that the sickness of both children were caused by the poisons left behind by the Ford Motor Company.  Paul dreams of moving his family out of the contaminated area in order to ensure the health of future generations, however he, like many other residents, lacks the financial means to do so.

In the “Toxic Legacy” website, reporter Jan Barry and his colleagues from The Record compiled a comprehensive report detailing the effects of Ford’s dumping in Upper Ringwood.  Barry reported that other chronic health conditions that are unusually common among Upper Ringwood’s residents are asthma and skin rashes, which the residents suspect are also caused by the environmental toxins surrounding their homes.

Although the Ramapoughs in Upper Ringwood are recognized as a Native American tribe by the New Jersey state government, the EPA notes that the federal government refuses to give them tribal status.  Up until recent years, Ringwood’s conservative town government has ignored the obvious environmental problems in Upper Ringwood, despite repeated complaints by residents at town council meetings.  Many residents of surrounding areas are beginning to realize that the Ramapoughs in Upper Ringwood, New Jersey have faced serious environmental, political, and social injustices for decades, resulting in harmful physical affects and poor overall quality of life.  This particular minority population is just one small example of the many socio-environmental injustices that affect the lives of minority populations not only in the United States, but across the globe.

A Global Problem

The global polarization of wealth and revenue and its effect on populations in poor and developing nations mirrors the same phenomenon that occurs within the United States’ national borders yet on a much larger scale.  Donald L. Kohn writes that the modern economic endeavors of global entities such as corporations and developed countries including our own have been and continue to drastically affect the economies, social structures, and environmental conditions of developing countries around the world.

In the book Faces of Environmental Racism: Confronting Issues of Global Justice, Selgun Gbasegesin writes about more than one instance of harmful and excessive toxic waste dumping in the African country of Nigeria.  The comparably more developed nations of Italy and Norway were each to blame for separate issues of large-scale dumping, as was a major electrochemical plant called Elma.  All three of these examples initially occurred behind the back of the vulnerable Nigerian government.  These events represent the seriousness of the environmental injustices faced by countless populations throughout the entire African continent as a result of excessive toxic dumping by more powerful entities.

Despite the arguably obvious evidence that all instances of environmental justice are caused by flaws in local, national, and global socio-economic structure, it seems that environmental agencies such as the United States EPA do not have much influence on such policy.  Perhaps this is the case today because when major environmental agencies were first developing, they lacked concern for environmental justice issues.  These types of issues were certainly not then as critical as they are now.  However today, as climate change poses a global dilemma of massive proportions, it appears that all world’s true superpowers, from the governments of developed nations to the executives of national and multinational corporations, must unite with the rest of the world instead of exploiting it.

Considering the crucial state of the Earth’s major natural resources, caused essentially by these superpowers, this hypothetical global union seems impossible without a gradual breakdown of corporations and modern mass-production.  Not only does this strategy have the potential to be the most effective way of preserving the human race (in that it may save the most human lives), but it may also be essential to the preservation of the global, all species-inclusive living environment.

Will we be able to dump the harmful byproducts of our excessive lifestyles on poor neighborhoods forever?  Since the number of such toxic sites in poor and/or minority areas are increasing, it seems that if dumping and mass-production continues at the current rate, these dangerous materials will eventually begin seeping into neighborhoods of the upper class.  It seems to me that only when the upper class is more directly affected by the toxic waste and other pollutants that lower class communities are forced to live with every day, will the necessary authorities openly acknowledge the problem and work to solve it.  Until then, why should only upper class communities be protected environmentally by our governments?

Although environmental regulations are in place in most cases, they are often ignored or sidestepped.  Regulations that protect the quality of the land on which we live must be reformed and more strictly enforced—and must be done so fairly across the racial and socioeconomic spectrums that exist throughout modern society. 

For further information:

Gas Pipeline through the Highlands

By Amanda Daley
A 7-mile gas pipeline has been approved by the New Jersey Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council. After hours of debating, the Highlands regional council voted 11-2  last month to recommend state support for the controversial project, according to Tom Johnson of NJ Spotlight. The pipeline route would run through state parklands and reservoir lands to Mahwah.

The Christie administration feels that this project, which would expand an existing gas pipeline network, will allow us to take advantage of cheaper natural gasses, Johnson added. Many residents in New Jersey are worried that this may jeopardize our water supply. Carl Richko, a Highlands Council member from West Milford, said this decision “will come back to haunt us.”

Eleven members of the council assured residents that the project would be closely monitored and if any problems were to occur they would be corrected immediately. Jim Rilee, chairman on the Highlands Council, said that necessary precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of the region’s natural resources.

Many New Jersey residents spoke against the pipeline plan at the Highlands Council hearing. Jeff Tittel, of the NJ Sierra Club, said that this isn’t an upgrade, but a new pipeline and that it would cause erosion. Julia Somers, of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, said that it is going to leave a “massive scar across the region” and that this is “not what the Highlands were preserved for.”

Another speaker argued that this pipeline is not exempted from the Highlands Act regulations because it is not a public utility, but rather owned by a private company.

The next step is a review of the plan by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has not yet approved it. If they say no, then the pipeline expansion will not happen.

For more information:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Plan Conformance Success at N.J. Highlands Council

By Molly Rothberg

When the New Jersey Highlands Council began a public participation program in 2005 towards the development of the Highlands Regional Master Plan, it hoped the plan would gain local support. That plan is now showing signs of success.

According to a press release from the N.J. Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, local plans from 39 towns and 9 Highlands centers have been approved. Among the towns with approved plans is Mahwah, which is one of two Bergen County communities in the Highlands region. The overall total includes 60 towns that have submitted petitions to conform local master plans to the Highlands Master Plan. So far, these have resulted in a 97 percent conformance in the Preservation Area and 33 percent conformance in the Planning Area lands.

The Regional Master Plan’s initiative is to also promote sustainable economic development and re-development in areas that are already developed, Highlands Council Chairman Jim Rilee stated in the press release. These areas are primarily in the Planning Area sections of the region. The Preservation Area is a core section that hosts regional reservoirs and headwaters of water supply streams.

“A key responsibility of the Highlands Council is to balance preservation activities with the economic health of Highlands communities. Highlands Centers are an excellent example of achieving this goal and we look forward to working with these municipalities as they develop their plans,” Rilee said

With the voluntary support and action from residents, communities have been coming forward to conform in the Planning Area, even where it is not mandatory. The plan is designed to benefit communities as well as developing a sustainable future that protects natural resources and local economies.

In an earlier press release from 2005, back before the plan began, then-Council Chair John Weingart stated the criteria for success in gaining local support.

“The only way the Council will successfully accomplish the challenging tasks we have been given is with advice and feedback from people with a wide variety of viewpoints and areas of expertise,” Weingart said.

Since then, it is safe to say that the Highlands communities continue to do their job. The Regional Master Plan continues to develop as towns conform and the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council approves a long list of local plans.

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Ramapo River Littered with Storm Debris

By Amanda Daley

Months after Hurricane Irene lashed the East Coast last August, the Ramapo River still is suffering from the storm. In December, the Town of Ramapo requested aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with the clean up of piles of broken trees and other debris. FEMA and the Rockland County Drainage Agency went out and looked at the damage and decided that it qualified for aid, according to lohud.com.

While Hurricane Irene was in full force a dam broke in Arden, which sent gallons of water down stream, closing the New York Thruway, and further flooding the Ramapo River, Geoff Welch, the Ramapo Watershed Keeper, said in a talk at Ramapo College last week In the midst of the flooding there was a pedestrian bridge that was damaged and has been closed until further notice. The bridge is located in Arden and is high up on the list for repairs. This clean up will not only clean up the debris from the storm, but also help prevent any future flooding, according to the county drainage agency.

Currently there are 48 sites in Rockland County that still require clean up along the Ramapo River. The estimated cost for clean up is around $78,000. Around $58,000 of that will be reimbursed by FEMA. Danny Clapp Landscaping said that clean up would take about two weeks.  

For more information:

Friday, March 9, 2012

DuPont Pollution Still a Problem in Passaic County Town

By Molly Rothberg

POMPTON LAKES -– It’s been 24 years plus since DuPont has been cleaning up a toxic mess, and many residents are convinced that the rises in illnesses in their community are due to the DuPont pollution. Residents who live above a toxic groundwater plume are being asked by the state to take a health survey, with information that will hopefully add to the general health image that the state has been trying to view for quite some time.

A recent article in The Record, “DuPont Mess Lingers in Pompton Lakes,” stated a list of studies that were produced by New Jersey regarding the Pompton Lakes residents.

“Cancer hospitalizations, emergency room visits for nervous system diseases, mortality, cancer, birth defects, low birth weight, premature birth rates and elevated lead levels in children. Female residents who lived above the contaminated groundwater experienced a significantly higher rate of kidney cancer and male residents a significantly higher rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma than other people in the state. The ER visits and cancer hospitalizations for the Pompton Lakes group topped rates for the state and six surrounding towns,” the article noted.

The DuPont Pompton Lakes Works (PLW), a now-closed manufacturing site located in the boroughs of Pompton Lakes and Wanaque, covers a little more than 570 acres. During the PLW’s plant’s operations, which included making armaments in World Wars I and II, the company produced blasting caps and explosives over a 92-year period. Many chemicals were produced during the manufacturing process which eventually caused them to spill onto the grounds and in groundwater of residential areas of Pompton Lakes.

 In the 1990’s, DuPont instituted a ground-water monitoring program in which they routinely sample and report the results for on-site and off-site facilities. At the plant site, a pump and treat system was operated to filter about eight million gallons per month of likely contaminated water.

An investigation into the groundwater pollution was done by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As a result, sub-slab vapor samples were collected from the soil beneath homes in the local community and eventually both the NJDEP and EPA told DuPont to conduct an indoor air sampling and install a vapor mitigation system at no cost for the homeowners.

Residents remain upset with the lingering process, and DuPont continues to contribute various efforts to the local community. In order to preserve the history of the borough of Pompton Lakes, DuPont contributed a federal grant fund. Additionally, DuPont supports the business improvement and is a member of the Chamber of Commerce. They continue to contribute to the community by paying $500,000 per year in local taxes.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ramapo River Continues to Recover from Hurricane Irene

By Molly Rothberg

Immediately after Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast hard near the end of August last year, residents in New York began to express concern about an oil smell coming from the Ramapo River. The oil spill became a huge threat to local residents, especially because the river is a major drinking water source for thousands of people.

The river, which is about 30 miles long, runs through southern New York and northern New Jersey, including Mahwah near the Ramapo College campus. A local oil company in Tuxedo Park, NY, M. Spiegel & Sons Oil Corporation (SOS), was linked to the spill when the company’s trucks and fuel oil tanks became flooded after Irene and became submerged near the river.

In an article in The New York Times, SOS’s owner, Jeff Spiegel, explained the reason for the spill. "This leakage into the river, he said, occurred when a breach in an upstream dam sent a wall of water into his area," the Times reported.

Spiegel said he was not sure how much oil had made it into the river. The Times reported that SOS “is working with state environmental and hazardous waste teams to contain the situation.”

The leakage cleanup was then followed through by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which included using vacuums to clean the water. Ever since the fuel oil cleanup after Irene, residents have been able to drink the water from the river without any concern, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although it’s been nearly six months since the tropical storm, other debris that it created, including piles of trees and trash, is still in the clean-up process led by the Rockland County, NY Drainage Agency. Sites near Rockland County are still in recovery considering they sustained the most damage from the Ramapo River that flows into major areas of the county.

Lessons from the Ramapo River

By Richard Fetzer

Taking environmental education outdoors, Ramapo College faculty is co-sponsoring Ramapo River Day with a fishing club.  The event, planned for June 9, is open to school groups, scout troops and youth groups.

According to Mark Czerwinski in an article in The Record, this event is aimed to teach students in fourth grade through high school about the things that live and grow in the Ramapo River watershed.

“They’ll discuss what makes a healthy environment and what you can do to protect it,” notes Czerwinski.  “You’ll catch and identify bugs that live in the river, do water chemistry experiments, and learn about non-point source pollution and botany from college instructors.”

The Ramapo River flows from far beyond the N.J. and N.Y. border to the north, runs along route 202, and ends in Pompton Lake.  It is difficult to determine how contaminated the water may be, but according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, a lot of it is caused by urbanization, suburban and commercial development that increases storm water runoff.  They also say contamination is caused by municipal and residential wastewater discharge.  Educating the young about this issue will shed further light on the problem.

“It’s sick how contaminated that water might be,” says Ramapo student Carrie Lenahan, 21.  “It is about time that the college decides to do something to help the situation.  I mean we share a name with this river and everything.”

On top of learning about the environment, participants in the Ramapo River Day also get to learn how to  fly-fish.  “But it’s not all work and no play,” says Czerwinski in his article.  “The Trout Unlimited crew will teach fly-casting and demonstrate fly-tying techniques.”
The Ramapo River Day is a free event, but space is limited so there is advanced registration required. 

“This seems like a great opportunity for children and young adults to learn about the environment,” says Lenahan.  “I do not have kids, but I will advice my aunts and uncles to let my younger cousins participate.  It is never too early to learn about conservation.  Plus, the fly-fishing sounds like a lot of fun.”

It seems like there are not many cons to the possible experience, but so many pros.

“Your youngster gets to learn science from college teachers and fly-fishing from experts who know the Ramapo River like their back yard,” says Czerwinski.  “All in all, not a bad combination.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Toxic Legacy: Where's the Priority?

By Victoria Ahlers

We discussed a lot in class about the “Toxic Legacy” report on the industrial contamination in the community of Ringwood. It is shocking, yet at the same time not surprising to me that after all the clean-up effort that went into getting rid of the paint sludge that the site was still toxic. What surprises me even more is that it was taken off the Superfund list, having not been completely, 100 percent cleaned up. "Toxic Legacy" was able to bring the situation back to the attention of officials; however, from what we discussed in class it seems that the situation is still being over looked by state and government officials.

One thing that is difficult to understand is how this situation is not being made a priority by the state and EPA officials. Not only does it have negative effects on the environment, and ecosystems in the area that has paint sludge, but it is also causing a number of serious health issues for the residents who live in the area. Why isn’t something of this nature being made a larger priority? The area where the paint sludge is most abundant is not the most wealthy and developed of areas in northern New Jersey; however that is no reason why it should be overlooked. The people of this community have been struggling to get more clean-up and removal of the waste for a number of years now.

"Toxic Legacy" was a great project and a great way to get other people informed on the real situation of the paint sludge, and how it was affecting the people of the community. According to a magazine article we read called “Toxic Living,” because of the newspaper project, further investigation of the dump sites took place and more than 14,000 tons of sludge and tainted soil were removed by Ford in 2005 (that was more than was removed in all the previous years of cleaning). It just goes to show that persistency and thorough investigation are key elements in accomplishing something like this. The reporters involved in the “Toxic Legacy” project consistently asked questions in regards to documents, files, and interviews having to do with the clean-up (or lack thereof at the time). As a result of the project, further clean-up of the site was done and the situation can no longer be swept under the rug.

Letter to the Editor: Let's Act on Sustainable Living

Dear Editor,

I would like to express my concern about global climate change and sustainability issues. It has come to my attention that the way we are treating our planet has a direct impact on the weather patterns we have been witnessing in the past several years. Extreme storm surges such as hurricane Irene this past August caused a series of flooding throughout northern New Jersey, and damaged many boardwalks along the coast. Last winter, we saw substantial snow fall throughout the months of January and February, with temperatures below freezing; however this winter, the total accumulation of snow is less than 10 inches, and temperatures have rarely been colder than 30 degrees. These are just a few examples I can think of off the top of my head as to why global climate change is a big concern of mine. I believe that we should take action in living a more sustainable life style, in an attempt to “un do” some of the damage we have already done, and prevent it from getting worse as the years pass.

In my opinion, one person cannot (and should not) do everything, but everyone has to do something. If a community decided to enact some sort of sustainability law, that citizens would have to abide by, it would help. If a town had mandatory, or even voluntary litter pick up at least once a month, it would help. If the use of reusable water bottles was encouraged, as opposed to drinking out of plastic ones, it would help. Every little thing somebody does to live a more sustainable lifestyle would help the global climate change situation we as the human race have put ourselves in. We can’t change what damage we have already done, but we can work to better the situation, and prevent it from getting any worse.

Victoria Ahlers

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Fix America First

To the Editor:

I recently read James Gerken’s article on Global Climate Change in the Huffington Post. After reading the article, I have to completely agree with what Samantha Smith, head of the WWF Climate and Energy Initiative, said about focusing on our country first. Our country is known for going to the aid of other countries, and that is totally fine, but we forget to help our people first. I think that in our fight against global warming, though developing countries are more prone to climate change, we need to make results happen here in the United States first.  Once we figure out how we can fight global warming we can then pass this information onto other countries. American citizens should be the top priority of America, not the people of other countries.

Cutting back on black carbon emissions, methane gasses, as well as other fossil fuels would be a great start. But we don’t know how fast it will work. Things like this don’t just happen overnight, it takes time.  These emissions need to be cut.

Gerken’s article also said that the Department of State claims it will decrease deaths by 2030 and avoid the annual loss of crops by 30 million tons. I think that at this point they cannot guarantee any of this. Most of us have been exposed to these fossil fuels for many years, and like DDT, it may not kill us immediately but it may one day in the future. Maybe for a younger generation this change can happen, but as of right now, I don’t see this as something that is probable.

I think that this is all a good start to the fight against global warming, but I think that the changes that are going to be made aren’t going to have that great of an impact on our environment. More needs to be done.

Amanda Daley

In response to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/16/global-climate-change-deal-co2_n_1282235.html