Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Government Needs to Address Climate Change

Dear Editor:

With the last presidential campaign, it troubled me so much that the topic of climate change was virtually ignored. In fact, government makes a habit of ignoring the subject. Aside from the few conferences the United States has gone to to discuss global climate change, this country barely makes an effort to create legislation that could help alleviate the threat to the world. Not only do we ignore the issue, but some states even push the idea that there is no such thing as climate change.

This is starting to change due to the very apparent change of weather this country is going through. Unseasonable hurricanes, giant snow storms, blistering heat and drought—the weather has become completely unstable and in many cases fatal. 

It is true, of course, that no single storm can be attributed to climate change. There have always been strong hurricanes and snow storms. But many scientists believe that rising carbon emissions could make extreme weather, just like Super Storm Sandy. 

I believe that Sandy will finally make people stop and discuss climate change. The government cannot stand by and not discuss it when there are so many facts and statistics. The rising sea levels create a higher baseline for future storm surges and the New York City Panel on Climate Change has projected that coastal waters may rise by two feet by 2050 and four feet by the end of the century. This could mean a lot more destructive storms in our future. 

 Climate change also means more record breaking hot summers, droughts like the one we had this past summer that was the worst in more than half a century.  Our government needs to invest in cleaner energy, impose a carbon tax on greenhouse gases and overall educate Americans on climate change and what they can do to reduce its toll. I think that there is a huge problem in the country with people either not understanding what climate change is or completely disregarding it. 

There is no easy answer and I understand that it will take many decades to put in place everything we need to do, but we need to start today and at least start talking about the real issues. It is not okay for the government to sweep climate change under the proverbial rug. 

 Jamie Bachar 
Mahwah, NJ

Where Do Campus Recyclables Go?

Letter to the Editor, The Ramapo News:

Ramapo College really does seem to do a great deal for the environment. Despite having a fairly ironic proximity to Ford's infamous dumping grounds, its students show a consistent interest in living for the greener good. But lately, I’ve been curious to see if there’s any truth to a few things I’ve noticed around campus and heard from others about their own observations. Are there parts of Ramapo's everyday operations that contradict their public reputation for being a state college leader in sustainability? 

Each room in the academic complex should have separate trash and recycling bins. Yet I’ve seen classrooms with a blue recycling bin (with garbage bag in it) and no regular trash bin in sight. That blue bin is a mix of empty coffee cups and paper alike. There have also been claims that the waste from campus offices are simply tossed into the same giant collection bin at the end of the night alongside items that should be recycled. Even the new, three-sectioned bins stationed in the recently "renovated" stairwells have been a cause for concern. Are those separations even being taken out to the appropriate bins each night? 

It's a little curious, too, that there's a designated recycling pick-up day for The Village dormitories, but nowhere to take a full bag of the recycling any other time of the week. The regular garbage dumpsters are accessible all the time to any student. But (at least in The Village) the blue bins for recyclables stay locked up until a dedicated team of student volunteers comes around to collect door to door. What if that team of students became too swamped with academic commitments to continue volunteering their time? Would we not have any recycling services at all? Does Residence Life only have an external recycling company haul away cans and bottles and plastics once a week?

And if so, is a week's worth of recycling also piling up behind the Student Center from the dining halls and academic buildings? Or is it really all getting quietly taken away each night in a garbage truck, smashed together with compostable food waste and thousands of those black plastic spoons and forks from Sodexo?

Perhaps these concerns are merely an illusion, a miscommunication, misperception, or simply bad timing. There are many hardworking custodians and facilities staff that work to take care of our campus. Perhaps we just aren't around at the right moment to see everything landing in its rightful place. But if Ramapo isn’t actually being consistent with the external services we use to take away our waste, then how can we continue to uphold the facade of a sustainability superpower in good conscience? 

Katie Attinello

Gravestones of Slaves in Mahwah

To the editor:

A recent article in The Ramapo News about historic findings along Route 202 by Ramapo College Adjunct Professor Jeff Williamson could provide new information about slavery during the 1700s and 1800s in New Jersey.  Professor Williamson found that the names on the gravestones in a local cemetery belong to slaves who worked for wealthy families in the area of Mahwah.

I thought readers might like to know about Williamson’s future plan to preserve the gravestones.  His plan includes seeding the area in the spring.  The naturally growing creeping myrtle has helped to protect the site, but Williamson would like to seed wildflowers and low grass as well because they will help further protect the gravestones.

Williamson’s main objective is to get the gravestones protected by a historical society so he can preserve them from becoming more damaged.  My objective is to inform residents of Bergen County and create awareness to preserve the gravestones.  Also this awareness can lead to reporters further investigating slavery in New Jersey.  More information can be found at

Adriana Cappelli
Mahwah, NJ

Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction

Dear Editor,

A few years back, the state of New Jersey adapted an act designed to reduce greenhouse gas emission by the year 2020. According to the plan, three core recommendations have to be followed in order to achieve this goal.

New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan calls for the reduction of energy use by 20 percent, and using renewable energy sources to meet 22.5 percent of our electrical needs. A cap and trade program was imposed on electricity producers forcing a cap on their carbon dioxide emissions in the hopes of reducing power plant emissions by 10 percent by 2018. And a Low Emission Vehicle Program was enacted to force automakers to reduce GHG emissions in cars they sell in New Jersey by 30 percent by 2016.

All of these measures sound reasonable, and approximately half way until the 2020 when the goal is supposed to be reached, I am interested to know if the state is on pace to meet that goal. I would also like to know if many of these companies, like the power plants or automakers, are obeying these regulations.

The problem is none of this gets any coverage in the media. Aside from a handful of opinion pieces published, the media outlets in New Jersey have not been giving the necessary coverage this plan and its process deserves. Sure, there was a spike in environmental writing after Hurricane Sandy, but we are now solely focused on fixing the damage and have forgotten to ask why it happened. Whether or not readers know about the plan or even care what happens to the environment, they would still probably like to learn if the state is following through on their plan or not.

New Jersey ambitiously passed the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act in 2010, and because of a few concerned writers, we know that has gone nowhere. I would be interested in learning if New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan is on the same course.

Nick Bower
Mahwah, NJ

Why Expand Ski Resorts When Numbers Don’t Add Up?

To the New York Times Editor,

In your February 14 blog post, “A Report Card for Ski Resorts,” there was mention that many of the ski resorts in the northwest plan on expanding or have expanded. However, the number of skiers has risen by only a percentage point annually since 1978.

It’s also worth noting that almost half of all alpine ski resorts in the US have closed in the last 20 years. This poses the question: why expand? If the number of skiers are declining every year and places are closing, the resorts cannot make back their money if they do decide to expand.

According to the chart provided in the article, 32 percent of resorts in the Rockies, California and Nevada, Washington and Oregon, expanded. Now, I understand that not all expansion is bad. But with Colorado’s Monarch Mountain going from a ‘B’ to a ‘D’ because they wanted to expand their lift-service, was the expansion necessary?

The biggest factor in grading looks to be the use of snow-making machines. The Arizona Snowball chose not to participate in the survey. “Knowing that the snow-making project would be judged negatively,” said the ski area’s manager, J. R. Murray. However, the use of their specific machine shouldn’t be looked at negatively. They were the first resort to make snow from 100 percent sewage effluent. In my opinion, the use of power the snow machine uses is less impactful than the use of sewage effluent to make snow.

Now, if more resorts can use sewage effluent to make snow, then maybe these report cards and rating systems wouldn’t penalize resorts for using snow machines. Then again, using snow machines comes from the ever-changing climate, which is a result of many different things. It’s a vicious circle. People drive to resort, releasing carbon dioxide into the air and making Earth warmer. As a result, there is less snow which forces resorts to use high-powered snow machines to bring more people in. More people visit resort and so on.

The ski industry is growing bigger every year. There is a huge population in the northwest and a bigger one in the northeast that travel to these resorts during the late-winter months. If these resorts all over the country can become greener like the Arizona Snowball, then we may be able to see change in the future. I’m not saying that they need to make snow from sewage effluent, but if they can cut down on fuel, electric or any other power source, then profits could increase while keeping costs low.

Bill Pivetz
Mahwah, NJ

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Unfair Fight

By Ashley Intveld

I read the line, stopped, checked my glasses for smudges, and read it again. I was right the first time around. The Record’s article titled, “Toxic Legacy” reads, “Some cleanup work in Ringwood had been temporarily halted. The sludge is just too contaminated to be accepted by the toxic landfill in Michigan where it was being carted…” If a substance is considered too contaminated for a toxic landfill, where is the logic in thinking that it was perfectly acceptable to dump just feet from people’s homes? I can’t wrap my head around it, but somehow a major corporation could, and so thousands of citizens faced the dastardly wrath of harmful chemicals recklessly dumped by the Ford Motor Company.

Startlingly enough, Ford is not, and will not be, the only company to possess such a sense of entitlement when it comes to doing as they please simple because it’s “easy.” Consider now how the people of Mahwah continue to have their livelihoods threatened for the same of corporate gain in the pursuit of the gas pipeline ripping through their once respected and precious land.

Remove the corporate title for just a moment. Now we have a story about a group of people dumping their trash on someone else’s property in immense proportions. There is no way around it; this is a wrongdoing that deserves some kind of justice to be served. Now, put back in place the corporate name. Simply because Ford is behind this messy mayhem, it’s ignored and pushed aside. On the taxable level, the corporation is considered to be on the same level as an individual person. 

That’s like saying I am the equivalent of GE. GE and I are exactly the same- except for the fact that I don’t represent millions of employees or have a disgustingly high profit rate. And unlike me, GE doesn’t have a mom, a dad, feelings, or need sick-days. How, then, are we considered the same in the nation’s eyes?

In the scenario mentioned in "Toxic Legacy," Ford makes it abundantly clear just how much more powerful a corporation is than your average individual. How? Because he robbed individual lives of their right to a healthy life and environment. What did the individual do to Ford, aside from make it even more profitable by purchasing their products? And unlike Ford, the impacted citizens’ problems can’t be resolved with monetary means. No amount of money can amount to the sacrifice of a human life or a person’s health.

How Ford was even able to pursue this act is also beyond me. The fact that an illegal crime family was employed to “do the deed,” should, in itself, show just how wrong the whole thing was. And yet, Ford will say that at the time of the dumping, it “wasn’t illegal.” Just because it wasn’t technically illegal does not mean it’s even remotely justified. Punching someone in the face isn’t illegal, but I’m not about to go do it just because I can. Aside from the obvious problem at hand, the primary problem is that the citizens are kept in the dark as a means to keep them silent. Not only will no one hear their thoughts, but no one will hear their cries for help.

An Enormous Effort

By Ashley Intveld

I checked my email this morning. My inbox was filled with several new messages; some from department stores, some from college professors, and others from get-rich-quick internet schemes. I checked each off to be disposed of but left a handful to remain in my inbox. The remaining emails were notifications from several grassroots campaign sites I’m subscribed to: Greenpeace,, CommonDreams, Food and Water Watch, and several other environmentally-focused activists that litter my inbox each day. These emails, unlike those relocated to trash, I read. I read thoroughly. In these emails is information, and not about a buy one, get one sale going on. These emails tell me about what my community is doing in response to huge environmental issues that plague news headlines each day.

Last April, I took a bus into New York and headed toward the Javits Center. An immense building stood before me; my small frame reflected in some of its numerous windows that adorn its massive front. My size was miniscule in comparison. In this enormous city sat this enormous building, and me- me, who is not so enormous. I was there for the Green Festival. I had read about it (in one of my various emails) and it piqued my interest to attend. It was overwhelming: booths filled with people sampling various organic concoctions, organic cotton t-shirts for sale hung along the walls, fair trade products, crafts, environmental campaigns galore. I was intrigued- and intimidated.

So many people in such a large space made me feel the same way I felt standing outside those doors: small. A man approached me with some flyers in his hands. He had a smile on his face that was welcoming; not overbearing. I looked his way and he asked me if I had ever heard of fracking before.

Twenty minutes later, I had packets of information, recyclable tote-bags filled with bumper stickers that read “No fracking way,” a sign-in to a mailing list, and a new friend. I realized something in this enormous building in this enormous city: we, as people, have enormous dreams and aspirations; enormous goals and hopes. We may be small, but it’s the communicative and unity that we are capable of that makes those enormous dreams enormously possible.

In Jan Barry’s book A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, he writes about the impact a small committee had in saving the Great Swamp from destruction. In its stead, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were proposing a new airport (in addition to the several other airports that littler this side of the country). This committee, through word of mouth, ingenious campaign activities and advocating, quashed the big-name bully from bulldozing the pristine land- a win for the environmentalists (and everyone else, in the long run).  

 Despite the overwhelming win against the airport installation, the bigger impact that this campaign had was the domino effect it had on other grassroot campaigns. From one cause came another, and another, until people began helping people develop their voice and stand up against environmental injustices.
When it comes to issues of fracking, Occupy Wall Street, GMOs, and financial debacles, (the list goes on), we find ourselves sitting back, agape, and wondering how to tackle such an immense issue. An enormous issue is only as enormous as the group of people willing to fight it. Grassroot campaigns, and people, have enormous potential to do just that.

Saving Land Campaigns

By Benjamin Reuter
The section in A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns on saving the swamps and other landmarks was pretty interesting. I always knew about the certain organizations of groups that got together to tackle these kinds of problems but I never knew about the little details that went into gathering the people or even the first steps to take towards such a goal. The people that were quoted in this section all seemed to have a common bond towards the specific section of nature that they were trying to save.
The bird watchers that loved seeing the migration of birds through the wetlands 20 miles west of Newark banded together with other community people in the surrounding area in order to stop the encroachment of larger and more expansive airport systems being built atop the beautiful marshland of the Great Swamp.
In Northern Morris County, a group of environmentalists banded together in the 1980’s to stop the deforestation and rural expansion that was happening along Interstate 287 and Highway 23. The local communities banded together by word of mouth communication as well as getting into contact with the local service authorities in order to stop this growth of building and destruction of nature in the Farny Highlands area.
In the section dealing with the Farny Highlands I was curious to read that in order to save this particular area of the land the community needed to put a ‘name’ on the area. Why do you need to name a particular area in order to save it? Is it a type of claiming that happens to be an unwritten rule? I do not see why a group of people that are looking to save a particular section of forests need to put a stamp on it. What’s wrong with rallying to save a piece of land without putting a name to it?

“Toxic Legacy”: A Story Close to Home

By Benjamin Reuter 

 I live in Wanaque, New Jersey and the “Toxic Legacy” article for The Record brings a story closer to home than it already was. I knew about the paint sludge that is strewn about the forest floor in Upper Ringwood. I used to go hiking back there with a couple of my friends and we’d point it out to each other. It is absolutely disgusting to see that kind of pollution in such a beautiful area of New Jersey.
The worst part about the whole dilemma is the fact that people still live on top of this toxic waste and there is really nothing that they can do as a small family to get it out of their land. They had their buildings set on top of these deposits of chemical waste without knowing it was there or without knowing how dangerous it really was for their health.
I went to Lakeland Regional High School and I knew many of the people that lived in the area where the toxic sludge exists. I never really asked my friends who lived up there about it because at the time I did not know much about the topic other than there was paint sludge all around their homes. I did ask my one friend who has relatives that live amongst the paint sludge about the stuff and all I ever got from him was, “That shit is everywhere. My parents moved away from that area to leave all that garbage and find a better place in Ringwood to live.” My friend doesn’t have extremely strong ties with his family that still lives near the mine areas, due to family issues and such, but he always pointed out that the paint sludge just gave his parents just another reason to leave that area and find a different home to live in. He seems happy with the decision.

The Record’s “Toxic Legacy”

By Katie Attinello 

The Bergen Record’s coverage of Ford’s toxic paint sludge legacy in the mid-2000s revealed a tremendous, sprawling environmental catastrophe in a portion of New Jersey that, from above and covered in green summer leaves and flowers, barely passes for the nation’s stereotypical vision of (the ironically nicknamed) Garden State. The valley and ridges where the motor giant once carelessly spewed its excess paint is part of the Appalachian Mountains, and home to vast acres of forest, waterways, and wildlife.

The area is also home to the Ramapoughs—residents of the mountain whose ancestors precede Ford (and cars themselves) by generations.

Some Ramapoughs feel that Ford gave little thought to the wellbeing of their parents and grandparents, who lived on the mountain during the Mahwah Ford plant’s 25 years of operation, based upon their socioeconomic status. The company’s discarded waste contained numerous hazardous chemicals that still exist in the streams, soil, and rocky areas of the mountain. There have been many cases of skin, respiratory, and other serious health issues, including rare cancers, among the Ramapough community.

The most striking—and frankly appalling—aspect of these illnesses is the modern-day disregard for the town’s condition. There are only a few hundred in the community, but resident Myrtle Van Dunk told The Record that “there is sickness in house after house.” But groups like the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry told The Record that they don’t “do individual health assessments.”

This poses a sad and uncomfortable question—are the Ramapoughs still not a primary concern of those responsible for cleaning up after Ford? Are they being ultimately under-assisted by the state and federal governments simply because they are indeed a very small community? (And not to mention one living atop a dumping ground now deemed as an official superfund site!) The areas contaminated with paint sludge have been “cleaned up” several times since the area lit up as a huge bleep on the environmental protection radar. Yet any hiker can still visit the area today and find plenty of Ford’s leftovers.

Many residents continually deal with its presence right in their own driveways and backyards. Its proximity (in 2013!) to the homes and children of the mountain’s lifelong residents poses the question: regardless of how many they are in numbers, who’s looking out for the Ramapoughs now?

Ford: Arrive, Make a Mess, Leave

By Bill Pivetz        

After reporters did news reports on paint sludge at sites around the former Ford plant in Mahwah, many citizens were upset at the lack of regulations in place. There was paint sludge and other hazardous materials potentially contaminating the surrounding water supply. Citizens pressed government agencies to begin the clean-up process, but they didn’t have enough resources to complete the job.

As a result of more protests, Ford was forced to step in and clean up what mess they had created. However, they didn’t clean up everything. They cleaned up major areas, but there were contaminated areas just miles away. They did the bare minimum to satisfy themselves that they helped in the clean-up process. This wasn’t nearly enough help.

Yet, this isn’t the first time a company was reluctant to help out the environment they helped destroy. British oil company, BP, is a repeat offender when it comes to barely cleaning up their messes.

In 1999, BP agreed to resolve charges related to the illegal dumping of hazardous wastes on the Alaska North Slope, for $22 million. This was from back in the early 1990s. They had a couple of more spills and explosions until the big leak in April 2010. The offshore rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico. It killed 11 people and was the largest accidental marine spill in petroleum history.

It wasn’t until November when BP and the Department of Justice reached a $4.5 billion settlement. They also pled guilty to 11 felony counts related to the death of 11 workers. BP used their money to pay off their employees and victims in order for them not to say anything negative about BP and its management.

These are just two examples of big companies taking over an area and creating a lot of pollution. After decades of investigation, Ford refused to take any blame for the paint sludge. With enough pressure, they did clean up some of their mess, but not nearly enough.

BP, on the other hand, knew that the oil spill was a huge catastrophe and paid up right away. However, the explosion in Texas was another story. BP cut budgets, which compromised safety and the need for new equipment. BP was fined and paid settlements to all of the victims. There are still violations that haven’t been resolved.

In order for Americans and the rest of the world to trust these big companies, they need to do their part in following regulations and making sure the environment is kept safe. As individuals, we do our part to be green, such as replacing light bulbs and using reusable bags for shopping. But if big corporations can be the leaders in being green, the environment would be better off.

The Great Swamp Preservation Story

By Jamie Bachar 

In many ways it seems impossible to go up against the government or a major corporation. It must be a daunting task to prepare to fight people with so much power and leverage. However, it is far from impossible to make a difference when a group of people come together to fight for what they believe in. This is the case of the Great Swamp in Morris County, New Jersey.

This particular case affects me greatly because I was born and raised in Rockaway Township. I have hiked the woods, swam in the lakes and rivers but I had never heard of the Great Swamp. After reading about it I became curious and decided to check it out for myself. It wasn’t the most breath taking land but to think that it was once planned on being paved over to make an airport made me appreciate the natural land even more. Thank goodness there were people who were willing to go against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and say no, this land needs to be preserved. While on my visit I noted many birds and other wildlife that could have become homeless if the Port Authority’s plan had succeeded.

This quiet land is home to deer, fish, frogs, raccoons, turtles and insects. It is a piece of land that had to be preserved and not reduced to a landing strip. The scariest part though is that if those people did not come together to fight the Port Authority, no one would have thought twice to make that precious land an airport. It is truly important for people to stay connected with their communities and learn what is going to happen.

This act of preservation also led to countless other acts of preservation and got so many other people active to save their communities. It didn’t matter how hard it may have seemed, the volunteers didn’t stop until what they wanted was achieved. In a time when building up was so popular and people were less than concerned with the environment, I find it fascinating that people cared so deeply about an issue that they were willing to go against such a major force like the Port Authority. But in the 1960s, these people knew that it would be wrong to build an airport over the Swamp.

The originators of the campaign to preserve the Swamp were smart and knew they needed money to back them up. They got the startup money and ended up purchasing 2,000 acres which met federal requirements to create a wildlife refuge. Just that one act helped create the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, which is still working today.

It is really inspiring to see that kind of effort and collaboration to do the right thing for the community and the environment.

Toxic Legacy: Failure of the Government

By Jamie Bachar

After reviewing “Toxic Legacy” in class and on my own, the part that stuck out with me most was the complete lack of interest or care by the Department of Environmental Protection and the state of New Jersey.

In one of the articles it was reported that Wayne Mann, the president of his neighborhood association, and Jeff Tittel, the executive director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey, both showed the DEP sites where the paint sludge was prominent but was ignored on many occasions throughout numerous decades.

There were public records that showed that federal officials at the EPA repeatedly let Ford walk away from thousands of tons of industrial waste dumped in Ringwood. They let this happen while officials and private reports told them of widespread contamination in specific locations.

The government failed New Jersey and the Ringwood residents so many times for so many years. They let Ford do what ever they wanted and didn’t hold them accountable for anything that they did and more importantly what they did not do. For example Ford never had to submit shipping documents to the EPA detailing how much waste was dumped. Nor did they leave maps showing where the dumping occurred yet they allowed Ford to restrict its initial cleanup efforts in Ringwood to four small areas, dismissing almost a decade of state and private reports of sludge dumped all over the woods. The EPA didn’t even care that Ford was planning such a minimal cleanup. The EPA even had the gall to report to the citizens of Ringwood that site was completely cleared in 1988.

What is worse is that the government knew what implications were had by not cleaning up the dump sites. It was well-known that the sludge posed a long-term threat to the nearby Wanaque Reservoir, an important source of drinking water. Not only that but the effects the paint sludge have had on the Ramapough  people. They have been the most affected by the dumped paint sludge. They are living among the waste and have been exposed to so many toxins there is no telling what health effects have resulted from it. There have been reports of cancers,  learning disabilities, asthma, and many more health problems.

The government failed this community and all of New Jersey by ignoring the problem for so many years. I am not surprised that a large company like Ford would lie to protect itself and its money. But the DEP was created to prevent large companies like Ford from endangering people. This was a complete lack of judgment by New Jersey’s government.

New Jersey and Wildlife in a Swamp

By Jaimie Moscarello

I originally went to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia after high school. I can’t even count how many times New Jersey was the butt of many jokes, as “dirty Jersey.” I’d always argue that we’re known as the Garden State and we’re known for growing cranberries. Until being in this class and learning about the Ford plant’s pollution, I really did think I lived in a very, very clean state.

This chapter on saving the Great Swamp made me believe in my original thoughts, especially this description on page 45, “Today, the Great Swamp is one of the most visited marshes – by birds and bird-watchers – in the northeast corridor.”

Until reading this section of A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, I had no idea the Great Swamp even existed, and if I had, I wouldn’t have expected it to be in New Jersey, and I definitely wouldn’t have thought very many people came to visit it.  What I really didn’t expect to read was how many organizations came together to raise so much money to save the Great Swamp.

It’s hard to believe that a campaign that became so big was started in one woman’s kitchen in 1961. Helen Fenske, a busy working mother, had the courage and drive to save a piece of land she thought was important and convinced so many other people to do something about it too.

Fenske’s story was also inspiring. She became active in the Department of Environmental Protection. The book quotes Helen Fenske, where she says to not give one single person credit for a grassroots campaign. But, if it wasn’t for Fenske’s ambition and the people she brought onto her team, the Great Swamp would probably be an international airport by now.

At the end of the chapter is a list of 10 organizing tips that are important for civic grassroots campaigns, but I also thought this list would be important for any kind of campaign. The last tip, “Share the accolades for each accomplishment and give credit where credit is due,” is a good tip because people want to feel important and as if they’ve made a difference. Whether or not Helen Fenske didn’t save the swamp for the fame of it all, she did it because she cared about the land.

I would love to be one of the visitors of the Great Swamp some time this spring to see what Helen Fenske saw.

So Much I Don’t Know: Toxic Legacy

By Jaimie Moscarello

I remember seeing pictures in the Bergen Record from the “Toxic Legacy” report when I was in high school, showing car parts where car parts shouldn’t be. Like many people in the area, I’ve known about the Ford plant dumping toxic waste and about the people whose lives were negatively affected by it, but in the past eight years I haven’t found out any more information and I haven’t done anything about it.

After our first class, I had to know more. I watched the HBO documentary, Mann vs. Ford. I couldn’t believe what had happened and it was even scarier that it happened so close to where I grew up.

There are so many parts of the report that are terrifying -- the diseases of the people, the negligence of Ford and the EPA, the toxic waste in drinking water and the mafia’s involvement with the dumping. To me, what’s even more terrifying is how close this all takes place to me and how little I knew about it before this class.

In Mann vs. Ford, doctors come to check the health of the Ramapough people who reside in Upper Ringwood. They couldn’t report on people older than 65 years old because so few people in that age bracket are still alive, which the residents feel is because of the toxic waste. During our first class, Professor Crumb told us that many of the Ramapough people have the same diseases as Vietnam veterans have from toxic waste. Part of the documentary that really stood out to me was when hired attorney Vicki Gilliam walked around a neighborhood with an Upper Ringwood resident. The resident pointed at every house saying someone in that house has cancer or someone who lived in that house died of cancer.

One piece of the puzzle that stands out most to me is how the EPA declared the site a superfund site and cleaned part of the site and took it off the site list. The EPA had to come back because they didn’t finish their job, and put the site back on the superfund list. If they were negligent at one site, who is to say they weren’t at others?

Another scary piece is that Ford dumped toxic waste into the mineshaft on their property. There’s a body of water, mixed with waste, covering the shaft. We don’t know if the door to the mine is open or closed, and we don’t know how much more waste there is.

All of this takes place within a 15-minute drive from the Ramapo College campus.

My biggest reaction to “Toxic Legacy” was how close and how horrific the effects of the Ford plant are 33 years after its closing. News reporting is so important to cases like this because if no one investigated the story, nothing would have been done.

The Truth about Fracking

By Steven Aliano

“The Truth about Fracking” by Chris Mooney in the November 2011 issue of Scientific American magazine describes the risk of contaminated drinking water that can be caused by fracking for natural gas. When multiple “fracks” are done in multiple, adjacent wells, the risk of contaminated groundwater may rise. In the industrial operation of fracking, including drilling and the storage of wastewater, contamination of this water has already been found. Tests have been applied, such as putting tracer chemicals down these wells to see if they come up in drinking water, which would determine whether or not fracking is safe or not. Despite these problems, regulators have been allowing fracking to occur in many areas of the country.

Fracking, in short, is the drilling of fractures in rock layers, such as shale, in order to release buried fossil fuels such as natural gas and petroleum. Energy companies have been increasingly using this technique, as has been shown in the media. It’s a shame that there has been a push for more of these drillings without taking in the risks. This story reminded me a lot of the health and environmental concerns of the areas in New York and New Jersey where industrial wastes were dumped as shown in the “Toxic Legacy” report. It seems that most things that have to do with natural gas and fossil fuels are very controversial, as we’ve seen with fracking. If we don’t see an alternative use of energy, we must begin to consider the dangers of this method before relying so heavily on it.

The public has a lot of questions when it comes to something as serious and permanent as fracking, so the people making the decisions behind whether or not to do their business in certain areas should wise up to the public’s concern over groundwater contamination. Like I had said earlier, when it comes down to things such as drilling and trying to find a sustainable alternative resource for energy and fuel, it’s always a controversial subject. I had read another article on Scientific American which broke down some of the various biofuels such as corn ethanol and algal oil. As great as these ideas sound, the cost to make them is expensive as well as the contamination rate and cost of energy is very high.

It does seem, however, that with deadlines coming up in the coming years to find more sources of energy, we are quick to do as much as we can as fast as we can to meet those deadlines, and cut down actions to find an alternative energy source. However, when you look at the many risks that come into play, we need to take it slow and make sure that no harm can be done.

"Toxic Legacy": What Happens in the Future?

By Steven Aliano

It’s amazing to see that a story that is as local as this has taken off to new heights ever since being reported in The Record and abroad. It’s refreshing that reporting on such a grave issue as this has as much publicity as it does now, and continues to be an important aspect of contamination removal and awareness in the tri-state area. Overall, it’s very inspiring to see all these articles come out of “Toxic Legacy” and the pressures that it puts on the Ford company and its hired clean up men. The wide variety of articles seems to completely examine this issue of paint sludge from all angles, and tells a lot of different perspectives through personal stories of residents dealing with the issue and those employed by Ford to do the dirty work, so to speak. 

The thing that I found most interesting about the “Toxic Legacy” stories in The Record and on was the “mob” article. It amazes me that these haulers did their deeds without much thought as to how much exactly they were harming the environment. They did it so secretly and without any remorse, such as when the article states that they would mix the toxic fuel with oil and sold it to schools and other places during the 1970’s. What also amazes me is that they kept no records of where exactly they did all of their dumping. It is very bothersome that officials believe that there are even more toxic sites that are undiscovered and that they don’t even know about. Plus, they are understaffed and can’t go and find these sites if they wanted to, staying with the sites that they can control at the moment. It just seems to me that if things do not get done now, it can only get worse as time passes and as the public grows unaware of what is going on, and whether or not they are hurting the process even more (dirt biking/ATVs, among other things).

The entire process of disposing of this waste just seems so crazy as it was described in the article. It almost seemed like a drug deal, even though some laws were still passed in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It truly was that mob factor: intimidation, price gouging, the works. The fact that they could get away with it for so long is incredible, but luckily it doesn’t happen anymore.

From looking at pieces of this article, I fear for the future. It seems that there are just so many contaminated areas that we haven’t found yet, and more seem to be further worse off. If there can be even more awareness at this point, and not just by the tri-state area but nationally and globally, then we can certainly make some headway and be well staffed to take on this issue.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Toxic Legacy": Clean up Questions

By Lisa Quaglino 

Learning about the issues of paint sludge and other contaminants dumped by Ford during the operation of their plant in Mahwah, the aspect that stood out the most to me was the clean up, or lack there of. Although there is no way that residents of this area could have guessed toxic waste was being dumped in their backyards, now that the information has been shared, it seems strange that not much has been done to reverse the damage. This is especially surprising after reading the multiple articles published about not only the dangers of paint sludge, but also the proximity of the readers to the actual danger.

One article I read discussed the problems officials in New Jersey are having with those in charge of the clean up right over the state line in New York. Besides the fact that the paint sludge is causing harm where it is located, it also affects people who live farther away from it. The article stated that “Ford consultants estimate that 7,000 to 9,000 cubic yards of paint sludge is buried just over the state line” and that little is being done to start and finish the clean up. Taking into consideration the amount of time that has passed since the original dumping and the number of attempts of clean up, it seems the only solution is for the community to get involved, especially those who can be directly impacted by it. People in New Jersey who receive water from sources contaminated with the paint sludge need to being commenting more on the dangers in order to quicken the process and push the issue to the forefront of the community.

Another issue that could be effecting the slow clean up process might be that not everyone in this area is familiar with the story of the Ford plant or its lasting effects on this part of the state. The issue of paint sludge was much more prominent a few years ago, and I think it is important that the community is updated on the situation so that it is not forgotten. If readers were given new statistics, or shown that not much has changed over the last few years, they might be more inclined to do something about it.

One statistic in particular from a 2009 article stated “The Record's testing revealed standing water that contained lead at 14 times the safety level established by New Jersey.” If more facts as shocking and scary as this one were easily available to the community, it might cause more people to get involved and finally lead to an end of a successful clean up.

Unfortunately, Ford was not stopped when they were originally dumping toxic waste into the backyards of North Jersey residents, but now that the information is public, it is essential that something be done, and quickly. Although there have been numerous clean ups, it is clear that not everything that can be done, has been done. The community needs to be educated in order to see major changes in areas of clean up and safety.

Saving a Swamp

By Lisa Quaglino 

The chapter "Saving a Swamp and Other Landmark Campaigns" in A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns showed first hand the hard work that goes into conserving land and stopping it from being developed. Of the three different areas of land preservation profiled in this chapter, the one that stood out the most was the conservation of the Great Swamp. This example shows how much hard work and dedication can pay off, even when it seems the odds are completely against you.

The reason the story of the Great Swamp is so inspiring is mostly due to the opponent that these citizens had the face: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. When a large company like this one has plans to build an airport, it seems like it would be nearly impossible to stop them. Leader of the citizen campaign, Helen Fenske, had other ideas, however. Even more impressive than the fact that she helped to stop the airport is the fact that most of the planning and campaigning involved was run out of her own kitchen. The issue was close to her heart, being the view the kitchen looked out on to. Her motivation is a main reason the campaign was able to have such an impact.

Another reason the campaign became so successful was the attention the citizens were able to get for the Great Swamp. Events such as exhibits at malls in the area of the wildlife that would be impacted by the building of an airport was just one of many ways those involved with the campaign were able to overcome a giant as big as the Port Authority. As Fenske stated, gaining listeners and followers of the campaign and then convincing them to participate in hands on work, is the most important aspect of any grassroots campaign. The more people who are passionate about the outcome of the campaign, the more successful it will be, and that is exactly what happened here.

Another surprising aspect of saving the Great Swamp was the time period in which it occurred. As stated in the book, the campaign took place in the early 1960’s, prior to the wave of environmentalism that swept the country starting with the first Earth Day in 1970. It could even be said that the attention the Great Swamp got helped to contribute to the Nation’s realization that more of our land needs to be preserved rather than developed. And today, it can continue to inspire other grassroots campaigns across the country.

Not only did those involved with saving the Great Swamp work to keep the Port Authority from building an airport, they also turned the land they saved into wildlife refuges and county parks with educational centers. Possibly the most important aspect of this campaign is the fact that the citizens were able to take everything they accomplished to the next level. Organizing, getting people involved, saving the land, and turning that land into what it is today,  the Great Swamp campaign is nothing short of amazing.

“Toxic Legacy”: The Mob

By Nick Bower

The fact that Ford Motor Company and numerous other major companies and corporations illegally dumped toxic chemicals for decades in the New York/New Jersey area in the mid-20th century is compelling enough. But adding the mob into it adds another dimension to “Toxic Legacy” that makes it sound straight out of a Hollywood movie.

“We determined to risk our lives because the alternative was to allow the lives of millions of people to be in danger. We knew who we were dealing with,” a local citizen who spoke out when the dumping was going on said. This was the most compelling quote of this section of the “Toxic Legacy” special report, and may have even been best served as the lead and not buried in the middle of the article. Despite accounts of brake lines being cut and threats made, citizens pleaded to the state and officials to do something about the illegal dumping in their area, even though they suspected that some of the people they were pleading to may have been paid off by the mob.

While Ford was certainly responsible for illegal dumping around this area, they were not alone. They had to pay someone with a truck and knowledge of the area to dump illegal chemicals with no questions asked, something that attracted the mob, according to the “Toxic Legacy” report. This became such an enticing enterprise that dumping jobs soon turned into territorial, where families knew not to cross one another in securing a dumping job that another family had. And when they did try to cross territories, bloodshed ensued.

Illegal dumping soon became an art form, packing the trucks with saw dust and lining it with wood, and then filling it with waste before topping it off with garbage, to make it look natural when it started to dump. “Cocktailing,” or mixing garbage with waste was a common but dangerous practice. However, disguising their dumping was not even necessary, because according to “Toxic Legacy” everyone was in on it.

One lieutenant said, “Everyone was in on it. Everyone was getting paid all over the place.” “Toxic Legacy” reported that police chiefs, judges and landfill owners were all bribed by the mob in order to keep their illegal practices going. So what ended up happening was everyone was getting rich off of Ford’s and other companies’ money for illegal dumping.

Later on, drivers, dump site managers and even some mob figures admitted to being a part of the illegal dumping—although when admitting what they did they placed the blame on someone else, according to statements in “Toxic Legacy.” I think that, although they knew what they were doing was illegal, I don’t think they knew the long-term consequences of their dumping. I’m not saying that that would have kept mobsters from dumping, but I think more than just a handful of people would have tried to stop what was going on, which is what makes this part of “Toxic Legacy” important. Although it is easy to blame major corporations like Ford and the mob for what went wrong, the blame must also be placed on those whose job it was to protect us and keep our best interest, and who failed to do so. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Great Swamp Campaign

By Nick Bower

What people could learn from the section of A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns titled “The Great Swamp Campaign” is that no matter who the opponent is, if enough people fight as hard as they can for a cause they believe is crucial, then there is a good chance the people will win.

A decade before the first Earth Day in 1970, a large group of concerned and passionate citizens took on the massive Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which wanted to construct an airport where the Great Swamp was situated, 30 miles west of New York City and 20 miles from the Newark Airport. The Great Swamp Committee was then formed, which then started the Great Swamp Campaign. They publicized their purpose to get more people to support them, and also got the attention of politicians and other organizations' attention. In the end, they were able to raise enough funds to purchase the majority of the swamp to prevent the Port Authority from building an airport there. 

“If the cause is just, if the majority of people are behind the protest, there is much a grassroots movement can and should do,” noted Cam Cavanugh, author of “Saving the Great Swamp.” 

This is a prime example of the power of numbers. What started off as only a handful of people who wanted the Port Authority stopped grew in numbers, and therefore grew in notoriety and funding. With enough people concerned about an issue, their elected officials are inclined to try to do something about that issue, whether or not they really care what that issue is about. And although they were going up against a powerhouse in the Port Authority, which was never stopped before, they were able to raise enough money and attention to their cause through their energy and determination to achieve what they wanted.

One of the leaders of the campaign, Helen Fenske, set up the campaign’s headquarters in her kitchen, where she lived right on the edge of the Great Swamp, meaning she probably had the most to lose from an airport being built in her own backyard with the constant sound of airplanes, not to mention the fumes that would affect her.

It took Fenske and the rest of the Great Swamp Committee five years to keep the Great Swamp a swamp, and not an airport, but they accomplished their goal. Which goes to show that although there is certainly corruption in today’s world, and corporations have much more influence than any politician will admit, a group of ordinary citizens can make a difference.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Beautiful Place Taken Away

By Adriana Cappelli

The “Toxic Legacy” series on tells the story of many families in the area of Ringwood that are being affected by paint sludge and contamination by Ford, the American automobile company. 

The mountains in Ringwood have been the chosen area for Ford to release chemicals from the products they use to build cars, a situation that puts 2.5 million North Jersey residents who benefit from its watershed at risk.

 “Toxic Legacy” tells the story of Paul Van Dunk’s family. His family has been rooted in the Ramapo Mountains for generations.  He recalls his grandfather working in the mountains, a place that at one point in time was alive and fertile, and now has become littered with paint sludge.

“My dream, if I had the money, would be to just get out of here and take my grandchildren as far away from here as I could,” Van Dunk said.

 The statement above applies to the generation and class fault lines.  It shows Paul’s concerns about his grandchildren, the new generation and also a lack of funds that would allow his family to leave.

If Paul and others decided to leave, it would be the end for the Ramapoughs.  It is very sad that men take a beautiful place away.  

This type of reporting casts a spotlight on humanity.  It describes the inhumane conditions in which the inhabitants of the Ramapough community are living. Many of its residents have been diagnosed with rare tumors and other diseases. 

It is so unfair that because of men’s ambition many innocent people have died and will continue dying.  Unfortunately, the community of Ringwood will have to carry that pollution for their rest of their lives.  I don’t think this community would ever be completely clean in the future. 

Nature Is Our Tomorrow

By Adriana Cappelli 

I live in the beautiful suburbs of Rockland County, in the town of Pomona, near the Bear Mountain State Park.  I have the privilege to say that my back yard is basically Harriman State Park.  Yes, I am very fortunate and blessed because I can sit on my deck and have the pleasure of enjoying a delightful scenery of baby deer running around with their parents as they come closer to me to look for fresh apples from my apple tree. 

Living in this area makes me incredibly happy since the nature in the area is the closest I have to my home country, Colombia.  The only difference is that I didn’t have any deer or bears in my farm.  Instead, I had cows, horses and many other beautiful exotic animals.

Besides the beautiful environment my town has, there is something that saddens me enormously.  In the morning when I leave home to go to school, everything seems so peaceful, beautiful birds flying across the sky, little squirrels playing hard to get with their mates, deer walking around and staring at all the cars as they drive by.  As soon as I get on the main road though, the scenery changes completely; all I see now are many helpless animals dead on the side of the road.

Every time I see this horrible picture, I always question myself, why does this keep happening.  It makes me feel extremely frustrated because I know it is our own fault because we keep harming our environment without caring for innocent animals.

Living in the modern era means that more luxurious buildings are being built; more offices and more golf courses are being created for people to have fun in their spare time.  These buildings are taking the home of hundreds or thousands of beautiful flora and fauna.  In addition to that, the helpless animals that don’t have a voice are suffering due to the constructions.

We have to stop taking nature’s home away, and stop being so hungry for money and power.  I am not against the developing world and I understand that all this is part of evolution; nevertheless we have to respect the natural world.  They were all here before us and as a result they have priority.

I am not sure what we can do to stop this from happening, but I am sure our communities can do their little part and can help to create awareness to save our fauna and flora.   We can propose to the government regulations that will limit where we can build, keeping our nature and animals safe.  Enough is enough. Remember that NATURE is our TOMORROW!!!

When the Going Gets Tough

By Brittany Ryan

The "Toxic Legacy" story in Ringwood, New Jersey is more than a story of environmental negligence. It is a tragedy of widespread contamination of land and its surrounding community. Sprawling roots that penetrate the soils and extend deep into the earth are not only rich in microorganisms, but in a culture as well. This is something that many spectators of the Ford paint-dumping case seem to overlook.

Members of the Ramapough Mountain Indian Tribe have visited my class to speak about their personal experiences and I have absorbed many stories. When I relay to outsiders the details of this tale of corporate ignorance and government apathy, a common response is shared amongst the listeners. Why do the community members choose to stay living in this toxic environment? This proved difficult to respond to until I witnessed a student ask a Tribe member. In some ways it is a choice, but mostly it is a prideful obligation. With ancestry stemming back to the Revolutionary times, there is a connection to the land that is passed down from generation to the next. Stepping foot in the same wooded region where one’s great grandfather had also spent his nights fowling and mining brings a sense of belongingness.

And why should the community be forced to sever ties with their history? Perhaps remaining in the area is the only way to secure federal attention and to slowly bring restoration. If the people flee, there is no more pressure and certainly no more evidence that the surrounding lead, arsenic, and benzene contaminants are causing a cancer rise in this confined neighborhood.

Although some are exhausted with what uninvited changes the exposure has brought into their lives, the thought of a broken community hinders relocation from progressing. Some members simply cannot afford to leave, others are unwilling, and if a few moved elsewhere the tightly woven threads that hold this close knit community together would begin to fray.

Even if members successfully settled in the outside community, assimilating into such an industrialized and parochial culture would be almost insurmountable. An incredible amount of individuals are unaware of the truth behind the Tribe, holding on to archaic and completely distorted prejudices about the culture. Countless times I have had to correct these misunderstandings amongst peers, and there are several reports of children being ridiculed at school. Clearly myths supersede history in a community’s knowledge of their members.

Living in these mountains and learning to survive off the supplied resources is a way of life that has been incorporated into the families for centuries; operating any other way would feel unnatural. The mountains offer a sense of place, where the residents choose to continue to use ancestral land-use practices to sustain their livelihood. When one’s backyard has remained an intact and endless forest rich in natural capital, shifting to a place where the yard may become a neighbor’s fenced in pool is a troubling thought.

Perhaps asking a typical suburban member to exchange their materialistic lifestyle for simplistic living that thrives off the land would be a similar trade. Maybe looking at the situation from the Tribe’s perspective would offer insight on why leaving home is not so easy to do.

Fracking Questions

By Brittany Ryan

Of all environmental issues, hydraulic fracturing is one that I am most concerned with. The process encompasses all angles of environmental and social negligence—from water contamination to regulatory loopholes and prevention of public disclosure. Yet, it continues to grow exponentially, with nuclear plants being dismantled as natural gas conquers the United States energy industry.

Often, arguments of becoming more energy independent and protecting ourselves from potential wars with the Middle East are tossed around to sound like urgent measures to address national security. But almost 40 percent of America’s oil needs come from domestic supply, and another 35 percent is imported from Latin America and Canada. Gas companies continuously make false promises of securing our nation’s energy independence, but they have already submitted 19 proposals to the DOE to export liquefied natural gas. Nonetheless, production rates continue to decline as consumption rates catapult. Studies report that we only have 50 years worth of natural gas, and that’s assuming we are able to extract every possible reserve. Is 50 years worth threatening our resources? Instead of worsening our addiction, efforts should be made to increase efficiency, reduce consumption, and effectively transition to renewable resources.

Other questions largely overlooked should be granted significant attention. A myriad of cases of water contamination has been reported near extraction sites, transforming local residents’ well-water to a murky mixture, unsuitable for drinking or even bathing. Some of the chemicals used to break up the natural gas are the same we find in embalming fluid, gasoline that runs our vehicles, and detergents that wash our clothes. Numerous cases, predominantly in Pennsylvania, of families reporting brain lesions, membrane damage, migraines and the like all were located near a gas-drilling location. Additionally, there has yet to be full disclosure of all the chemicals used in the fluid and this remains unknown because the industry refuses to permit government testing. If the natural gas industry is so confident that fracking fluid poses low risks to human health, EPA testing and public disclosure of the results should not be a problem.

And how are these major oil and gas companies, such as leading supplier Halliburton Co., getting away with all of this? It could be because President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which contained a small provision with an astronomical impact. The component exempted natural gas fluids from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and CERCLA. This waiver is frequently referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole” because former CEO of Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney, was a powerful proponent.

Did I mention air pollution, land fragmentation, noise pollution, wastewater displacement, greenhouse emissions and declines in animal populations? The list of environmental and social impacts could go on and on. Relying on such a risky process seems unintelligible, especially when considering the availability of alternative resources. Critics claim wind and solar energy are just not technologically efficient enough and too costly. Yet fracking is efficient and not costly? Each well can use from 50,000 to 10 million gallons of water for the process, meaning these barrels of water are transported by truck, requiring oil, to be contaminated to a point beyond filtration. A valuable and diminishing resource is being wasted for the harmful extraction of a finite resource. The cost of gas-drilling extends far beyond monetary limits; individuals should prioritize human and environmental health over economic gain. What good is cheap energy if we can’t even drink our water?

Furthermore, technology is a catalyst of itself; with increased innovation comes improvement, and that has proven true for all technologies. The first computer ever created was not efficient either, but the world has come a long, long way since then at an exponential rate. Investing in a clean, safe, and environmentally sound technology seems worth the cost to avoid yet another destructive process that destroys the sole entity that keeps us alive – the Earth.