Thursday, February 26, 2015

We All Have a Responsibility to Act on Global Climate Threat

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my concern about the approaching threat climate change poses to our country and to our people. Despite the lack of awareness surrounding the topic, an overwhelming number of scientists agree that climate change is occurring at an unprecedented rate. In fact, if we do not act fast, its effects on our planet may soon be irreversible.

The U.S. is responsible for the largest share of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and yet, for years, politicians have blocked legislation on climate change by hanging by the words of a handful scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity. My belief, however, is that the government should begin proposing policy change that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. These proposed cuts in global gas emissions are necessary to allow our climate to re-stabilize.

The easiest way to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions is simply to buy less stuff in whatever capacity we can in our individual lives. Cutting back on something as simple as grocery bags can go a long way, as less consumption results in fewer fossil fuels being burned to produce plastic bags. Any time consumers can purchase reused materials is best. Thinking green when making purchases can make a world of difference on the environment.

As new standards for cars become more prominent in the automobile industry, people should become more conscious about the harmful effects that some cars have over other, more eco-friendly ones. If possible, cutting back on long-distance travel can also reduce the amount of gas emission that is released into the atmosphere. Switching to walking, cycling or walking can help.

As inhabitants of this planet, we have a moral and social responsibility to seek new alternatives to fossil based fuels that harm human health, causes global warming, degrades land and marine ecosystems, and pollutes the earth. I am sure that we can use our advancements in technology to find clean, renewable and reliable energy that does not threaten the environment.

Solar panels are just another way that people can take individual action against this problem in addition to unplugging the number of electronic devices in their homes. Too often do microwaves and television sets stay plugged in to walls, draining energy that is not being used.

I understand that focusing on climate change is just one of many issues during these challenging times, but we cannot wait until global climate change poses a very real threat to the future of humanity. What good is there in calling ourselves a developed country, when we fail to use our technological advancements to create and sustain positive change for planet earth?

Vanna Garcia

Oil Train Explosion in West Virginia Highlights Potential Danger in New Jersey

By Candace Mitchell

A 109-car oil train derailed in West Virginia on Feb. 16, causing a huge explosion as at least nine train cars caught fire and burned, The New York Daily News reported. The black smoke and flames pouring into the sky in West Virginia is a reminder of the potential danger of the CSX Transportation Inc. trains carrying crude oil through North Jersey.

The train, which was hauling oil from North Dakota, derailed at about 1:20 p.m. near Mount Carbon, forcing residents within a one-mile radius to evacuate, according to The Daily News.

Environmental threats were a large concern following the derailment because at least one car tipped over, spilling oil into the Kanawha River, The Daily News reported. The spill caused West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to issue a state of emergency and water treatment plants down river from the spill were closed by state health officials.

“CSX teams also are working with first responders to address the fire, to determine how many rail cars derailed, and to deploy environmental protective measures and monitoring on land, air and in the nearby Kanawha River,” CSX said in a statement.

The explosion in West Virginia highlights the potential danger of the CSX trains that run through our backyards. According to, millions of gallons of crude oil pass through Bergen Country neighborhoods every day, including Norwood, Harrington Park, Closter, Haworth, Dumont, Bergenfield, Teaneck, Bogota, Ridgefield Park and Ridgefield.

An explosion in North Jersey would present a very similar situation to what is currently occurring in West Virginia. In North Jersey, the CSX lines travel over the Oradell Reservoir. A derailment could potentially pollute the reservoir, which provides drinking water to 750,000 people.

The train derailment in West Virginia is not the first scare. The state of Virginia announced that it is proposing a $361,000 civil fine against CSX for the derailment of a train carrying crude oil in Lynchburg on April 30, The Roanoke Times reported. The derailment in Lynchburg spilled 29,000 gallons of crude oil into the James River, about 98 percent of that oil burst into flames, but a remaining 390 gallons was left in the river.

Derailments of this kind are becoming more and more common, making the threat of possible danger to communities and the environment a greater possibility.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Toxic Legacy: Race-Based Dumping

By Vanna Garcia

Ten minutes from Ramapo College, a small state college in New Jersey, a former Ford plant that closed in 1980 still shakes a community in Ringwood, NJ.

Just three years after the Ford plant in Mahwah closed its doors, the Environmental Protection Agency put the company’s dumpsite in neighboring Ringwood on its Superfund list of the most contaminated sites in the country. Two decades later, community protests and reports in local newspapers forced the EPA to put the site back on the Superfund list, despite declaring in 1994 that it had been “appropriately cleaned.”

Among this large dumping site you will find two abandoned iron mines and a landfill surrounding the homes of a Ramapough Indian community.

Contamination from the paint sludge has made these residents sick – sometimes terminally – and, still, most of them stay there, pressing for a full clean up of land these residents have called home for centuries.

“Approximately 3,500 tribal members who live in the area have higher rates of cancer, birth defects and other health problems from decades of contaminated water and soil,” Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry told The Record, describing the impact of dumping toxic waste from the Ford plant in the region, which includes portions of Mahwah, Ringwood and nearby sites in the Town of Ramapo, NY.

For many, the image of an impoverished child, a child living in miserable circumstances and lacking access to basic needs and social services in the United States, is unfathomable. But for these community members, poverty and illness is right in their backyard.

Forty-year-old dried paint sludge, rusted 55-gallon drums of industrial debris, were still visible in parts of woods and the smell of acetone was intoxicating, The Record reported in a 2005 investigative series called “Toxic Legacy.”

Throughout the course of history, it is clear that people of color face greater barriers than their White European counterparts due to the cultural climate that seems to deem black and brown bodies as less valuable and more disposable than other race-based identity groups – and this idea is proven yet again by the lack of government involvement and health industries for such a long time that has since plagued the Ramapough Indians.

The face of poverty does not always have a rural backdrop or only exist in other parts of the world — statistically, according to, as nearly half of African and Asian populations are becoming urbanites, and more than three-fourths of Latin America already is.

Poverty exists everywhere, and the Ramapough Indians have a long history of dealing with injustice and government-imposed oppression by negligence.

It is easy to see the racial inequality that is embedded in the culture of our society, which disproportionately separates the low socioeconomic people of color from the general society of middle-class white individuals in the surrounding communities, but what happens when the crime is right under your nose, and when the culprit is your own government?

The United States government has failed to serve the Ramapough Indian community, instead ignoring their concerns over the years and leading them down a path of hopelessness and, often, death due to illness. 

Poverty is not just about the capacity to afford a basic food basket; it is a matter of lack of basic civil and political rights. The Ramapough Indians’ civil rights are being infringed upon since their health, physical, mental and emotional falls victim to the poor living conditions of the areas in which they live.

The Ramapo Record, in recent years, has investigated and documented the chronic poverty and level of toxicity that surrounds children, women and men in this community for over forty years. Research and extensive visits to the site have found that the harmful effects of the Ford Company have contributed to environmental issues such as water contamination, hazardous debris in the air, cancer and other unexplained illness, which has disproportionately affected this community.

This community has faced chronic poverty and marginalization by systems that are supposed to protect them from these types of living conditions and circumstances.

Top priorities in African-American, Latino and Asian communities rarely include environmental issues like water contamination, pollution and landfills, despite the fact that such environmental ills plague and contribute to the quality of life in these often-poor communities – and as long as these communities remain quiet and blind about these issues, nothing will get better.

These environmental issues are not given enough attention, which will not effect change and environmental justice until the affected communities band together to address the culprit of these mass poisonings of innocent people: Unregulated multi-billion dollar industries, like Ford. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Like Some Genetically Modified Bug Juice with Your Cheeseburger?

By Samantha Bell

Genetically modified (GM) foods are often promoted as a way to sustainably feed the world. But this is little short of a confidence trick. Far from needing more GM foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.

With the rise of GM foods, consumers want to know what they are eating. Many foods available today contain GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, foods that have been changed with an injection of DNA from another species.

According to PBS, since 1996 the growth of GM crops has skyrocketed to more than 70 million. Since then, Americans have been fighting long and hard for the right to know what’s in their food. Currently, there are no label requirements for foods containing GMOs in the United States, but savvy consumers want to know what’s in their food. GMOs have been known to cause health, safety and environmental issues, and Americans have expressed their concern, seeing no change in the law.

In a 2013, a New York Times poll reported that 93 percent of Americans are in favor of putting labels on genetically engineered foods. According to, “Global food policy research conducted by CFS confirms that 61 countries, including member nations of the European Union, Russia, China, Brazil, Australia, Turkey and South Africa require standards of mandatory GE food labeling.”

GMOs and Health—Should We Be Concerned?

Intensive research shows the numerous effects that GMOs can have on our health—they can be toxic, allergenic and/or have unintended nutritional changes.

The issue surrounding GM food crops and human health is that there are too many unknowns. There aren’t enough studies really documenting that they are safe. The safety data is all generated by the companies and submitted to our government. We have lots of reasons as consumers to ask for independent safety studies. GM ingredients are largely found in processed food. The only way to be certain you are not eating GM foods is to buy certified organic, which must be 95 percent GM-free.

In GMO Myths & Truths, John Fagan wrote, “Most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter hematological [blood], biochemical, and immunologic parameters, the significance of which remains to be solved with chronic toxicity studies.”
GMOs are man-man toxic products that the human body is not made to consume or digest.

Right to Know?

According to non-GMO Project, every year, farmers plant $15 billion worth of GM seeds around the world. The main GM crops are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, Hawaiian papaya, soy, sugar beets, zucchini and yellow summer squash. Nearly half of all U.S. farms grow GM products. In fact, according to their research, in the U.S., 90 percent or more of all corn, cotton, canola, sugar beet and soybeans are grown from genetically engineered seeds.

Some opponents argue that since genetically engineered (GE) crops are altered to fight off insects and weeds, they require less harmful chemicals, which is better for farmer health, soil erosion and potential water erosion, the Wall Street Journal reports. But while that may seem beneficial and harmless here and now, the long-term effects are a large concern as well, observers say.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) cites animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies show how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems.
Genes inserted into GM soy, for example, can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us, and that the toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses. By mixing genes from totally unrelated species, genetic engineering unleashes an array of unpredictable side effects.

Since science on GMOs is still developing, the main arguments today have to do with labeling: should GM foods be labeled, like Kosher or USDA Certified Organic food?

It all comes down to the consumers’ right to know. It’s not so much a debate anymore about whether GMOs are safe or unsafe. But it’s about the right to know what’s in our food supply.

Toxic Legacy: Uncovering a Buried Hazard

By Samantha Bell

“Toxic Legacy,” the in-depth investigation of contaminated areas in Ringwood, New Jersey, painted a picture of the devastation carelessly caused to the area’s residents by the Ford Motor Company in the 1960s. The report, published in The Record, aimed to open readers’ eyes to the land’s contamination and, more importantly, the innocent lives that were affected by illnesses caused by the contamination.

The investigation of “Toxic Legacy” is more than just a story about environmental justice and toxic contamination; it is a story about raising awareness and not letting devastating events like such go unnoticed and untreated. Not only has the dumping and pollution of toxic chemicals affected the quality of Ringwood’s land, but the population’s health, as well. The group of people that reside in the area of Ringwood that have been contaminated are the Ramapoughs. Growing up in New Jersey, I have heard the story of the Ramapoughs, but knew them as the “Jackson Whites.” Like the “Toxic Legacy” series stated, the community had a reputation for being “ignorant, barbaric and illiterate.” But those views were just that - a reputation.

Many residents of the community believe that Ford dumped up in the mountains because of the Ramapoughs’ reputation. I am in disbelief that this community has been dumped on for years and have grown up in a toxic wasteland. What makes it worse is that some of the paint sludge still remains in these areas. Ford has somehow found ways to get around cleaning up their messes. This ongoing problem is affecting the health of people living on this land. The soil is polluted with toxic chemicals, but they still continue to live on the land because they have no other choice. The water that they need to survive is also contaminated.

The Ramapoughs are struggling with health issues that include various cancers that have unfortunately taken the lives of those from their community. There are learning disabilities amongst the children that may be due to high levels of lead found in the ground. They suffer from ailments such as asthma and skin rashes that lead to low attendance in school.

One thing that does not make much sense is how the dumping of the paint sludge was not made a top priority by the state and EPA officials. The dumping site is not the most wealthy and developed area 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 cleanup and removal of the waste for a number of years now.

Even if one is unaware about things taking place in our environment, I believe that it is important to at least take a look at “Toxic Legacy.” The piece hits so close to home and directly affects the areas we live in; it would be a shame to not be educated on the matter. The report is a great way to get others informed or involved about the issues of paint sludge and to show them how real the problem is. It is also important to note that with great persistence and questioning, a difference can still be made.

Saving Green Space: The View from Lucy's Lookout

By Erik Lipkin

The term swamp doesn’t usually conjure images of beauty.  Instead, when most people hear the word swamp, they think about mucky water filled with alligators and snakes.  Clearly those people have never visited New Jersey’s Great Swamp.  While there aren’t any alligators in the Great Swamp, there are numerous species of waterfowl, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that all call it home.  There would be no swamp to call home for those creatures if it wasn’t for a grassroots campaign to save it.

Decades ago, the Great Swamp was going to be filled in and paved over to create an international airport, because apparently having the Newark Liberty International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and John F. Kennedy International Airport already in the tri-state area wasn’t enough.  But thanks to many local activists the swamp was saved in a David vs. Goliath showdown between the activists and the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey. However, the Great Swamp wasn’t the only great fight put forth by local activists in New Jersey. 

Another victory for New Jersey’s local environmental activists was the preservation of Pyramid Mountain in Morris County.  While there are houses that challenge the boundaries of the Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area, they do not breach its borders.  What makes Pyramid Mountain so special are its vast hiking trails that anyone can enjoy, from beginner to experienced hiker.  Whether hikers wants to stroll along the forest on flat trails to Bear Rock, which is an ancient glacial erratic, or head up the steep mountain to check out Tripod Rock, there is something for everyone to enjoy. 

Perhaps the most special section of Pyramid Mountain is one that many hikers walk right by without even noticing, Lucy’s Lookout.  The lookout is named after Lucy Meyer, who was an integral part of helping to preserve Pyramid Mountain.  Meyer helped build local support to save the mountain and the lookout was named fittingly in her honor.  What makes the lookout special isn’t just that it was named after Meyer, whose efforts to help save the mountain were extraordinary, but that when you get to the lookout all of modern civilization seems to fade away.

Off of the main trail, there’s a side trail to Lucy’s Lookout, and after some scrambling near the edge of a cliff hikers can enjoy fabulous views.  While there are a few cell phone towers as eyesores in the distance, most of the view is nothing but beautiful old growth trees.  It isn’t often in New Jersey that one can sit atop a rock and look out over a sea of green, lush trees, but that is exactly what Lucy’s Lookout offers.  There is something about being at Lucy’s Lookout that can make someone believe in G-d or at the very least some sort of higher power.  There is a cleansing of the soul that can happen there, if you take the time to let it. 

Sitting at the lookout, sun shining on your face, taking in a gorgeous field of green, it is hard not to be thankful for Lucy Meyer and the many others who helped preserve Pyramid Mountain.

Global Climate Change 101

By Eric Christiansen

Reading the chapter on global climate change in The Reporter's Environmental Handbook, I was struck by the sensitivity and fragility of the balance that exists in our atmosphere.The reading outlines the structure of our atmosphere from the high altitude stratosphere to the low altitude troposphere.  As I learned about the differences in the gases that exist at these varying altitudes, I was surprised to find out the degree to which ozone can negatively affect our atmosphere and planet. 

Simply a change in the altitude at which ozone exists can drastically impact the way it interacts with other gases and the temperature of the planet.  I understood that global temperature change is sensitive and is measured at a minute level, but I didn’t realize that 1 degree Celsius over the course of 10,000 years was as significant as it is.

I found some of the commentary regarding human interaction with the environment especially interesting.  Some people, the authors remarked, believe that given the rate at which humans are advancing technologically, we will be able to solve problems as they arise.  I find that this topic is especially relevant as people start to consider the problems that will confront the human race in the near and distant future.

Our dependence on fossil fuels comes to mind.  Will we be able to full convert to alternative fuel sources before the fuel runs out, or will we continue to rely on these dated fuels until the last minute?  Given the progression of research into electric cars, solar power, and other power sources like wind and hydro power, the possibilities of future innovations are exciting.  While it wasn’t discussed directly in the reading, the subject of clean, accessible water came to mind as I read this section of the chapter.  Many people take it for granted, but water is a limited resource, so innovation in the field of water sanitation is vital to the survival of our species.

Bill Gates has recently been at the forefront of some interesting developments in sewage treatment.  While I don’t understand the process completely, he has been involved in the development of plants that are able to convert raw sewage into potable water. 

Overall, I found this reading extremely informative.  I think that it helped me develop a far greater understanding of the processes at work in our atmosphere.  I am certainly more informed now about the sensitivity of global temperature and how those temperatures are affected.  The potential impact to our planet and quality of life also struck me as it is really applicable to everyone.  I really can’t understand how this subject pulls as little attention as it does, given its significance and severity. 

Planting Seeds of Grassroots Support for Green Causes

By Edith Carpio
Last Thursday two women came into our Environmental Writing class to talk to us about something called a “Mitzvah Mall.” The Mitzvah Mall is hosted by the Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes. I had no idea what a Mitzvah Mall even was, and I didn’t know what to expect from their presentation. It turned out that the next Mitzvah Mall was going to be that Sunday, Feb. 8th and it was their 15th one. Clearly, they knew what they were talking about. I found everything about their presentation really intriguing, especially because they spoke about it with great passion.
They started their presentation answering my very first question, what is a Mitzvah? A Mitzvah is “a commandment to do moral deeds and pursue social justice through acts of human kindness.” The Mitzvah Mall is set up for people to donate to different kinds of charities.

I was surprised at the variety of the charities they support. They represent charities that honor the elderly, feed the hungry, preserve the earth, remembers the Holocaust, love Israel, support children’s health, redeem the captive, support animal’s rights, and bring light to women’s issues. Breaking the Chain Through Education is an example of a charity the Barnert Temple chose to fundraise for at the Mitzvah Mall. It is a charity which is dedicated to ending child slavery in Ghana, Africa. Other charities chosen include Lifeforce in Later Years, Meals with a Mission, and Bergen SWAN, which each support different things that I mentioned before.
The ladies, Sue Klein and  Felicia Halpert, went on to explain the process they go through when choosing what charity to fund raise for at their annual Mitzvah Mall. They made us pick one of three charities by doing the same process they do when choosing a charity.

The first of three charities we had to choose from was called Ample Harvest, a charity that gets excess crops to local food pantries instead of throwing the food out. The second charity was Veterans Farm, which is dedicated to helping veterans get back into society by preparing them for a career in agriculture. And the last charity was Bergen SWAN, a charity that protects the few open spaces in Bergen County, New Jersey that have not been taken to undergo developments. It also preserves watershed buffer forests in order to protect our drinking water reservoirs.

We had to work with a group to choose which charity to fund raise for based on things like impact, local presence, short-term and long-term goals of the charity, trustworthiness, financial health/transparency, etc. Keeping these things in mind, we chose Bergen SWAN, because it had a local presence, and it impacted us directly.

Although my group chose Bergen SWAN, I really liked the Ample Harvest charity because it helps hungry people who are often overlooked. So many people rely on the food being donated to their local food pantry but not many people actually donate to their local pantry. With Ample Harvest, there will be no shortage of food in food pantries. Food Pantries will not have to turn their backs on the hungry. So much food was being wasted and now it is going to a great cause.

I especially liked that Gary Oppenheimer, master gardener and creator of Ample Harvest, is trying to get gardeners in all 50 states to donate their excess crops to food pantries. This would lead to the decrease of people in our country dying because they cannot simply afford food.

This charity reminded me of a scene of a movie I saw recently. The movie was "A Good Lie," where a new employee, who was an orphan and a refugee of war from Sudan trying to start a life in America, was working at a local grocery store and was instructed to throw out a shopping cart full of vegetables and fruit which were still eatable but over its shelf life. The new employee realized how huge of a waste this was. And one time he saw a homeless person digging in the trash of the grocery store and didn’t rat her out because he knew that the food should not even be there in the first place.

From then on he left a bag of the "expired" food and fruit especially for the homeless women. This made me think that the idea of charity like Ample Harvest should expand to places like grocery stores. Also, other countries should have a charity like this set up as well.

I was unable to attend the Mitzvah Mall last Sunday, but the two ladies really reminded me of the importance of Mitzvah. Listening to them made me want to donate to a charity, and join one to spread awareness of so many necessary issues.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Toxic Legacy: What's in Our Water?

By Edith Carpio

There have been many negative results from the pollution created by Ford Motor Company’s  former assembly plant in Mahwah, New Jersey. The hazardous paint sludge from the Ford plant contaminated several areas in forests of Northern New Jersey, and created damage to the people, nature, and possibly the regional water supply. The "Toxic Legacy" report by The Record explains the threat that the dumping of hazardous waste caused to the water supply. The biggest question is "is the water clean?"

According to an investigation by Lindy Washburn at The Record, for now the answer is yes. She says, however, that it is hard for anyone to assure the quality of the water supply in the future, no one can guarantee it–not even water companies. The safety of the water supply is threatened by contaminants in neighboring woods and mines, including lead, benzene and other chemicals found in car paints. The town of Ringwood, New Jersey and the reservoirs it hosts are at high risk. But Ford claims that any chemicals found in the streams of Ringwood are not enough to raise a red flag, it is nothing to worry about. But why would the cause of the problem admit to being the problem?

Why it is even acceptable for this to be a problem? This whole water pollution fiasco should have never happened. There is no confidence in the current or future state of our water because there are questions that have never been answered. No one knows exactly how much or where the pollution is in the Northern New Jersey forests. No one knows the exact damage caused by the microscopic contaminants, and when they will start to become a real problem. And lastly, no one knows the way Ringwood's underground system works.
Another problem is that most likely people in northeast New Jersey who drink the water do not know there might be a problem with the water. They aren't aware of the possible things going into their bodies. Their unawareness is part of the problem. If they knew that the current or future state of their water was unsure they wouldn't be okay with drinking it. This would lead to more people taking public action and possibly causing the state to actually do something. The state desperately needs to do something before it is too late. The state should take action now rather than later and clean up the water of any possible chemicals. Taking action years from now would cause the problem to grow bigger and the water would be more hazardous to people's health.
There are still so many unanswered questions that need to be put to rest as soon as possible. The quality of our drinking water should not be something that should be up in the air. I hope that in 20 or 30 years we will not have to open a newspaper or turn on the TV news and hear of the long term effects of drinking contaminated water all these years.

Toxic Legacy: Who Gets Green Lawns and Who Gets Dumped On

By Erik Lipkin

Many people living in New Jersey are aware of the “Toxic Legacy” report, which appeared in the Bergen Record in the mid-to-late 2000s.  They are aware of the story it tells because it happened, for some, right in their own backyards.  The report was a scathing one that blasted the Ford Motor Company for dumping toxic paint sludge in parts of Ringwood, NJ.  That sludge made its way into people’s everyday lives and even and streams surrounding their homes. 

One of the most troubling aspects of the “Toxic Legacy” report isn’t that a major corporation endangered the lives of people by dumping toxic waste; certainly people are cynical enough when it comes to large corporations to not be surprised by that.  What is most troubling is the fact that the paint sludge was dumped in low-income areas where people whose skin color was a few shades darker than that of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford’s was.
The majority of the toxic sludge was dumped in areas inhabited by the Ramapough Mountain Indians.  This shouldn’t comes as a huge shock considering the United States doesn’t exactly have the most pristine record when it comes to treating Native Americans fairly.  First settlers moved the Native Americans off of their own land and onto reservations where crops could not flourish, and now a major company is dumping toxic waste on one of the areas that they call home.  Because many of the Ramapough Mountain Indians do not have a lot of money, moving out of the toxic area is not a viable option.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend when it comes to pollution and low-income areas.
Drive through parts of New Jersey and everything looks beautiful; mature trees, manicured lawns, and babbling brooks dot the landscape.  However, other areas seem to be infested with pollution.  North Caldwell is one of those beautiful towns, filled with upper-middle-class and even wealthier people and very easy on the eyes.  Yet a 20-minute drive down Bloomfield Avenue will take you to Newark, a lower income city with a large population of black and Latino people.  In Newark, mature trees and manicured lawns are not common; what is common are smoke stacks and intrusive industrial buildings.
One might say that the difference between North Caldwell and Newark is simple; one is a suburb while the other is a city.  That is correct and of course a suburban landscape will always look different that a city landscape, but that is not the major difference.  The major difference is money and skin color.  If a company decided to dump toxic sludge in a well-off, white area such as North Caldwell there would be a huge backlash and some people, because they could afford it, might move away.  In Newark, though, many people don’t have the option of moving away, and it always seems like civic leaders are less inclined to listen to the woes of the poor.
“Toxic Legacy” isn’t just about a corporation thinking they are above the law, it goes way beyond that.  The real legacy comes in highlighting the fact that environmental racism is alive and well and unfortunately doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.  People should not only be disgusted by the fact that toxic sludge is being dumped, they should also be disgusted by where it is being dumped and the reasons behind choosing to dump in those locations.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bergen SWAN Points the Way to Cleaner Waters

By Brianna Farulla
Worldwide there are various grassroots organizations which each stand for causes that are crucial to the lives of many. With so many options at peoples’ disposal, it may be difficult for them to decide which would be the best candidate to invest their time and money into. However, that decision can often be made simpler when an issue comes up that hits close to home. The impact of something relatable will often outweigh other options, which is what happened to me when I first heard of the Bergen Save the Watershed Action Network.

I could have been given an entire booklet of various organizations and Bergen SWAN would still manage to pop out at me. The fact that I’ve lived in Bergen County my entire life obviously has a lot to do with that. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the committee in the charge of the Barnert Temple Mitzvah Mall, being residents of Bergen County, chose to sponsor this group since they had a particular attachment to it as well.

My interest went straight towards the group since it’s striving to make a change in the area that I was born and raised in. Anything that could potentially improve my life is of great importance to me, as it would be to anyone else. It’s not a matter of being selfish, but more a matter of being concerned and willing to be active in regards to environmental issues occurring near me and my loved ones.

Bergen SWAN aims to preserve natural lands and the reservoirs that supply drinking water to residents in Bergen, Hudson and Rockland counties. The water that we’re provided with is far from drinkable, without expensive filtering, and needs sustainability now more than ever. Over the years it only becomes more polluted, so if we can start changing now, there’s a chance of improvement for the water in years to come. I’m well aware that there’s already been 22 years worth of contaminated water put into my body, but then I think of people like my younger cousins and generations that have yet to experience life. In order for there to be hope for them, we ultimately have to fight for changes today.

The goal of Bergen SWAN isn’t even solely about the water. The group urges to permanently protect the last remaining open spaces as well. Places like the Ramapo Reservation automatically come to mind. I think of the natural beauty that it provides, all of the hikes that I’ve managed to enjoy there and the wildlife that calls the location home. Places like that are an escape from reality and provide scenic views that are few and far between. I couldn’t imagine having to sacrifice all of that for a golf course or an apartment complex. There are similar structures being built daily which are taking away from our land and are only contributing to the overpopulation and pollution of Bergen County.

Therefore, I’m glad to hear that Bergen SWAN is finally gaining the recognition that it’s deserved since 1988. It’s sad that it’s taken this long, but anywhere is a start. I’m sure that they’ll be able to catch up for lost times with the help of technology, which has the ability to help grassroots campaigns rapidly spread information. I know that Bergen County has the potential to become a much cleaner place with the proper help from residents and with that being said, I wish the group nothing but success.

Should Water Really be the Beverage of Choice?

By Brianna Farulla

The majority of our country is unaware of how harmful the air that we breathe is or how the food and beverages that we intake on a daily basis are probably killing us slowly. What’s even worse is to see how a large number of this nation’s population is vulnerable, lazy or uninformed when it comes to the topics that matter. The “Toxic Legacy” report in The Record took matters to a more local level and focused on situations that have occurred in New Jersey.

It’s hard to not take a second to at least be slightly concerned after reading about severe environmental issues that are currently happening in our own town or those nearby. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had no clue of the Ford plant’s existence. I don’t know if that’s my own fault or if it’s the media’s mistake for not covering stories that put our lives in jeopardy, since most editors will be quick to run a feature on a Kardashian rather than on the pollution that we’re inhaling. Regardless of who’s to blame, Ford's pollution truly did some damage.

The “Toxic Legacy” series reported how an entire region’s drinking water may be contaminated. Most officials will deny such a thing, but it’s common sense. We constantly get the thought of water being healthy and pure drilled into our minds. So what do we do? We drink it without thinking of the consequences. Not only do we have to worry about the cancerous plastic that bottled water is packaged in, but now add what chemicals are floating around in our rivers into the mix. What goes on within those bodies of water is mysterious. Knowing that it’s frowned upon to eat any fish that comes out of water around here is alarming enough.

I recently began drinking alkaline water, which comes from an ionizing machine that filters through my pipes. It works as an antioxidant, helps balance the body’s pH levels, detoxifies and enhances the immune system. I compared it to what comes out of a water fountain that I typically drink out of and, as a result, I was disturbed. The fountain water tasted like bleach and was murky, while the alkaline water was clear and refreshing.

The comparison was frightening and made me think of what I’ve been consuming for the past 22 years. However, I’ll make a change whenever I have the opportunity to, so if that means making the switch to alkaline water, I’ll do it. Like most people, I’m guilty of using what’s at my disposal, but sometimes going out of  the way and spending extra money is worth it. I’d now rather take a second to change the filter on my water ionizer than turn the faucet on my sink. The Ford plant was just one distributor of toxins into streams that supply our drinking water. Imagine the other chemicals that have made their way into our water in addition to that?

Eco-Campaigns on College Campuses

By Candace Mitchell

Grassroot campaigns are naturally created and made up of communities; whether it be people of a certain gender, residents living in a certain area, a college campus, a religion, etc., who are affected by the same issues, and therefore concerned with the same issues. Campaigns can benefit from the support of a tight knit community, or people who find similarities in the issues they’re concerned with.

A recent example is the “Sodexo Cruelty Campaign,” a nationwide campaign at various colleges and universities with Sodexo-run dining halls. The campaign is calling on schools to terminate their contracts with Sodexo dining services if they continue serving eggs from hens that are confined to cages that are so small that allow for little movement.

The Humane League, a national farmed animal advocacy organization working to end the suffering of animals through public education and corporate campaigns, has created a petition on that calls for Sodexo to stop purchasing eggs from batter-cage farms.

Currently, 128,478 students and supporters have signed the petition, which states: “Please, sign our petition and let Sodexo know that consumers do not want to be supporting this kind of extreme animal cruelty with their dining dollars. It's time for Sodexo to do the right thing and join the 21st century in pledging to end their support of farms that still use outdated battery-cage systems.”

The petition also cites other food service providers – including Starbucks, Burger King, Delaware North Companies and Ben & Jerry’s – that have stopped purchasing eggs from battery-cage farms from their supply chains.

That campaign has an automatic community of college students attending schools that are directly affected by the actions of Sodexo services. The Humane League, the organization that launched the campaign, used this natural community to their advantage. Taylor Ford, campaign coordinator of The Humane League, emailed the newspapers of colleges whose dining halls utilize Sodexo. .

Grassroot campaigns can find success from utilizing natural groups of people with common interests. In this case, the campaign utilized various colleges that use Sodexo Dining Services, college students that are active on social media and college newspapers to help spread the word and get the campaign moving. This campaign also utilized tools of communication that are commonly used by college students including The campaign launched a nationwide social media effort that target’s Sodexo’s hashtag #feedingthemovement.

Ringwood Mines Superfund Site: What’s Left to Do?

By Candace Mitchell

The two–mile-long by half-mile-wide Ringwood Mines/Landfill Superfund Site has had its ups and downs. Since the 1700s the land has undergone different uses, from iron mining to illegal dumping of waste products followed by a series of clean ups, and has been listed and delisted as an official Superfund site. However, the story is far from over. The Superfund site in Ringwood has been on and off the radar of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and although there have been a host of clean ups, the site is currently under reinvestigation, an investigation that has been “ongoing” since December 2004, according to the EPA’s website.

History of Site

According to the EPA fact sheet, the site was originally a mine in the 1700s until it closed in 1931. From 1967 to 1974 the land was used by Ford Motor Company to deposit various waste products including car parts, solvents and paint sludge. A 290-acre portion of the land was later donated to the Ringwood Solid Waste Management Authority, which began using it as a landfill in 1972 until it was closed in 1976.

Cleanups: Round One

The original Ford cleanups occurred from 1987-1990. According to the EPA, Ford removed 7,000 cubic yards and 727 tons of pain sludge, along with 61 drums of toxic waste.

To Be or Not To Be a Superfund Site

Ringwood Mines was originally declared a Superfund site in 1983, according to the EPA. After a series of Ford cleanups, the EPA declared job well done and delisted the site in 1994. It was largely the work of an 85-signature petition submitted by the Ringwood Neighborhood Action Association (RNAA) on November 15, 2004 that got the site back on the EPA’s map, according to the New Jersey Environmental Justice Task Force’s (EJTJ) statement of findings. The petition stated that toxic sludge was still visible in the yards of some of the 550 people living in the area that was formerly the Ringwood Mines Superfund site.

The issue was further raised by an investigative series in The Record in 2005 called “Toxic Lrgacy.” After reviewing the petition, the EJTJ suggested that the site be relisted as a Superfund site, that the EPA monitor the cleanup and that the Department of Health and Senior Services develop a public health assessment.

Cleanups: Round Two

After additional paint sludge was found in the area, Ford began a second series of cleanups under the supervision of the EPA. According to the EPA’s website, Ford has removed an additional 53,528 tons of paint sludge, drum remnants and associated soil since December 2004.

Ongoing Investigation

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) contracted the Louis Berger Group, Inc. to perform site-specific Remedial Investigations of 47 residential properties at the Ringwood Mines Landfill site. In July 2014, the EPA released a cleanup plan estimated to cost $44.8 million. The plan is to be conducted and paid for by Ford and the Borough of Ringwood, and supervised by the EPA. The plan will remove contaminated soil from the opening of Peter’s Mine Pit and cap it ($11 million project), cap Cannon Mine Pit ($1.3 million project) and excavate the O’Connor Disposal Area ($32.6 million), according to The Record.

What’s Left?

Under the EPA’s current plan, contaminated soil will still remain in the 500-acre Ringwood Superfund site even after the $45 million cleanup.  In order to follow through on their plan of completely clearing the site, Ford would need to excavate and haul away nearly 166,000 tons of contaminated waste from the O’Connor Disposal Area, according to The Record.

However, the 166,000 tons of waste may not all be taken care of due to a small caveat: if the borough is able to create a plan, they will be permitted to instead construct a new recycling center over the former disposal area, forming a cap over the contaminated soil rather than removing it. This would cut the cleanup cost from $32.6 million to $5.3 million, according to The Record.

The Record also reported that the plan will also leave about 70,000 tons of contaminated material in Peter’s Mine Pit, clearing about 22,000 of the estimated 92,000 tons of contaminated material, and the 5-acre Cannon Mine area will be capped, covering all of the estimated 46,000 tons of contamination, but excavating none of it.