Thursday, April 2, 2015

Another Hidden Danger from Agent Orange: Fishing in New Jersey

By Erik Lipkin

 Agent Orange is a term many young people have probably never heard of.  Those who have heard of it probably think of it as Vietnam era problem that has no relevance today, if only that were true.  Agent Orange was originally used in the Vietnam War as a way for American troops to defoliate areas occupied by the Viet Cong.  That defoliation was designed to make it harder for troops fighting for North Vietnam to get food and-or cover to hide in or ambush from.  Unfortunately, Agent Orange didn’t just leave its mark on the Vietnam landscape, but also on the soldiers who came into contact with it.

American soldiers stationed in Vietnam were given no warnings about the harmful nature of Agent Orange, and now many of them are suffering health consequences.  Many soldiers have developed cancer and other illnesses long after leaving Vietnam.

One state that Agent Orange was produced in was New Jersey.  Disturbingly, like many other chemicals, it was not always disposed of properly and some found its way into waterways such as the Passaic River.  Dioxin from Agent Orange production was first discovered in the Passaic River in the early 1980’s, and officials felt that the river had become too toxic to dredge.  Now there is a new movement to see if bacteria can help cleanse the river of its severe pollution problem.

While trying to clean the toxic mess that the Passaic River has become is a noble effort, the lack of knowledge about the toxins in the river is horrifying.  Surely officials have been aware of the Agent Orange problem in the river for decades, but what about the everyday people who use the river as a fishing destination or place to relax along its banks?

Many fishermen have enjoyed the river as a place to fish for a few hours in the midst of an urban landscape.  While the Passaic River offers quality Northern Pike fishing it also offers something else, exposure to Agent Orange and the health risks that accompany it.  One of the most polluted portions of the Passaic River is near Garfield, NJ, below the Dundee Dam.  However, ascend the steep banks below the dam to the river and there are no warning signs about the health risks the river presents.  Basically, when fishing the Passaic River, it is “fish at your own risk.”

There is something invigorating about fishing in running water.  Perhaps that is why so many fishermen chose to brave the waters and use waders to be one with the water.  But does a thin layer of rubber protect them from Agent Orange exposure?  Other fishermen chose to go without waders, instead standing in knee deep water along the shore of the Passaic River.  Sure, most of them are aware that the water is polluted, and to be one with the running water comes at a risk, but few are aware that those risks include cancer due to Agent Orange exposure.

Just like the American soldiers during the Vietnam War were not made aware of the dangers of Agent Orange, people who use the river today are not made aware of its dangers.  It isn’t just the fishermen who are in danger but also boaters, and people who just like to relax along the banks of the Passaic River.  Certainly when one goes off to war they can expect to be faced with some danger, but one would not expect a day of fishing to be such a dangerous endeavor.            

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