Thursday, March 31, 2016

An Advocate for Nature's Balance

1947 brochure, US Dept. of Agriculture

By Daniel Mercurio

Silent Spring’s author Rachel Carson once stated, “In nature nothing exists alone.” This statement is important because it relates to the checks and balances system applied by the natural environment, which serves to keep the populations of different species in check through the use of both biotic and abiotic factors. However, mankind has altered this delicate balance by inventing insecticides that are used to control populations of insects that humans consider pests. 

As insects developed immunity to the insecticides, their populations exploded, posing more than a nuisance to people. It has also led certain insects to develop harmful adaptations and become immune to the chemicals found within these sprays. If people continue to associate the fact that humans are the dominant species with the notion that their all-powerful actions have no consequences, then there will be more negative environmental impacts as the natural system of checks and balances will break down.

I believe humans need to realize that there are limitations to their actions and that all species have a right to survive since the creator of the earth intended for all the inhabitants of the planet to live in balance and to appropriately use the resources that our planet provides.

Clearly, many people need to change their attitudes and actions if they are to satisfy nature’s system of checks and balances. In order to promote the shift, people must be educated about the consequences concerning the use of insecticides. There must also be enforcement through the implementation of environmental regulations that prohibit the use of these chemical agents. This would create an environmental movement as more and more people would feel compelled to invest in more environmentally friendly alternatives.  

Moreover, the shift would be complemented by the fact that scientists have already begun to develop alternatives to the harmful insecticides currently being used. In fact, an excerpt from Silent Spring highlights some of the progress scientists have made toward finding solutions. 

“A truly extraordinary variety of alternatives to the chemical control of insects is available,” Rachel Carson wrote. “Some are already in use and have achieved brilliant success. Others are in the stage of laboratory testing. Still others are little more than ideas in the minds of imaginative scientists waiting for the opportunity to put them to the test. All have this in common: they are biological solutions, based on an understanding of the living organisms they seek to control, and of the whole fabric of life to which these organisms belong. Specialists representing various areas of the vast field of biology are contributing – entomologists, pathologists, geneticists, physiologists, biochemists, ecologists – all pouring their knowledge and their creative inspirations into the formation of a new science of biotic controls.”

Monday, March 28, 2016

Clean Water and Human Rights

By Melanie Schuck

The panel on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan at Ramapo College on February 25 was an excellent event to attend. The five panelists each spoke on a different topic connected to the main panel theme. The consensus of the panel was that the government had failed in the situation in Flint. Connected to this consensus is why the government failed in protecting and informing its citizens. Michigan Governor Snyder’s philosophy of government was to cut costs in any way possible. Therefore, his government created the situation and did little to resolve it. In fact, the government of Michigan ignored complaints from residents and overrode decisions to assist the situation.              

An interesting note that I made at the panel was that water is not by law considered a basic human right. The basic human rights, by law, are food, shelter and clothing. The reason this occurred was because water is such a fundamental right it was left out of the legal definition of a human right. Because of this, water was made private in many places in the 1970’s and 1980’s. We see the result of this in the private companies that supply our homes with water and the companies such as Poland Spring and Nestle that sell bottled water. On the topic of bottled water, that has been proposed as a possible solution to the tainted water in Flint. However, as pointed out at the panel discussion, bottled water would be a temporary solution to a major problem.          

The situation in Flint is an example of environmental turbulence. Environmental turbulence can be natural or human caused. In this case, the turbulence is caused by humans but there were instances of natural causes in the situation. The main problem with Flint is that the pipes that are carrying the water into homes are made of lead or have lead in them. However, there were issues with the water that was being brought through the pipes when the original water source was switched to the contaminated Flint River. The second water source had certain elements in it that corroded lead in the pipes and caused the water to be even more unsafe than the original water source which provided a substance that coated the lead.
It seems to me that the environmental crisis in Flint, Michigan is a case of the government failing to do its job, which is something that many governments have done.

EPA Meeting in Ringwood: A Lesson in American History

By Melanie Schuck

I was asked to go to the town hall meeting in Ringwood, New Jersey by Dr. Stead for my Global Ethics class. By the time the meeting began, the room was so packed full of people that our entire class had to stand on the outskirts of the room in order to allow for everyone to come into the space. Even then it was not enough room so Dr. Stead designated three students, including myself, to stay and observe the meeting while the rest of the class went to a back room in the borough hall for the rest of the meeting.  

The meeting started off calm enough but as the Environmental Protection Agency officials gave their presentation regarding the status of the paint sludge that had been dumped there by Ford Motor Company when the plant in Mahwah was still functioning, it became quite clear that there was a disconnect between the EPA and the residents of Ringwood. Every once in a while a resident would interrupt to ask a question or to ask for clarification on something the EPA presenter had said. This led to constant interruption and questions, but to me it seemed to be well deserved due to the disconnect that was present.
There was one particular part of the meeting that stuck with me, that I do not even have to refer to my notes to remember. After numerous questions on the part of the residents, one of the members of the Citizens Advisory Group who was obviously frustrated said something akin to “we’ll never get through this presentation unless we do this as civilized people.” I physically recoiled at this as the residents began to protest against the use of the word “civilized.” The CAG member tried to backpedal as she said “I didn’t mean that you’re not civilized.” But, it was too late. She had said it and the residents had most definitely heard her say it. One resident who was standing near me was muttering under his breath about the word civilized.  

The first thing that popped into my head was the racist implications of implying that the residents of the affected Ringwood neighborhood were not civilized. That implication stretches all the way back to the days of the settlement of the Americas since the vast majority of the residents of the iron mining area of Ringwood are part of the Ramapough Lenape Turtle Clan. Clearly, there are some serious racist implications of implying that the Native Americans that live in Ringwood are uncivilized, because in the days when settlers were landing in the New World, they believed the Natives living there to be ‘savages’ and ‘uncivilized.’ Dr. Stead had warned us that we would witness environmental racism first-hand, but I did not know what to expect. I definitely did not count on being so uncomfortable witnessing what took place in that meeting.
It took at least an hour and a half to two hours to get through the entirety of the presentation that the EPA was giving the residents about the latest hazardous chemical found in groundwater and streams in the area. The meeting began at seven in the evening and lasted well over three hours. I left at ten o’clock because it had stretched past my class time and the inefficiency of the meeting was taking its toll on me. Despite the fact that I felt that the meeting was completely inefficient and that there were constant interruptions on the part of the Ringwood residents, I have to side with them over the EPA. They have every right to be angry with the EPA. The EPA was spitting out numbers at them rather them giving them an actual solution to help them. As Chief Perry pointed out, he asks the same question at every meeting regarding the health and welfare of his people and what the EPA plans on doing to help them. He received no answer.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Toxic Legacy Continues

Paint sludge clean up in Torne Valley     (photo: Jan Barry)

By Larissa Ledo

Decades after burying toxic paint sludge along the Ramapo River at Torne Valley, Ford finally came forward with a clean up. Overseen by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the clean up work now underway is expected to get rid of the toxic paint sludge along Torne Brook off Torne Valley Road across from the former Ramapo landfill.

Ford representatives said that they did not know about the lead paint being there, however the way the paint was buried underground, it’s clear the paint was purposely put there in a way that Ford contractors hoped no one would ever find it. The fight to get the lead out of there was not easy. After many years, in 2005 Ford began to remove more than 50,000 tons of contaminated soil from another dump site in Ringwood, NJ. In 2013, Ford contractors removed about 30,000 tons of paint sludge and tainted soil from a wellfield along the Ramapo River next to Torne Valley.

Lead is a very dangerous toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children, due to the sweet taste it has so children usually eat it. Lead exposure contributes to children developing intellectual disabilities. It is distributed to the brain, liver kidney, and bones.

In the Torne Valley case most people were not touching lead, however it was affecting the area’s water supply, which brings water to a large part of Rockland County. Lead also is in the water because of lead in water pipes, which has led to people drinking lead without knowing. Many people before using the water let it run for at least a minute or so for precaution.

In Ringwood, the Ramapoughs, a Native American tribe, have said that because of Ford’s pollution there were many premature deaths in their community. It is very sad to learn that something so toxic that can endanger the lives of so many people was around for so long. The pictures shown in The Record’s “Toxic Legacy” report of people’s skin from touching the lead paint without knowing are heartbreaking. It is even more sad to know that kids were mentally affected by it, affecting their capacity to learn.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Multiple Threats along the Ramapo River

Ramapo River in Mahwah     (photo: Jan Barry)

By Larissa Ledo

The Ramapo River is approximately 30 miles long in southern New York and northern New Jersey part of the Passaic River Basin. It provides water for over 200,000 residents and is a popular place for fly fishing, but also known to be the most populated river in northern New Jersey.

The river was contaminated a few decades ago when Ford Motor Company produced six million cars and trucks at a plant in Mahwah. The pollution, lead paint sludge, was dumped in Mahwah and other places upstream in Hillburn, NY, threatening the region’s water supply. Those who rely on the river as a source for drinking water are exposed to the risk of drinking contaminated water. 

Paint sludge contamination in an area of Hillburn along the Ramapo River and a tributary, Torne Brook, was discovered by a Ramapo College professor, Chuck Stead, on a hike with his students. At first the company denied knowing about the contamination, but later on if was discovered that the lead paint sludge was purposely buried in the area and found its way into the river. When the paint get hard it breaks into small pieces which makes it easier for it to migrate into the river. The contamination put the area’s most important watershed at risk. 

In 2005 when The Record reveled the paint was still in the area and at another dump site in Ringwood, NJ, Ford removed more than 50,000 tons of contaminated soil in Ringwood. That site is near the Wanaque Reservoir, which supplies water to millions of people in New Jersey.  

Another threat to the Ramapo River is that when Hurricane Irene passed through an oil spill happened which became a concern for Mahwah’s residents since they get their drinking water from wells along the river. The storm water flooded several oil trucks and fuel storage tanks. The flood was also what revealed the paint sludge in the Ramapo River that was found by Professor Stead’s students. 

The Ramapo River is known for frequent flooding problems. To address this problem, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection came up with a project to reduce the flood damage. The project provides a 40-year level of flood protection. It consisted of installing two floodgates at Pompton Lake Dam, as well as widening and deepening approximately one-mile of the Ramapo River upstream of Pompton Lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the Department od Environmental Protection, permitted and managed the construction of the project.

New Agent Orange Cleanup Plan for Passaic River

Sign Posted Along Passaic River by NJDEP

By Marissa Erdelyi

The federal government released a $1.38 billion plan on March 4 to clean a highly contaminated portion of the Passaic River.

In 1962, the U.S. military launched Operation Ranch Hand during the Vietnam War. The operation lasted almost 10 years and resulted in spraying an estimated 20 million gallons of herbicides, prominently Agent Orange, to kill jungle foliage. While this event ended nearly 45 years ago, the life of Agent Orange has yet to meet its end.

The Passaic River, located in northern New Jersey, has fallen victim to the fallout of Agent Orange. It’s advised not to eat the fish in the river, due to the high chemical levels found in the water. Eating fish or crabs from the Lower Passaic may cause cancer, liver damage, birth defects, and reproductive issues, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Chemicals were dumped into the water back in the day, when more than 100 factories were arranged along the banks of the river. One of these factories was Diamond Alkali. This factory was located in Newark and produced Agent Orange.

The river’s sediment is contaminated with contaminants including, but not limited to, pesticides, dioxin, and polychlorinated biphenyl.

The Environmental Protection Agency originally proposed a cleanup plan in April 2014. This original plan was $1.7 billion and called for liable companies to pay for the cleaning of the entire riverbed along the Lower Passaic River.

According to ABC News, the latest plan involves the cleaning of the lower eight miles of the river by removing 3.5 million cubic yards of toxic sediment. The bottom portion of the river contains 90 percent of the contamination. Following the removal of toxic sediment, the stretch of river bottom would be capped, keeping much of the contamination from getting into the rest of the river and the Newark Bay.

The contaminated sediment would be moved to out of state facilities. Material containing dioxin, a contaminant in Agent Orange which causes long-term health impacts, would be destroyed or buried in a hazardous-waste landfill.

While the new cleanup plan is drastically cheaper than the original proposed in 2014, it is still one of the most expensive Superfund site cleanups in history.

“The EPA’s cleanup plan will improve water quality, protect public health, revitalize waterfront areas and create hundreds of new jobs,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck.

Agent Orange Health Assistance Still a Problem for Many Veterans

VA poster for veterans assistance

By Daniel Mercurio

Not all wartime veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange are qualified to earn disability compensation. This has sparked a tremendous amount of controversy between the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and countless numbers of ailing veterans, particularly those who served during the Vietnam War.

Although Congress passed the Agent Orange Act in 1991, it still failed to help the majority of veterans who may qualify for health benefits. According to an investigation in 2015 by ProPublica and the Virginian-Pilot, titled "Agent Orange Act was supposed to Help Vietnam Veterans – But Many Still Don’t Qualify," the act states, “Certain diseases tied to chemical exposure would be presumed to be related to a vet’s military service and would make the vet eligible for benefits. The list has grown over time and now includes various cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy and heart disease, among others. However, to get these benefits, veterans must have actually set foot on Vietnamese soil or served on a craft in its rivers.”

About 2.6 men and women served in the US military in what was called the Vietnam Theater, yet only 650,000 veterans with illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure have received assistance from the VA, according to the article. Among the veterans whose claims have been rejected are Navy veterans who served offshore and veterans who served at US air bases in Thailand.

To complicate matters, the Department of Veterans Affairs has not been open to expanding its coverage of benefits to veterans exposed to Agent Orange who did not set foot on Vietnamese soils. It took four years for United States Senators Richard Burr and Jeff Merkley to push the VA to provide benefits for Air Force personnel who served stateside but came in contact with Agent Orange while aboard C-123 aircraft used to spray the substance. In fact, this expansion of benefits to the Air Force and Air Force reserve occurred months after the National Institute of Medicine published a report stating that there was a non-trivial increase in a veteran’s risk of experiencing negative health outcomes.

This led Senator Burr to say, "The effort of these veterans to secure overdue VA care and benefits for harmful exposure to Agent Orange has not been one of the agency's finest hours. This frustrating, four year process has laid bare the lengths that the VA will go to disregard science and the facts of the historical record. I am pleased that VA Secretary McDonald has chosen to finally do the right thing for these ailing veterans, but it shouldn't have been this hard or taken so long."

The VA has also made it difficult for Blue Water Veterans who may have been exposed to drinking water contaminated with Agent Orange while aboard ships stationed just off the Vietnamese coast to receive benefits. In fact, an excerpt from the Virginian-Pilot and ProPublica article states, “In 2002, a VA report found there was insufficient evidence to connect health problems of blue water sailors with chemical exposure aboard ships, establishing the basis for denying benefits to vets who didn't set foot in Vietnam. That decision was upheld by a federal appeals court in 2008. However, a 2011 report by the National Institute of Medicine identified several "plausible routes" for Agent Orange exposure through the water distillation process aboard Navy ships, as well as through the air.” This caused the U.S. Veterans Court of Appeals to rule in favor of the veterans.

Aside from those who fought in Vietnam, veterans stationed at bases in Thailand from April 1968-August 1971 are still struggling to secure benefits from the VA. In fact, many of these veterans may have been exposed to Agent Orange that was sprayed around military establishments. These veterans are having a difficult time trying to obtain the required documentation that proves that they were sent to work in areas where the toxic substance was sprayed.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Amanda Nesheiwat: Upbeat Advocate for Climate Change Actions

Amanda Nesheiwat

By Melanie Schuck

The presentation in our class by the environmental director of Secaucus, Amanda Nesheiwat, was similar to the one made by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth I noticed. This is because she was trained by Al Gore’s organization to give that presentation. Despite my own personal reservations regarding Al Gore, Amanda’s presentation still did its job effectively and in an interesting way. 

What intrigued me about her presentation were her vignettes about her job in Secaucus and her time at the Paris climate talks. I was impressed to hear that the town of Secaucus has one of the highest recycling rates in the state of New Jersey. I was not expecting that of Secaucus. I associate Secaucus with the train station junction, because whenever I have been in that city it has usually been during a layover heading to somewhere else as my destination.

Her story of how she got her current job is a fascinating one. A Ramapo College graduate, she essentially created her job by volunteering then moving onto a part time job with the town of Secaucus then finally getting offered a full time job in a position that did not even exist until she started working with the city.

Her story of the Paris climate talks was interesting as well. She explained how the governments meeting there lowered the projected change in temperature that they would react to—from two degrees Celsius to 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures. If we have a global increase of two degrees Celsius it is game over for us, as she put it. Therefore, it is a game changer that the international governments agreed to that. This change in policy will mean, hopefully, more policy changes like it that will curb global greenhouse gas emissions.

Something that drew my attention was the fact that hurricane Sandy was put on the list of the most destructive hurricanes in American history. According to Amanda, it landed in second place right behind hurricane Katrina, which is easily the most destructive and devastating hurricane in the history of the United States. The point of sharing this information is to reveal that with global climate change, severe weather patterns such as hurricanes will only increase and become more destructive and deadly with each passing year. The opposite of that will occur as well. Areas that are susceptible to droughts will find an increase in the frequency and occurrence of droughts.

Finally, another thing that I admired about Amanda was her positive, upbeat attitude despite the fact that she was informing us of the bad things that are occurring all around us with increasing frequency and strength. It is not an easy thing to do. I know, because my classes regularly make me sad because of the depressing information I am hearing on a daily basis. But, beneath that upbeat attitude I saw a need to help the people around her become more environmentally aware and conscientious.

Climate Change Needs to be Taught in Our Schools

 Dear Editor, The New York Times:

The youth of this nation will one day be in charge of the United States as their generation ages and takes control. And, if the United States keeps its position as a top world power, they will by extension then be in control of the world. That is why it is crucial that the youth be taught the proper knowledge necessary to deal with the ever pressing issue of climate change. So when I read the article “Science Teachers’ Grasp of Climate Change Is Found Lacking” (Feb. 11) by John Schwartz, I found it upsetting to see the low numbers of teachers that taught the issue of climate change and among those numbers how little time was spent on the topic.

That is why when I read about Bertha Vazquez in the article, I was most impressed. She not only teaches about climate change in every single one of her courses but has persuaded some of her colleagues to discuss climate change in classes other than science, such as German and art.

Also noted in the article is the fact that since climate science is constantly evolving and changing, it requires teachers to pursue continuing teacher education to stay on top of updated facts and current trends in the world of climate science. Perhaps this is a reason that teachers shy away from teaching climate science: they do not want to be constantly, or at least frequently, taking classes to keep their knowledge current and up to date. It is unlike evolution, for example, where if someone was taught a decade or two ago, they would still be able to teach their knowledge to students. Climate science and information regarding climate change is constantly evolving and shifting as new developments and discoveries appear on the scene. Therefore, continuing teacher education is necessary.

It is necessary to teach our youth the reality of the situation. Although some might disagree on what that reality actually is, because there are many climate deniers who regularly denounce climate change as a hoax. But, that drives the incentive to teach it even further because, after all, that’s the point of education: to open up perspectives to those who did not see them before.

Melanie Schuck

Supreme Court Should Listen to the Public on Climate Change Action

Dear Editor, The New York Times:

In regard to your editorial, “The Court Blocks Efforts to Slow Climate Change” (Feb. 11), we are entering a time where climate change effects are no longer fast approaching us; in fact, they are already happening. President Obama’s plan to make the states cut major greenhouse gas emissions from their electricity providers is an action that we desperately need to fight the increasing effects of climate change. However, now that the Supreme Court has “temporarily” blocked this plan from going any further, a real stand on progress needs to be made. The fact that surveys show that the majority of Americans do believe in climate change and its effects proves that the majority on the Supreme Court should be supporting this plan.

It is crucial now that American people voice their support for this plan to go into action because of how important fighting the climate change effects is for us. We all need to show our support and get the word out as much as we can. Please continue updating the public on this plan and what will come of it. Encourage the majority to voice their demand for a plan like this and for the justices to hear us and make decisions like Chief Justice Roberts said they should, “not like Democrats or Republicans.”

Cassandra Bernyk

Lead in Water Crisis Raises Issues of Public Health and Education

By Jonathan Sanzari

On Jan. 16, President Obama declared a state of emergency for the city of Flint, Michigan. Residents there are having a severe water crisis that has been ongoing for the past two years. Their water supply is contaminated with lead and went overlooked since April 2014 when the city began to get their water from the Flint River. The city manager appointed by the governor to run Flint sought to save money by switching its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River

According to CNN, “the switch was made during a financial state of emergency for the ever-struggling industrial town. It was supposed to be temporary while a new state-run supply line to Lake Huron was ready for connection. The project was estimated to take about two years.” However, corrosive river water caused lead particles to get in the drinking water. Service lines in Flint and many other communities are made of lead pipes. 

On Feb. 25, Ramapo College of New Jersey hosted a panel of scholars to discuss the Flint water crisis. Each professor conveyed a distinctive perception on the situation and also discussed alternative solutions that could have avoided the water catastrophe. Among the speakers, they mentioned that this could have easily been prevented and the filters that the city gave out are rendered useless with a contamination of this magnitude. 

The panelists stated government agencies routinely victimize residents and have an ideology of cost-cutting regardless of consequences. The legal system is not structured to protect the most vulnerable and eventually comes back to trouble the community. The pipes in Flint should have been treated with an anticorrosion agent before residents started using their tap-water.

A panelist mentioned, “we as a society are tolerant of risk.” Apparently, to many authorities whatever will save us money is in our best interest, regardless of the endangerment of the public’s health. According to CNN, there was an e-mail exchange among Flint officials that could have prevented this widespread hysteria of water contamination. “The email exchange is dated six months after the water supply switch, a decision made by emergency manager Edward Kurtz, who was appointed by the governor. Kurtz is blamed for making the decision to switch the water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure,” CNN reported.

The public was told that the water was safe to drink after they switched it from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This leaves a growing concern for the public if they can truly believe what their local government is telling them. One of the panelists suggested we have “intermediate watchdogs or keepers to ensure water safety.” This would be a more reassuring alternative to the public to prevent future water contaminations.

Professor Chuck Stead said, “we all have a hand in it. Education belongs to the people. We need to engage communities and not be limited to the classroom.” The public merits transparency with its local government and shouldn’t be withheld information that could prevented health complications.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Beer Making Goes Green

By Marcus Miles

Like so many other human inventions, beer takes a toll on the environment. But with present day technology, beer companies are becoming greener than ever. According to “At 41%, Americans' current preference for beer is among the highest Gallup has recorded since beer tumbled to 36% on this measure in 2005.”. A little less than half of Americans consume beer. Which means beer companies should be doing their job to provide fresh healthy beer for humans and providing a safe environment.           

When brewing beer, there are a lot environmental impacts. Natural gas is used to brew beer and with that there are a lot of boilers being used that may produce harmful gases in the air if the company is not brewing correctly. Another problem with brewing companies is the amount of water and yeast that is being used and wasted. A lot of brewing companies generate beer that may never see the light of day for reasons the public may never see. To help solve problems such as water and yeast use, companies now educate their employees to conserve water, reuse material, and view waste streams as commodities.

The second largest craft brewery in the nation is the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Its plant in Chico, California gets 20 percent of its electricity from a big array of solar panels, operating a system of solar grids with the ability of producing 1.4 megawatts of AC power. Sierra Nevada also works with a group of green businesses to track, report, and decrease greenhouse releases statewide. Currently, Sierra Nevada is a leader of environmental sustainability, according to their website.

In 2012, Sierra Nevada produced 900,000 barrels of beer, an 11% increase from the previous year, created a waste water treatment on site, and created a big room event hall on site dedicated to the sustainability program. In order to remain sustainable Sierra Nevada has been creating a “zero waste” process, focusing on water conservation and educating employees on remaining a sustainable company.

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Toxic Legacy Continues, New Chemical Found in Ford Dump Site

Paint sludge in Ringwood before cleanup (photo: Jan Barry)

By Marissa Erdelyi

Tuesday night, federal environment officials met with Ringwood residents to apologize for not sharing the discovery of a new hazardous chemical on the Superfund site Ford Motor Co. utilized years ago as a dumping zone for paint sludge. Officials insist the newly found chemical is not a threat.

In a meeting filled with nearly 200 people--mainly angered Ringwood residents--the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported a finding of 1,4-dioxane at concentrations in groundwater several months ago. While below the EPA’s health advisory level, the amount found is almost 100 times the state standard, The Record newspaper reported.  

1,4-dioxane is used as a solvent. The chemical is a colorless liquid with a faint sweet odor. Exposure to high levels of the chemical has been found to cause vertigo, drowsiness, anorexia and irritate parts of the human body such as the throat and lungs. It has also been found to cause cancer in test animals.

The EPA only began testing in Ringwood for 1,4-dioxane last year. Last August during an annual groundwater sampling, the chemical was found in several wells. These contaminated wells were located a few hundred feet west of homes on Sheehan Drive. Additional tests found the chemical in a stream flowing from the dump site toward the Wanaque Reservoir.

The Record, a newspaper that covers northern New Jersey, asked the EPA about new test wells that had been installed at the Superfund site. The EPA failed to share the discovery of the chemical at the time, stating that the wells were to be drilled to “assess benzene contamination.”
The Record got hold of documents that exposed the dioxane discovery, pushing the EPA to share the discovery.

Since the wells that contain 1,4-dioxane are 80 to 180 feet below ground, EPA officials don’t believe there is an immediate health risk, hence their delay in sharing the discovery with Ringwood residents. 

Although toxic chemicals remained in groundwater at the site, the site was declared clean by the EPA in 1994, although remnants of Ford’s paint sludge were still there in old mine shafts and roadside dumps. Following this declaration, the site was taken off of the Superfund list of the nation’s worst toxic sites. 

After The Record in 2005 published “Toxic Legacy,” a series that documented the site’s pollution and the failing health of many of the area’s residents, the area was relisted as a Superfund site. 

Last year, the EPA approved of a plan to create a capping barrier, leaving 166,000 tons of pollution at a landfill on the site, rather than unearthing it. This will cost Ford $5.4 million.  

This original plan would have cost $32.6 million.     

During Tuesday’s meeting, Joe Gowers, the EPA project manager for the site, said that work on the barrier may begin as early as next year. However, he added, a cleanup plan for the contaminated groundwater is still in development.

Cancer Rates Worry Pompton Lakes Residents

News Report, The Record 12/11/09

By Daniel Mercurio

Residents of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey continue to worry about adverse health effects resulting from the presence of underground toxins. Such toxins can be traced to the DuPont Facility, which specialized in the creation of munitions and detonators for military and mining purposes. The plant operated for roughly a century before closing its doors in 1994.  

According to an article by Scott Gurian titled “Legacy of DuPont Plant’s Pollution Looms Large for People of Pompton Lakes,” published in NJSpotlight in December, “These industrial operations left behind a stew of toxic contaminants with multi-syllabic names like tetrachloroethylene and trichlorobenzene that seeped into the groundwater, were discharged into a nearby stream, and were buried in several on-site landfills.” Residents believe that this contamination gave rise to abnormally high cancer rates within the town. There is also consensus among residents and environmentalists that the state government is sidestepping the evidence and taking no action.  

Among those living in Pompton Lakes, there were numerous reported cases of cancer. One case involves Joseph Intintola and his fiancé, who were exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals after a gas plume migrated into an underground aquifer beneath their neighborhood. When Joseph and his fiancé went for health examinations, the tests revealed the extent of the damage done to their bodies, which they believe is from their exposure to contaminated groundwater.

“In 2008 – five years after moving into town – Intintola had a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with what his doctor told him was a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He’s now stage three and doesn’t think he’ll live another two years to see his 60th birthday. On top of that, his fiancé has cysts on her ovaries, breast, and a lymph node,” Gurian reported. Studies revealed that the couple was exposed to two chemical gases. These gases contained the chemical agents TCE and PCE, which are used in industrial cleaning products.  

According to residents, this case serves as evidence that the contamination from the DuPont Facility is causing the spike in cancer rates. One reason concerns the fact that 400 homes in the community where the Intintolas lived had tested positive for levels of TCE and PCE. The same study concluded that the Intintolas’ home contained the highest concentration of these contaminants both indoors and outdoors. In addition, government officials stated that these chemicals are probable carcinogens.  

A state health department study of residents of the plume area found some elevated cancers, but state officials downplayed the finding, “Higher-than-expected rates of kidney cancer among women and elevated rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among men residents living above the plume were found,” Gurian wrote. “Because the cancer rates weren’t elevated across the board -- for both genders – state and federal authorities concluded that the findings did not support a causal association with potential environmental exposures. Instead, they suggested other explanations such as tobacco use, occupational exposures, or pure chance.”

 When residents complained about the study’s limited scope, such as not including former residents who developed cancer but now lived elsewhere, officials stated that a more thorough investigation would require more resources.

 This has led one resident to say, “We are the victims in this, and we’re tired of it.”

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