Friday, March 30, 2018

42 Years Later: Americans and Vietnamese Are Still at War


Vietnamese Agent Orange poster

By Kerry Hadrava

It has been nearly 43 years since the conclusion of the Vietnam War, however veterans and their families and people living in Vietnam are still left with another battle.

Agent Orange, a chemical herbicide sprayed in millions of gallons across the landscapes of Vietnam to control plant growth in battle zones, has an extreme high level of toxicity. Soldiers and civilians who came into contact with it or its affected regions during the war are still experiencing its adverse effects decades later.
  
According to the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA), it is estimated that over 4.8 million people living in Vietnam have been exposed to this toxic chemical and over 3 million have been suffering from a variety of diseases including various types of cancer as well as birth defects and deformities.

Although the United States has admitted responsibility for Agent Orange being the cause of numerous health issues for U.S. veterans and their families, those struggling overseas have yet to get adequate help or recognition they are in need of. A large part of this story remains untold.


Agent Orange: A Toxic History



By Kristie Murru

During the Vietnam War, Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide, was used by the United States military in order to eliminate forest cover and rice crops that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops used to hide in. The program, which took place between 1961 to 1971 was code named “Operation Ranch Hand,” where troops sprayed 20 million gallons of the herbicides over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, according to History.com. This chemical warfare was used to target the enemy forces not only to kill the plants used by these forces as coverage but in order to kill the crops that the people would eat.

Using airplanes, the United States spread Agent Orange and other deadly chemicals all over Vietnam, even areas of South Vietnam that were not fighting U.S. troops. U.S. military members were also contaminated by these chemicals in situations where they used hand-sprayers around military bases. The name “Agent Orange” came from the color coded barrels that were used to carry the chemicals. The chemicals were manufactured by Monsanto, Dow Chemical, etc.

A chemical byproduct that is produced by the manufacturing of pesticides, particularly that of Agent Orange is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD, which is a type of dioxin. In addition to being a byproduct of herbicide production, dioxins are also created from trash incineration; burning gas, oil and coal and in cigarette smoking. TCDD is the most dangerous of all dioxins.

Dioxin is a chemical that lasts for years in soil, lake and river sediments, which causes the chemical to be absorbed in the fatty tissue of fish, birds, and other animals. Humans become exposed to the chemical by consuming poultry, meats, dairy products, eggs and fish. Dioxin is known to be extremely toxic and is carcinogenic. Developing fetuses are sensitive, as exposure to dioxin can cause spina bifida and nervous system development.

Veterans returning from Vietnam experienced rashes, skin irritations, miscarriages, birth defects in children and cancers such as Hodgkin’s disease, prostate cancer and leukemia. In a 1988 report an Air Force researcher stated that the government had been aware of the potential damages of using Agent Orange, but they believed that because it was being used on the enemy that the U.S. troops were not being contaminated. This flawed logic led to millions of servicemen being contaminated by the toxin.

According to History.com, “In 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Agent Orange Act, which mandated that some diseases associated with Agent Orange and other herbicides (including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcomas and chloracne) be treated as the result of wartime service.”

The chemical companies that manufactured Agent Orange faced lawsuits by veterans who had been contaminated, but the lawsuits were settled out of court and provided some money to some of the veterans. In 2004, Vietnamese citizens filed a class action lawsuit against these same companies but the suits were dismissed by U.S. judges. Questions were raised as to whether the United States was trying to avoid having to admit to war crimes in Vietnam, which would potentially open up even more lawsuits against the government.

For further information:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Students Lose Class Time Because of Dangerous Weather


By Mary Waller

College students have been losing valuable class time due to the dangerous snow storms that have been pounding the Northeast, which seem to be falling on the same day, on Wednesdays. While many students normally would be thrilled and happy to get a day off, it has gotten to the point where students do not want to miss any more class and schools are mandating that professors provide make-up assignments or extra class time. With students already having busy schedules both in and out of the classrooms, making up the work is becoming a struggle for both professors and students.

Ramapo College has, so far, cancelled classes at least 5 times due to the weather, with three of the days being Wednesdays. The dangerous and unprecedented snowstorms have made college students miss so many classes that colleges have been considering enforcing make ups for the missed time outside of the remaining scheduled class time.

These cancellations have become a serious concern for seniors; as many classes that have been cancelled are requirements to graduate on time. Senior seminars and senior project classes have been rescheduled, postponed and overall cancelled.

But where did this unsafe, high-risk weather come from? It’s no secret that climate change is to blame for the growing danger from winter storms. These storms have become much more frequent and common in the eastern two-thirds of the contiguous United States over the past century.

Approximately twice as many extreme U.S. snowstorms occurred in the latter half of the 20th century than the first, according to NOAA. After studying these storms it’s believed that the severity has rooted back to the warmer-than-average ocean surface temperatures in the Atlantic. The higher temperatures can lead to high amounts of moisture in the air, intensifying the winter storms. The increase in moisture allows for heavier precipitation, in turn more dangerous and heavy snowfalls.

In contrast to the heavy snowfall and intense storms that the Northeast and parts of the Midwest have been experiencing, the South and lower Midwest saw reduced snowfall in the last century. Even with the heavy snowfall increase, total snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere has decrease because of the higher temperatures shortening the time the snow stays on the ground.

There has been a somewhat shift in the weather cycle we are accustomed too; in recent years, unusually warm air in the Arctic has forced winter storms to travel in the southern parts of the United States. When we think of winter storms, we do not think of the southern United States. Eight of the last 10 winters experienced in the United States were warmer that the average winters between 1951-1980 in the U.S. 

Not to mention, El Nino helps the snow storms gain strength and severity. Snowstorms are approximately twice as likely to occur in the Northeast and Southeast regions with a strong El Nino present, compared to neutral conditions.

The intensity of the storms relate back to climate change and the impact that humans have had on the environment. We’ve had such an impact on the environment, it can be said that it’s karma that the weather has negatively impact our schedules. Since humans have hurt the environment we may be getting these strong storms because we’ve been so cruel to the climate.

The class cancellations that thousands of students and faculty are trying to make up for now cannot compare to the impact and scar that we’ve left on the climate. The only thing that we can do in both cases is to work better, harder and faster to help improve our schedules and to help save the Earth's environment.

Green Designer: Ysabella Langdon



By Lily Makhlouf

Ysabella Langdon, a senior Visual Communication Design major, is making strides in sustainability as the Community Manager of both Ramapo Green and Brooklyn-based Package Free Shop. Ysabella manages media for Ramapo Green and 1STEP, Ramapo College’s student environmental club. In the Spring of 2017, she co-founded Ramapo’s Garden Club, seeing a need for more student involvement in the campus gardens.  When she’s not busy organizing and planning for Ramapo Green, she’s managing communication with customers at Package Free, in addition to running her own business.


Through her business, Redo Lab, a design innovation lab that aims to invent and redesign products, Ysabella creates compostable heating and cooling packs that are handmade using herbs and other natural ingredients.

What brought you to start Redo Lab?

“I didn't start redo lab on purpose. I was making a lot of products for myself because I couldn't find them the way that I wanted. My whole life I've suffered from extremely sensitive skin, which forced my mom and I to start making our own detergent, lotion, and deodorant to make sure it only consisted of the most natural ingredients possible. Ain't nobody have time for toxins! My parents always told me that it is okay to complain, but only if you do something about it. By making my own things, I was taking control of what goes in, on, and around my body, while promoting a ethical and sustainable supply chain.”

How did your business become connected to Package Free Shop?

“Fast forward to the summer of 2017, I was working for a company called The Simply Co., which is owned by Lauren Singer of Trash is For Tossers, a zero waste blog. At this time, Lauren and her business partner, Daniel Silverstein, were opening a zero waste lifestyle shop called Package Free Shop. On one of my last days working in the office, I gave Lauren and Daniel one of my heating and cooling pads. To my surprise, they wanted to carry it in their store! Everything kind of took off from there.”

How can design influence sustainability?

“I am a strong believer that great design is human centered and makes the human experience better. The burden of waste should never fall solely on the consumer. As a maker of things, I take pride in designing products that don't litter our earth with unnecessary materials. I also believe waste is a design flaw and any great product should be invented with its impact in mind.”

You can find Ysabella’s products at Package Free Shop in store and online. If you want to keep up with all of the great work she is doing with her sustainable business, check out her instagram @redo_lab.


Mapping the Effects of Climate Change


Climate change projections 2070 (Screenshot: ClimageEx)


By Chris Bernstein

According to an article on fastcompany.com, a professor at the University of Cincinnati has created a map that shows where types of weather will change around the United States due to climate change. The map gathers climate change data from WorldClim public database and looks for climate similarities generated from historical data as well as projections until the year 2070. One of the key highlights of the map is its ability to visually represent climate change around the world.

“For the U.S., the biggest changes are on the West Coast, parts of the East Coast, and in the Mississippi Delta region. Much of the central U.S. is shaded in green, indicating less extreme changes in temperatures and precipitation patterns by 2070,” the article states. In addition to the map offering data based on individual cities in the United States, it can also link matching climates from places across the world. “For example, California’s Napa Valley has climate twins on the west coast of South America and in northwestern Africa.” The map offers many benefits to the public who may be planning on where they will end up living in the future, but it also benefits researchers who need visual aids to communicate these issues to more people.

I think this map is a great tool to use when trying to communicate to people how important the threat of climate change is. In my opinion, this map is not the most effective tool for raising people’s concerns about the potential effects of climate change. However, I do think it’s a great start in trying to do so. Raising awareness of an issue or problem takes form in many different ways and this map is just one of them. I would suggest taking this map and altering it to be more appealing to a wider audience and making a more enjoyable, interactive experience. That being said, it is still a great tool and brings attention to an important issue that not enough people take the time to learn about.

Another issue that arises with this map is that it does not represent absolute accuracy. To someone like me, I see this as a pure estimation—even though it is backed up with data. I’m sure the data is correct, but no one can predict the future, so if anything, I think this map is designed for starting conversations and hopefully igniting passion amongst people who are ready to help the environment.

Learn more and read the article:

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Climate Change and Winter Weather


By Kristie Murru

Four Nor’easters in a month, here we are: cold, snowed in, and praying for summer, or at least a semblance of warmth.  Whenever these storms hit I always think of what my grandparents are saying just a few blocks away from me: “global warming isn’t real, it’s below freezing outside.”  For some people it is hard to separate immediate occurrences from gradual change. Just because it happens to be spring and we keep getting snow storms does not in any way imply that global warming is not in fact happening.  Weather patterns can change due to global warming, this is something that can no longer be denied. 

The wildfires in California, the hurricanes that ravaged the Caribbean Islands, and even these Nor’easters.  As the climate warms in the Arctic, rising sea levels affect not only that immediate area but New Jersey too.  Of course more research has to be done, but by using colder weather as a defining characteristic as to why global warming is not real, is an assumption not based on any factual evidence.  If anything, it only proves that the climate has been changed so much that it is now leading to severe changes in the world’s weather patterns that will only continue to escalate as sea temperatures rise.

Recently I read an article where people on the streets of the United Kingdom were being interviewed as to whether or not they believe climate change is a real problem.  One interview stuck out to me because the girl responded that yes climate change is a problem because if the climate warms and leads to more flooding in her area, then her personal life would be affected.  Her home would be destroyed and she would be forced to relocate.  I believe that a lot of people today have this mentality, that climate change becomes a problem when your immediate world is impacted, which would force them to take action.  Her opinion made me think of my own personal reaction to this most recent snow storm:

As a graduating senior at Ramapo College, I couldn’t help but find myself torn between wanting school to be closed, but also wanting to get it over with.  Clinging to the joy that has always been correlated with snow days as a kid, it’s difficult to be upset when school is cancelled.  At the same time, snow in such large quantities, storm after storm has become a hassle, with classes cancelled three times this semester.  This Thursday morning even after my parents had cleaned my car off on their way to work, most of what had been left was frozen solid.  And so, in order to have enough time to get to school before class, I needed to wake up earlier than usual to clean the car again.  With a mountain of snow to the right of my car, I needed to dig myself out so that I could clean the right side. Despite the trouble and inconvenience this storm caused me, it was manageable compared to what other states and cities experienced.  

Climate change is real, global warming is real, and no matter how people are moved to start taking action, something must be done.  Six inches of snow is not an unbearable feat to overcome, but it is something that impacted my own personal world and caused me to truly think about what these weather patterns mean going forward.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Teaching Kids to Value the Environment by Bringing Them Outdoors


By Chris Bernstein

It’s a fantastic, simple idea that, to my knowledge, is underutilized. Bringing kids outdoors and exposing them to nature can teach them to value and appreciate the environment, as well as fall in love with some of nature’s most amazing benefits. In the article, "Kids can learn to value environment by spending time outdoors," posted on the Midland (Texas) Reporter-Telegram website, author Marcia Norton offers some great examples on why giving kids the opportunity to explore their outdoor environment can lead them to live healthier lives, as well as develop an appreciation for the land around them.

She writes that having kids spend more time outside can decrease the possibility of developing depression and can even lift their mood. “Nature can stimulate their curiosity and improve their attention span and being outside strengthens learning. Exposure to outdoor, green settings also can help reduce the symptoms of attention deficit disorders in children,” Norton maintains. These are fantastic benefits and exposing kids to nature isn’t a difficult task. It could be as simple as setting aside a portion of the school day to let students help plant and maintain a school garden. Perhaps it’s developing curriculum where kids can elect to take classes that teach them early sustainability skills. Schools need to put a great importance on giving kids the opportunity to spend more time outdoors.

I believe that this is an idea that all schools, of all grade levels (including college) need to adopt. Bringing kids and students of all ages outdoors can have a positive impact on their health, but what’s also important about doing this is the way kids will begin to feel towards the environment. Exposing kids to the wonders of nature at an early age can motivate them to take action in the future that will help to save our environment. As the well-being of our environment becomes more and more critical, the need to educate younger generations on the importance of taking care of our environment is more than necessary. Now is the time to teach them what is happening to the environment and what could happen if no one takes cares of it.

For more information: 

As Snow Pounds the Northeast, Scientists Explore Possible Links to Climate Change


By Andrew Herrera

There was an infamous episode in Congress in which Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe brought fresh snow into the chamber to question the scientific certainty of global warming. To the many American skeptics of climate change, his simplistic demonstration raised a good point. How could it snow so much when the Earth is supposed to be warming?

But the reality of climate change is more complicated, as a new report from the journal Nature suggests. A study led by faculty from Rutgers, MIT, and a Massachusetts research firm implies a link between the warming of the Arctic Ocean and colder, wetter temperatures for the northeastern United States. Looking at a variety of climatic factors, their research indicates that when the Arctic begins to heat up more rapidly, it has historically preceded colder winters for the mid-Atlantic and New England. This trend has run counter to earlier predictions that as the Arctic warmed, it would cause milder winters for North America, which would have been a social benefit for many American communities. It is an argument critics continue to make now, that climate change may not negatively impact society as much as scientists predict.

Yet this new research argues otherwise. Of course, the authors caution that the exact cause behind the relationship is unknown. It would be hasty to assume that a warming Arctic most definitely causes colder, snowier winters for the eastern United States. As the authors note, the trend could be caused by other phenomena, such as an especially long cold spell for the region. Other theories explaining the winter chill remain controversial because of differences in how they presume weather currents form and move. And, more simply than that, they remind readers that correlation does not equal causation, as they are only observing a trend, not discovering a cause-and-effect relationship. Lastly, the researchers also remind readers that in the long term, as the Arctic continues to warm, winters will eventually grow milder. The current effect could be temporary.

The important takeaway here is that the effects of climate change on the weather can be complex and difficult to understand. It isn’t so simple as saying that everything is going to start getting warmer immediately. This is a problem of communication that both climate change advocates and climate deniers perhaps share. Properly conveying the scope and process of climate change is essential to reaching a skeptical public. People who already have a hard time believing in climate change may have an even harder time buying the possibility that global warming is going to create temporary cooling. It’s another part of the task that lies ahead for our country.

We need to get people talking about climate change again in the news and in schools. It’s likely that scientists will continue to revise their understanding of climate science, and we will need to have conversations about new discoveries of weather patterns and climate trends. What scientists and concerned citizens cannot allow is for skeptics to use new scientific discoveries as license to question whether climate change is happening at all. We may not know everything about climate change or its consequences, but the vast majority of scientists do not need to debate whether or not it’s happening, or whether or not it’s caused by humans. That conversation needs to move on to talking about what’s happening with our weather.

For more information:

Spring Days Full of Snow

Teaneck Creek Conservancy (photo: Jan Barry)

By Dominique Otiepka

In celebration of today’s snow storm, I went to the Teaneck Creek Conservancy for a nature walk to explore the woods and find solace, away from the demands of life’s business.  I decided to take my family members, since they were all given the day off.  The wind was cold, and the snow was wet, but the snow created such beauty laying on the trees and land formations.  

Whatever the weather is outside, I love going on hikes or walks, because I am able to feel separated from the work world and find depth in the intricacies of the natural environment.  On the walks in this particular area, my mother reminisces of the times she spent here since she grew up in Teaneck, as did my grandparents.  It is interesting to hear her stories of playing and swimming in the brook that trickles throughout the conservancy’s parkland. It is the same stream present today, that we both go walking in with our knee-high boots in search of frogs and fish. 

There is a beautiful array of wildlife within this wooded area, even though highway traffic and a highly populated suburb surrounds it.  On our hike, we noticed two woodpeckers, mallard ducks and multiple blue jays. There are approximately 132 different types of birds that have been seen in this preserve. It is said that there are owls lingering in these woods as well, and I am always on the search for them.  There are always different nature events hosted here for the community that I am interested in and look forward to.

This area encompasses wetlands and trails measuring 1.3 miles and has been restored after being polluted with tires and road construction debris over the past years.  It is a place where I can appreciate and marvel at the natural environment, being that it is in such a somewhat secret, yet unique place. There is a constructed circle for meditation purposes, ecological art exhibits and different trails to explore.   

This place is one that is close to my home and heart, because of its history and depth within my family.  Exploring it keeps the snow days full of fun and amazement, and I love spending time in it throughout each season.  Its beauty continues to change throughout the year and I always find myself in search of new birds or wildlife. 

The Future of Energy May Ride on Unexpected Renewable Sources


By Dominique Otiepka

On The New York Times news site, I came across an article regarding different energy options that are unusual and unprecedented. The article by Brad Plumer, "Kelp Farms and Mammoth Windmills are Just Two of the Government’s Long Shot Energy Bets," discusses ideas by numerous entrepreneurs and inventors who congregated at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy convention near Washington, DC, to share their research and projects regarding different energy systems and devices. Cleaner energy sources were discussed in hopes to mitigate the climate crisis, such as utilizing kelp farms and making room for energy storage in old oil wells.

Utilizing kelp farms for biofuel would not take up excessive crop land, and this method is carbon neutral. This system continues to undergo research and it is hoped that this fuel could be used in the future to power massive vehicles. Different ways of energy storage for the kelp continue to be discussed and means of keeping the kelp alive after being uprooted is undergoing research. Currently, different technologies that are being created and tested are unprecedented, though have great potential. A company at this convention showed a prototype pickup truck that was being constructed to reach up to 37 miles per gallon.

Offshore windmills were also discussed in this article, and new designs have been conjured to reduce the costs for construction up to 50%. Technologies for wind storage include using old oil and gas wells around the Mid-west, for when there are days of excessive wind being produced that can be saved for a time when it is not so windy. Other ideas presented at this conference included transforming excessive wind energy into ammonia to be used as fertilizer or as a fuel source.

The future of this clean energy convention is unknown. The Trump Administration proposed to eliminate the budget for this conference, since the Administration favors a coal- based system. Plumer writes that Congress has rejected these budget cuts and continues to fund the agency, because it is “often impossible to gauge what will prove to be transformational”. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that this convention has made “significant contributions to energy that likely would not take place absent the agency’s activities,” since Congress first authorized ARPA-E in 2007.

Biofuels are readily available, renewable and a reliable source to produce favorable energy yields. They exhibit limited detrimental effects to surrounding ecosystems and environments, and would not release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. I feel that biofuels are the next wave of energy solutions to help fix climate issues and can alleviate the problems that fossil fuels have caused for generations. Kelp biofuels are highly productive and can definitely compete with the efficiency of petroleum. It is a more cost-friendly solution that will intrigue the population into making the switch.


For more information:
Kelp Farms and Mammoth Windmills Are Just Two of the Government’s Long-Shot Energy Bets
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/16/climate/arpa-e-summit.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fclimate&action=click&contentCollection=climate&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront


Trump’s Tariff on Solar Panels Slows Clean Energy Projects


By Kristie Murru

Following President Trump’s tariff on solar cells and panels made overseas, companies in the United States are experiencing major strains, NBC News reports.  Instated in January, it places a 30 percent tax on imports, which has hurt businesses. In theory the tariff would work toward increasing business for companies in the United States that manufacture photovoltaic cells and panels because it is meant to target production overseas. The panel that are made outside the U.S. are then shipped to the U.S. and sold at cheaper rates.

The industry has estimated that 23,000 jobs will be lost due to this tax, while American job prospects will only increase minimally.  In addition to the solar panels that have been taxed, President Trump has placed a 25 percent charge on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports.  With the addition of these two taxes, the conversation has again started regarding the solar panel tax, as it should.  If there continues to be less outrage surrounding this issue, then there will never be enough push back.  The voices of these companies in addition to the people of the United States should be heard.  Instead of taxing these imports, we should be investing in these projects.  This is a setback that, is detrimental to the solar industry, when this should be a source of clean energy that is assisted by the government.

Solar companies are struggling because they have not been able to grow to the capacity they otherwise would have with no restrictions.  The nonprofit organization Grid Alternatives has suffered due to this tariff causing them to shut down their New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut locations.  This organization works toward bringing solar power to low income communities and also training individuals to work in solar panel jobs.  If clean energy is a goal to limit the effects of climate change then there will be a need for individuals that have the training to work with solar energy.

President Trump’s tariff was meant to target overseas importation of the panels into the United States.  Realistically, his tariff should benefit any solar panel manufacturing companies in the States.  So far, the one company that is benefiting from the tariff happens to be an American subsidiary of a Chinese manufacturing company.  Other organizations believe that, overall, this tariff is limiting the potential for growth of solar energy in the United States.  

While I agree that as a country we should purchase solar panels from American based companies in order to sustain the companies here, I do not believe such a tariff should have been placed in this critical time.  The only thing it seems to be accomplishing is slowing down projects that were benefiting local communities and providing a new job market for the future.  Ultimately, we must move from using fossil fuels and coal, and so those jobs will be gone.  The clean energy switch is going to happen, however long it may take, and so trained individuals will be in demand for when that begins to pick up.

For more information:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Agency Investigating DuPont Pollution in Pompton Lakes


By Lily Makhlouf

Now federal Wildlife officials are weighing in on the environmental disaster that has been plaguing the Borough of Pompton Lakes for nearly forty years as a result of the 92-year operation of the former DuPont explosives manufacturing facility.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering seeking a settlement from Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont, according to a recent news update in The Record by James O’Neill.

The federal agency has been collecting data from local wildlife to see whether the pollution from the former DuPont Pompton Lakes Works facility has any negative impacts on the species. “We’ve mostly been taking biological samples of fish, birds and invertebrates, looking mostly at organisms living in or adjacent to the water,” said Melissa Foster, a biologist of the Fish and Wildlife Service. If the data proves that the local wildlife has been affected, the agency will demand a settlement.

“Damages could range from a monetary payment to the purchase or donation of land that has similar value to the land that was damaged. Chemours might also be asked to pay for habitat improvement projects,” writes O’Neill.

A ban on all fishing already exists in the area, and residents fear that the lead, mercury, and solvents may have already bio-accumulated in the tissues of local fish. Potential damages from the toxins, not only harm the wildlife that is exposed, but could also be harmful to humans that consume those resources.

Beginning in the early 1900s, DuPont’s facility was responsible for manufacturing blasting caps and various explosives, used in both World War I and World War II, according to the Pompton Lakes Works Remediation Project. Manufacturing these products involved the use of lead, mercury, and solvents--the remnants of which many residents feel are responsible for the outbreak of cancer and other diseases in the adjacent residential neighborhood.

DuPont failed to safely contain and dispose of its hazardous materials; the lead, mercury, and solvents were dumped into unlined lagoons that leached into other waterways and infiltrated into the groundwater. A plume of solvent-tainted water looms underground. The solvents within the toxic plume evaporate through the ground and into people’s homes as hazardous vapors.

Despite remediation efforts, including removing lead and mercury from streams and lawns around homes and dredging Pompton Lake, the toxic plume still remains a threat to over 400 homes downhill from the former plant site.

For decades, local residents have suffered from a number of health complications, especially cancer. Some residents have had multiple cases of diseases and still live in fear, knowing that the cancer-causing agent still lurks beneath them. Chemours has suggested pumping water over the plume as a means to prevent the vapors from rising, however, “residents worry the plan would raise the water table and send contaminated water into their homes,” James O’Neill writes in The Record’s report on NorthJersey.com.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Hudson Valley Environmental News Update Was Inspirational


Dear editor, the Poughkeepsie Journal:

Amy Wu’s article “What’s new, what’s ahead for the environment?”  (January 31) is the type of news we need more often. It began by noting that Donald Trump’s Presidency has put a looming black cloud on important environmental issues. It is blatantly foolish to drag environmental progress into the opposite direction of what government worked for decades to achieve.

Wu’s article presents useful information about various Hudson Valley environmental issues such as cleaning up PCBs in the Hudson River, the rising annual reports of Lyme disease in New Yorkers, the closure of the nuclear power plant at Indian Point, and other problems. And it presents action plans.

Re the 2021 shut down of Indian Point, it brought up the issues in closing the plant, which would have an impact on the local economy. Indian Point does employ around 1,000 people- so where would they go? But then the article states that with closing this plant, there is the potential of opening a renewable energy plant. That would be beneficial for employing many people!

What made me love this article so much was the structure that Wu used, such as a “what to watch for” section that gave dates throughout the year that various events are to take place. For example, sometime in early 2018, the EPA should have the results of the second 5 year review of the PCB cleanup in the Hudson River.

I also liked the section “key players,” naming some people who are important to the change being created. There are people from environmental groups, a former state assemblyman, and Basil Seggos, the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The most important section to me is “why you should care.”  Wu states: “The Hudson Valley has long been an inspiration and home to environmental issues and organizations, including Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper and Clearwater. For many, concerns about the impact of climate change, as well as air and water quality, are a focus.”

I feel if more articles like this are written and posted, it will allow those who are unaware to become educated on what is going on in the Hudson Valley. It will allow us to recognize the important people taking action to bring about the right environmental change. It can provide information to reach the people who want to get involved, but do not know how.

Please have more articles structured like Amy Wu’s,.I believe huge change can come about. It is important to let the public know who is handling their environmental concerns.

Eileen McCafferty


Growing a Garden

Growing your own food is a great way to connect with Nature and eat great tomatoes.

By Eileen McCafferty

Between snow storms, I attended a Gardening Party where we were encouraged to grow our own food and given the opportunity to plant something. There were tiny clay pots, soil, and seeds provided for us.

When the event hosted by the Student Government Association started in the Pavilion on the last day of February, the room began to fill up with people, and the already limited supplies began to diminish. On each table were about three packets of different seeds, every table seemed to have a different variety. From the Renee’s Garden brand of seeds, I chose “Zinger Hibiscus”, an herbal tea. I began by filling my pot, which stands about three inches above the table, and filling it close to the rim with soil. I then took the tip of my pinky and poked three half inch holes into the surface and placed one seed in each hole. I then covered the seeds and provided the pot with a small amount of water to kick start the growing process.

This event was a good experience for anyone who wants to grow some or all of their own food. It was even good for people who were just curious how to pot a plant! While each seed may require a different approach or different care, it was a great place for beginners to start. I myself am interested in beginning a garden this summer in my yard, which is something my father and I did together when I was a little girl. My dad loved to grow his own tomatoes, and before he passed away, he asked me to restart the garden. I think this was a timely event that helped me kick start that request.

I feel in our current environmental climate, it is important that we learn to grow our own because of several reasons:

1. You know exactly where it came from and whether chemicals were utilized
2. It would be more satisfying to eat your own produce
3. It saves you money at the grocery store
4. You spend more time outside, which is great for your health

I intend to begin this year with flowers, and also intend to have my Hibiscus plant thriving by summer time. I began to compost last year and there will be a bee hive coming to my yard via a professional beekeeper sometime in April. Doing these things are going to help me feel more connected with nature and more sustainable.

Also attending this event allowed me to meet some other people who are interested in gardening as well. The idea of being a gardener and growing your own food might sound like tough labor, especially on one’s knees. But it is a great way to reconnect with nature and to feel a sense of pride. Plus home grown tomatoes are incredibly delicious.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ramapo College Students Study DuPont Contamination in Pompton Lakes

Environmental Studies Capstone project focuses on long hidden pollution problem.

By Andrew Herrara

The Bergen Record’s recent exposé, “Toxic Secrets,” has turned the heads of many readers who might not have been familiar with the ongoing groundwater contamination issue in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. But the Record is not the only entity trying to shed light on a problem that has been plaguing residents for decades. A class of seniors at Ramapo College of New Jersey are also researching the issue, as a service to clients from Pompton Lakes who want to see a thorough environmental assessment of the contamination under their community.

Between 1902 and 1994, the DuPont corporation operated a munitions factory in Pompton Lakes, which caused multiple kinds of contamination. Lead and mercury from the manufacturing process washed into the local Acid Brook, which feeds into Pompton Lake, once a popular spot for recreational activities. DuPont cleaned up the Brook in the 1990s, but DuPont did not disclose to residents the full extent of pollution of groundwater beneath a 400-home area, a hidden seepage of chemicals that became known as the Plume.

In unlined ponds on the company’s property uphill from the residential area, workers detonated malfunctioning artillery and explosives. Chemical solvents from those munitions, PCE and TCE, seeped groundwater. As that contaminated water evaporated, it infiltrated the basements of the homes in the Plume. Many of the residents of those homes above the polluted areas have been afflicted with rare cancers and other diseases. Although the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection informed DuPont about the vapor problem in 2001, DuPont nor the DEP did not warn residents until 2008, after many homeowners had signed agreements that prevented them from suing DuPont for any other damages.

With “Toxic Secrets” alerting North Jersey to the problem, the public will hopefully stay tuned to the publication of the Ramapo students’ environmental assessment of the contamination and cleanup. That document will contain pertinent information on the similarities between the Pompton Lakes issue and the controversy of Ford’s massive dumping of contaminated paint sludge in Ringwood near the homes of Ramapough Lenape community members.

As part of their research, the students recently met with homeowners in the Plume neighborhood in Pompton Lakes. DuPont was required to provide vapor mitigation systems to homeowners after the revelation came out in 2008, so the students met with people in the Plume area to get their perspective. What they learned was troubling. A local community group had to get the help of their district’s Congress member and both of the state’s Senators in order to persuade DuPont to allow affected residents to hire a contractor other than DuPont’s to install and maintain their vapor mitigation system.

Unfortunately, it seems as though funding for the maintenance of the vapor mitigation system, which was supposed to be provided by DuPont, is not coming in, residents said. One resident’s system readings seemed to be off, which may indicate other problems. Other residents chose not to wait for the long process of securing the right to choose a contractor, and accepted DuPont’s preferred firm.

The contamination of Pompton Lake and the groundwater in the area may hold deeper implications for the health of the Wanaque Reservoir, which gets some of its water supply from Pompton Lake. The Wanaque Reservoir system provides drinking water for much of North Jersey. This is an issue that will be raised in the Ramapo students’ final report.


Friday, March 9, 2018

A Native’s Take on Puerto Rico in the Wake of Hurricane Maria

The precarious state of a territory seeking U.S. government disaster assistance.

By Kristie Murru

Sylvia Bofill is a playwright, director, professor and Schomburg Scholar from Puerto Rico whose plays have been produced in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.  She graduated with an MFA from Columbia University in New York and teaches drama at the University of Puerto Rico.  In a Capstone group called “REalize Your Environmental Impact,” students interviewed the playwright on her experience while in Puerto Rico due to the devastating Hurricane Maria that hit the island in September 2017.  The podcast was recorded in the WRPR studio on the Ramapo College campus, and is currently being edited.

The playwright called the hurricane a “political disaster” in addition to the physical devastation, because all of the struggles that island residents have been faced after it hit are political.  Twenty five percent of Puerto Ricans are still without power, according to the official report, but Bofill believes that the percentage is much higher.  The aid provided to the people was entirely bureaucratic; people had to apply for it through the internet when the majority of people had no power.  Before the people were able to see any resources, she said, it had to travel through the federal government, the municipalities and then, finally, to the people.  With such a long process the people are the ones that suffer.
           
“Hurricane Maria cracked open a wound that was already there,” Bofill said of the precarious state of Puerto Rico.  The Puerto Rican government is currently facing a debt of over 70 million dollars and it is going to take time for the island to get back on its feet.  Local farmers in Puerto Rico have to compete with U.S. subsidized crops because those from the U.S. are sold at cheaper costs.  Since Puerto Rico is a territory and not a state, the Puerto Rican people have a lot that needs to be processed about their treatment by the U.S. government after the hurricane.
           
Asked whether or not she believes climate change played a role in the immense destruction caused by the hurricane, Bofill stated that she absolutely believes that it did.  “To think that you can go to another place right now and it’s going to be some sort of haven is just not the case and it’s gullible to not see the connections,” she said. Bofill cited an example that one of her friends had left Puerto Rico for California and immediately came back because California had been ravaged by fires.

This disaster will only work to “mobilize the community, revitalize activism, [and everyone will] work together to rebuild Puerto Rico,” Bofill said when asked what will come from this hurricane.  She believes that this activism will prevail, citing university students as a defining factor.  When the “Oversight Board” was instituted by the United States which gave seven elected officials total control over the Puerto Rican economy, the students were the ones to step up and make their voices heard.  

Her hope is that with this renowned focus on bringing the community together, the hurricane that caused so much destruction will spark work toward rebuilding Puerto Rican society.  For things to change, she emphasized, awareness needs to be focused on building communities and understanding the severity of climate change.


“REalize Your Environmental Impact” is a Global Communication Capstone campaign working toward informing the Ramapo College community on proper ways to recycle, compost, minimize waste and highlight sustainability based events on campus. The group is comprised of Christopher Bernstein, Paul Iannelli, Kristie Murru, and Matthew Stevens.                                      



Thursday, March 8, 2018

Latest DuPont Cleanup Plan Riles Pompton Lakes Residents

Homeowners worry that pilot study could flood their basements with toxic waste.

By Chris Bernstein

Residents of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey have a major threat looming under their homes—contaminated groundwater—and the proposed solution would pump water underneath these residents’ homes. According to an article on northjersey.com, residents are not happy with the pilot study and are pushing for Governor Phil Murphy to prevent the project from happening, as well as to add the former DuPont munitions site to the Superfund program.

Representative Tim Eustace says, "There's no reason we can't expedite this." According to Eustace, with over 400 residential homes located over the contaminated groundwater, the urgency to take action and prevent the situation from worsening has become even more severe. Governor Murphy has shown initial signs of taking action on environmental issues. Former Pompton Lakes resident Jefferson LaSala thinks Governor Murphy should listen to the residents. “"Governor Murphy's initial response was good, but if he wants to show himself to be a true environment-friendly governor, now is the time to deliver," says LaSala.

The proposed plan created by Chemours, a firm established by DuPont USA to handle all the pollution their plants have left behind in areas across the country, would pump clean water under residents’ homes. This action is designed to create a “wall” between homes and the contaminated groundwater. Residents aren’t convinced this solution will work, as they are afraid doing so will push contaminated water into their basements.

When located in Pompton Lakes, DuPont created explosives that were used in both world wars by the United States. In the process of manufacturing these weapons, toxic chemicals seeped into the groundwater below a residential community. Previous cleanups removed elevated levels of lead and mercury from waterways that flow from the former plant site through the town.


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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Green Living: Opt-out of Housekeeping at Hotels


By Kristie Murru

In an effort to become more sustainable, hotels are choosing to be rid of housekeeping.  In exchange for extending rebates, hotel points, etc, while at check-in or another time during their stay, guests must choose to opt-out of housekeeping.  Reporter Abby Ellin for the New York Times was asked by the clerk at the hotel Flamingo in Las Vegas if she would like to “forgo housekeeping” in exchange for a “$10 a day food voucher.”  The reasoning the clerk gave for offering guests a chance to opt-out was that some guests prefer to be left alone on their trips.  Reasons hotel guests sometimes refuse housekeeping include hangovers and being annoyed when bothered.

Experts suggest that this move is smart for the hotels, as many young travelers complain that there is no point to have sheets and towels changed every day.  Changing sheets and towels everyday is a waste of water, energy and not to mention the amount of cleaning chemicals that are rinsed down the drain.  Realistically, the average individual at home does not change their sheets or towels everyday, so it should be the same for hotels.  It should at least be an option, much like the little slips of paper you often find in hotel rooms that encourage you to pass on changing your towel.  If people are aware that such things are an option, it may be surprising to see how many actually choose to participate. 

A google search of “hotels that offer points instead of housekeeping” prompted me to Marriott.com.  Upon further research, I found that guests that stay at any of the participating hotels owned by the Marriott are eligible to forgo housekeeping up to three consecutive nights of their stay.  Each night will then provide 250 points per night for the Marriott’s reward system.  For individuals that travel often and frequent the same hotels wherever they go, participating in this reward system can be extremely beneficial.         

Another opportunity offered to guests that skip housekeeping is that hotels like the Shade Hotel Manhattan Beach and the Shade Hotel Redondo Beach in California partnered with a nonprofit called “Plant with Purpose.”  This nonprofit will plant a tree for every guest that chooses to forgo housekeeping.  According to an article by NBC, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at Seaworld had almost 1,000 guests choose to opt-out.  In exchange, they were given $5 food vouchers for on-property vendors or 500 Hilton Honors points.  With that many guests participating, the hotel saved 13,000 gallons of water and $12,000.

The ethics of whether people will lose their housekeeping jobs does not seem to currently be a factor.  If we are to assume that people are choosing to opt-out of housekeeping everyday, that in turn requires less of a labor force.  Only time will tell if the environmental benefits will ultimately outweigh this downside.

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