Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Government Foot-Dragging: Toxic Legacy Update

Paint sludge in Ringwood stream   (photo/Jan Barry)


More than 25 years after a US Environmental Protection Agency official stated that all hazardous contaminants that could be found had been removed from a Ford Motor Company dump site in Ringwood, NJ, the federal agency is again delaying a decision on what to do about tens of thousands of tons of tainted soil that are still in the residential neighborhood next to a state park and New Jersey’s largest reservoir.

In a recent news release, the EPA announced it’s extending the public comment period for Ford’s latest cleanup plan for the Ringwood Mines Superfund site until Feb. 5. Nearly a year ago, top agency officials “reassured about two dozen Upper Ringwood residents … that the cleanup of the 500-acre Superfund site in their community is a priority,” The Record of North Jersey reported.

A quarter-century ago, in 1988, an EPA official assured residents at a public hearing that the waste site had been cleaned up by Ford contractors who excavated material at four locations near several homes. Some more material was removed a couple years later and the EPA closed the case, even though more toxic paint sludge was subsequently found in a residential backyard. But an outcry by residents and an investigation by The Record in 2005 found evidence of far-more extensive contamination, which the EPA had not required Ford to account for or remove.

As The Record noted in an October 2005 editorial, “the federal government, which declared Ringwood a Superfund site, has allowed Ford to get away with shoddy cleanups time and time again. … How could Ford get away with this for so long when the foul-smelling sludge was literally under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's nose? Both Ford and the feds must be held accountable. It is long past time for a federal criminal investigation into the sludge dumping and puny cleanup efforts.”

But, as The Record reported in December 2010, despite a request by NJ Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell for a criminal investigation, “No charges were ever filed by the U.S. attorney [Chris Christie, elected New Jersey’s governor in 2009]. The state Department of Environmental Protection never pressed a case against Ford for the pollution that reached Ringwood State Park.”

Pressed by a residents’ lawsuit, visits to the site by US Senator Frank Lautenberg and other federal elected officials, and six years of directives by EPA to undertake more testing and excavation, “Ford contractors removed more than 47,000 tons of paint sludge and tainted soil,” The Record noted in 2010.

At issue now is what to do about more than 200,000 tons of debris laced with lead, arsenic, benzene and other hazardous chemicals that was dumped into two iron mine shafts and a landfill near several homes and streams feeding the Wanaque Reservoir.

Ford is seeking EPA approval to leave most of the toxic waste in place and cover it with an earthen cap. That would approximate the conditions at the two mines and the landfill in 1988, when the EPA assured residents that there was nothing more to worry about.

For more information:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Environmental Writing 2013

Ramapo College, April 2013                      (photo/Jan Barry)



College is a great time to explore the world around us, starting with things that catch our eye in a class or elsewhere in our lives. Here are some aspects of life that caught the attention of 13 student-journalists in the Spring 2013 Environmental Writing course at Ramapo College. These essays—excerpted below—and a variety of other writings throughout the semester are the latest in the annual environmental explorations in this course, which I’ve posted on our class website, ramapolookout.blogspot.com.

Topics highlighted here range from the music of nature to the clunk of bureaucratese, the basic facts of fracking to the elusive information about gas pipeline corridors bulldozed through state forests, steps in creating a backyard wildlife habitat to examining the closing of a popular nature education center, the fate of wolves to the hidden dangers to wildlife and humans of plastic throw-aways, the latest trend in eco-friendly small businesses to the widespread greening of professional sports franchises.     


“For environmental issues, one of the biggest subjects to come up in recent years has been fracking. People often say, ‘What’s in a name?’ and that is exactly how my own personal interest began in fracking.

“The name itself seemed to emit so much intrigue and mystery, that anyone would be interested in taking a second look and diving for further information. The name seemed to be so informal that there must be some type of controversy behind it. Also, when it comes to any type of process that is involved with petroleum or natural gas, or just any type of basic retrieval of our primary energy source, there must be something behind the name that gives it such an enigma.

“Upon looking at the occasional article or internet news story on fracking, I began to realize that there’s certainly a lot more in a name. Besides the actual process itself, the effects that come from it are immense, with such problems as water contamination and other health effects, as well as the split-estate situations for landowners. However, before we get into all that, let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is fracking?”

--Steven Aliano, “Fracking: An Introduction”


“A rainforest symphony. A cicada concert. The Music in Nature Symposium at Ramapo College grew out of a student’s independent study project.

“A music major with an environmental studies minor, Adam Lazor spent a month in Costa Rica studying the sounds of cicadas and birds last summer. When the Feb. 28 symposium began, Lazor took center stage in the Trustees Pavilion and recalled his time studying insect and bird songs.

“’The experience was life-changing,’ he said.  ‘Being able to live in a foreign country and study the environment has been a dream come true.’” 

--Alexa Rivera, “Music in Nature”


“It’s that time of the year again.  The flowers are blooming, the birds are returning to the northern cities and you are ready to have the most beautiful lawn in the neighborhood.  However, have you ever thought about helping to preserve wildlife? Whether you live in an apartment or in a farm, you have the ability to create a garden that attracts beautiful wildlife and helps restore their habitat.

“Creating a Garden for Life it is important because it helps the ecosystem, and as a result our future.  Animals are part of our world and if people don’t start doing their part to protect them some species could become extinct.  Since there are so many businesses and housing developments being built, animals are being forced to leave their habitat, resulting in them being unable to survive.  What kind of a future would you have without wildlife?

“By providing food, water and a place for wildlife to live you will not only do your part in preserving the environment, but also your yard can become an official certified Wildlife Habitat. …”

--Adriana Cappelli, “Creating a Garden for Life”


“The Weis Ecology Center in Ringwood, New Jersey has been an amazing wildlife learning center for thousands of children and adults. But abruptly, as of December 31, the center closed its doors. …

“With the help of the Passaic River Coalition and support of community members, there is hope the center will reopen. … The Passaic River Coalition has preserved 1,600 acres of open space land in New Jersey since the Passaic River Coalition Land Trust was created in 1993. Now they’re looking into adding the acres of Weis Ecology Center to that number.”

--Ben Reuter, “The Fate of Weis Ecology Center”


“Wolves are among the most charismatic and controversial animals in North America. Traveling in packs through the wilderness, wolves are the oldest and largest ancestor of domestic dogs. These animals once ranged from Alaska to Mexico, but today their numbers have dropped drastically.

“Wolves have been targeted by bounty hunters for their pelts since the early 1900’s. By the 1970’s, wolves only remained in remote areas of Minnesota and Michigan. …

“The Humane Society filed a lawsuit in February to restore federal protections for gray wolves that were lifted last year. Since the protections were lifted, hunters and trappers have killed an estimated 530 wolves in Minnesota and Wisconsin. …”

--Jamie Bachar, “A New Threat to Gray Wolves”


“According to scientists and activists who troll the Pacific Ocean collecting samples every day, the tragic  findings show that ocean water, even at the furthest point from dry land in the world, has become a “soup” of miniscule plastic pieces. The original products have been crushed into tiny shards of material that fish and other marine animals mistake for food. They eat until they’re full, and eventually die. Many species of marine birds are also mistaking plastic bottle caps (which, surprise, are not recyclable because they’re made from a different plastic than the rest of the bottle), and bringing them back to feed their chicks. One of the most affected and studied species is the albatross. One research group found that 97.5% of chicks tested from the North Pacific Ocean had plastic in their bellies.

“This heartbreaking fact seems to also be the ironic full circle mark: our obsession with convenience and penchant for trusting the corporations we buy from has lowered our health to that of animals. We blindly allow plastic chemicals to enter our lives and our stomachs from water bottles, food containers, utensils, fabrics, children’s toys, the interiors of our cars, nearly all we encounter in a day’s time—and haven’t demanded to know exactly what this means for our and the planet’s long-term health.”

--Katie Attinello, “Everyday Plastics: Are the Life Cycles of Water Bottles and other Plastics Endangering our Own?”


“The Tennessee Gas Company is expanding its territory, the “Northern Upgrade,” through the Ramapo Mountains and miles of New Jersey’s most pristine forests in West Milford, Ringwood and Mahwah. The pipes are going under Monksville Reservoir, part of northern New Jersey’s main watershed where 5 million people depend on drinking water. There are currently four separate projects taking place in Northern New Jersey. Individually the environmental impacts seem minor, but are collectively significant. …

“Ramapo College of New Jersey hosted the 18th annual Ramapo River Watershed Conference on April 26. An hour of the conference was dedicated to Assessing Cumulative Impacts of Gas Pipelines in the Highlands Region and was presented by students in the Environmental Assessment Capstone course at Ramapo College. …

“’Everything in the environment depends on everything else,’ said Judith Sullivan to the Environmental Writing class at Ramapo College last month. What seems like the smallest disruption to us is really a huge disruption to nature.”

--Jaimie Moscarello, “Backyard Pipeline”


“Students in the Environmental Assessment capstone course at Ramapo College were given a bittersweet taste of the “real world” for the Spring 2013 semester. The environmental studies majors were finally granted the opportunity to put all four years of our education to the test and integrate our knowledge into a project being implemented in the college’s backyard. …

“There are three pipeline projects currently being implemented in the NJ Highlands region and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved each project without considering that they traverse the same environmentally sensitive region. 

“Additionally, the Commission’s assessment did not factor in already existing pipeline structures and the potential for future lines to be developed.  Conjointly, these projects impose significant environmental impacts to the area. So aside from reviewing each pipeline project in segments, the agency avoided reviewing the collective impacts from all three projects in the NJ Highlands Region. In several legal cases the courts have upheld such division as a violation of NEPA. This approval was a failure to review the project as a whole. …”

--Brittany Ryan, “Assessing Pipelines: Students Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement”


“Located in the heart of Hoboken, New Jersey is an up-and-coming brewery that features all-organic materials. The aptly named “Jersey Brew” has devoted its entire mission to 100% eco-friendly strategies. From recycled packaging materials to farm-fresh ingredients (they get all their ingredients from local farmers), Jersey Brew is one of several environmentally conscious brewers countrywide. …

“So how has this process gone the way of the environmentally conscious? Brooklyn Brewers, a brewery out of, you guessed it, Brooklyn, NY is powered entirely by wind turbines, which generate the facility’s energy. Not only is that a feat in itself, but this alternative energy source makes Brooklyn Brewery the very first company in New York City to be solely powered by wind. …

“Great Lakes Brewing Company in Ohio has developed an error-proof “closed loop” recycling system. Everything is therefore used for something, reducing their waste to just about nothing. Not to mention the fact that their distribution trucks run on vegetable oil. Now that’s what I call going green.”

--Ashley Intveld, “Bottoms Up to Green Beer”


“One of the most recent environmental trends is turning your home or business into an ecofriendly space. Today, there are numerous options and products available stamped with an ecofriendly label promising that through production and use, you are contributing to the environmental cause. However, many people question whether these efforts are worthwhile. …

“An article by CNN Money discusses the trend in ecofriendly small businesses and claims that customers are drawn to the ecofriendly label. One source, Steve Rosen, owner of FranNet, a franchise consulting organization states it best by saying ‘…it is something that agrees with people's social objectives.’ …

“’I have absolutely no regrets about choosing the ecofriendly options for my business. Everyone benefits from going green. Not only have I received the benefits, but my customers and employees have as well. And most importantly I can say I’m doing my part to restore the environment. That, of course, is the long term goal of all of this,’ [East Brusnwick, NJ business owner Greg] Wathen said.”

--Lisa Quaglino, “Going Green: A Growing Business Trend”


“No matter what uniform they showcase in their respective sport, many professional athletes and leagues are wearing green when it comes to supporting the environment. Despite little recognition from the media for their actions, numerous professional athletes in the United States, and the leagues they play in, are starting to focus their philanthropic ventures on environmental issues. …

“Perhaps the most proactive league when it comes to environmental issues is the National Basketball Association (NBA). For the past five years, the NBA has partnered with the NRDC to hold NBA Green Week, which this year was April 4-12. During this week, the NBA raises funds and awareness for the environment.

“Players wear NBA Green warm-up shirts for all their games during the week and the NBA highlights league and team environmental initiatives and in-arena awareness nights, recycling programs, and service projects. For example, the New York Knicks take part in ‘Trees for threes’ where they plant a tree for every three-point basket the team makes.”

--Nick Bower, “Going Green: Pro Athletes Weigh in on Environmental Issues”


“On March 23, the National Hockey League joined millions of homes throughout the United States for the second consecutive year in celebrating the World Wildlife Fund’s “Earth Hour,” the world’s largest annual action to raise awareness of environmental conservation.

“On that date, 18 of the 30 teams that make up the NHL were in action, including the New Jersey Devils, who proudly took part in the event. The Devils did their part by shutting down all non-essential electrical equipment at Prudential Center from 8:30 pm until 9:30 pm during their game against the Florida Panthers at their home arena, Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.

“While annually participating in the planet’s largest conservation spectacle is an important step towards helping the environment, the folks at Prudential Center do not stop there. They go to great lengths to make the Newark arena a leader in environmental conservation. …”

--Anthony Smith, “Prudential Center Sets Pace in Environmental Conservation”


“Super Bowl XLIV was held at Sun Life Stadium in Florida. During their time in Florida, the NFL teamed up with NextEra Energy Resources, the largest wind and solar energy producer in North America, to power the 2010 Pro Bowl and Super Bowl with renewable energy. They also formed a partnership with the US Forest Service and the Florida Division of Forestry and planted hundreds of trees throughout South Florida. …

“MetLife Stadium in New Jersey will be hosting the upcoming Super Bowl. After its construction in 2010, MetLife Stadium is one of the greenest stadiums in the country because of its partnership with the EPA. There were goals set by both the EPA and stadium officials. Goals of the agreement include cutting the stadium's annual water use by 25 percent, making it 30 percent more energy efficient than the old Giants Stadium, increasing total recycling by 25 percent and recycling 75 percent of construction waste. …

“MetLife Stadium isn’t the only stadium becoming environmentally friendly. The Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field has 8,000 solar panels in their parking lot. The New England Patriots are taking part as well. They have 3,000 panels installed at Patriot Place, a shopping center next to Gillette Stadium. The Philadelphia Eagles have about 11,000 solar panels powering their stadium. They also one-upped the other teams by adding 14 micro wind-turbines. …”

--Bill Pivetz, “The National Football League Tackles the Environment”

Monday, October 22, 2012

Texas Style State of the World

I've seen the future and it's called Texas! That's the gist of how a liberal environmental activist, a conservative Congressman and many other folks described the Lone Star State at the 22nd annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference that ended Sunday in Lubbock, Texas.

Here's what the future looks like, according to an astounding variety of people who spoke with the assembled writers, television and radio personalities, journalism professors, environmental activists and industry representatives at the event, hosted by Texas Tech University. Besides panel discussions at the Overton Hotel and Conference Center, where I was a moderator of a lunch discussion, busloads of conference attendees fanned out from Lubbock across the Texas plains to see various places and issues first-hand. Here're some highlights of what they heard and saw:

  • There's plenty of water in drought-parched west Texas for oil and gas drilling and fracking operations, which use substantial amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack open shale formations deep underground, said an owner of an oil drilling operation near Midland, Texas.
  • With hundreds of cedar trees dead from drought, the water supply from the Texas hill country is in deep trouble, if the hottest and driest weather pattern on record continues, said a watershed researcher.

  • There's plenty of beef in Texas, to judge by the heaping platters of meat set out for the hungry hordes of scribes.
  • Food suppliers predict that "meat is going to become a luxury item within a year," said the manager of food services for scores of schools.

  • West Texas is "one of nature’s biggest working laboratories for agriculture, energy and water research," said the region's Congressman, Rep. Randy Neugebauer. “I think that West Texas can serve as an example to the rest of the country on how we can meet the challenges we face today.”
  • "We're going to struggle in Texas if we have a decade like 2011"--the driest on record for the state, said a former EPA regional administrator, Alfredo Armendariz.

  • Oil and gas fracking operations provide good jobs and don't harm the environment, said industry operators.
  • Oil and gas fracking operations are destroying the quality of life in a rural community near Midland, Texas, where many oil and gas workers live, said several angry residents.

  • "The climate is changing," but who's to say it's not a natural cycle, said the West Texas Congressman.
  • "The vast majority of scientists are telling us it's not a natural cycle," said the former EPA administrator.
  • In any case, Texas and much of the US just experienced two summers of record heat waves, which cost "billions of dollars in health costs" as well as increased deaths, said a public health scientist.

  • Texas is booming with oil, gas, cotton farming, cattle ranching and many other businesses, said several speakers.
  • The future may look like the past unless major modifications are made to the intensive farming practices amid drought conditions that led to the "dust bowl" disaster across the Great Plains in the 1930s, suggested a new Ken Burns documentary, "The Dust Bowl," shown at the conference. The film is scheduled to air on PBS next month.

Here’re some of the news reports that this eco-journalism spotlight on Texas generated:

“President of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce Mike George introduced Odessa to a group of environmental reporters in a unique way — calling the city the Clean Energy Capital of the World,” the Odessa American newspaper reported of the visit by a busload of Society of Environmental Journalists attendees.

“George then went on to talk about Duke Energy’s 95-turbine wind farm in Notrees and how it is the home to a 36-megawatt battery storage facility, the biggest battery storage unit for any wind farm in the world,” added Odessa American reporter Nathaniel Miller Then he listed plans for a 500-acre solar farm. And then there’s the 400-megawatt “clean coal” electricity generating plant planned for next year with funding from the federal government and the Export-Import Bank of China that is “designed to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide it produces and sell the CO2 as enhanced oil-recovery, which will help companies bring more oil out of the ground.”


“Shane Leverett and his neighbors in Gardendale, Texas, are livid that their properties are now graced with tall white stakes, some less than 150 feet from their homes,” noted a reporter from Coloradoan.com, Bobby Magill. “Those stakes are signs that an oil company plans to come soon to drill their yards and ranch land in Gardendale, a ranching community on the broad mesquite flats between Midland and Odessa in the heart of the oil-rich Permian Basin.”
In contrast, Magill added, “Unlike Colorado, where the state regulations currently being amended determine oil and gas well setbacks, Texas allows cities to regulate setbacks and other oil and gas issues themselves. In dense urban areas, Colorado’s current setback is 350 feet from homes.”

“Brooks Hodges took over as general manager of Pitchfork Land & Cattle Co. last year in the midst of a drought and then had to deal with wildfire devouring 90,000 acres of native pasture,” noted an editor at AgFax.com, Chris Clayton.

“A group of journalists participating in the Society of Environmental Journalists annual meeting in Lubbock, Texas, toured the Pitchfork Ranch near Guthrie on Thursday as well as the Hale Center Feedyard outside Hale Center, Texas,” Clayton wrote. Here’s what they found:

“Drought recovery remains slow for cow-calf operators. There won’t be any official USDA numbers on whether ranchers are starting to rebuild their herds until January, but numbers earlier this year showed the Texas cow herd had 650,000 fewer head than a year earlier. Overall, the entire cattle herd in Texas declined from 13 million head to 11.9 million.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Environmental Writing 2012

Ramapo College, May 2012                                             (photo/Jan Barry)

Are electric cars the wave of the future? Why are bomb squads frequent visitors to a New Jersey business park? What’s up with both solar panels and natural gas pipelines spreading across the Garden State landscape? These are just some of the timely and essential ecological issues that 15 student-reporters at Ramapo College of New Jersey explored in the Spring 2012 Environmental Writing class.

Here’s a sampling of insightful passages on topics the students researched and reported in magazine-style final writing projects, which are posted on our class website, ramapolookout.blogspot.com, along with a wide array of other eco-themed assignments.

“In April it was predicted that as the election pressures become more intense and gas prices rise, the president and administration may accelerate the review process and allow the northern leg of the pipeline to move forward more quickly. However, gas prices are currently in decline and have been for the past five weeks, as reported on Friday by the Huffington Post.

“According to the Los Angeles Times, ‘that day when hundreds of thousands of barrels arrive from Canada is at least a decade away, however, and much of the gasoline refined from Canadian oil would probably be exported, industry analysts say.’ ”
--from “New Keystone Pipeline Plan: What’s It Mean for the 2012 Elections?” by Lauren Haag

“Fort Detrick, a military base located in Fredrick, Md, was the main testing and research center for herbicides used in Agent Orange.  In recent years, area residents have raised concerns about what they see as a cancer cluster in the nearby neighborhoods surrounding Fort Detrick. Government officials deny there is a cancer cluster, although the state health department and a National Academy of Science panel are now taking a look at it.
“There is much skepticism as to whether the military will take any responsibility or admit to any wrong-doing. Randy White, the founder of the Kristen Renee Foundation, named after his daughter who died of brain cancer, has raised concerns about a possible cancer cluster based on surveys of residents of the area. White said that he had no confidence in the Department of Defense or a National Academy of Science review getting to the bottom of the issue in Fredrick.”
--from “The Lingering Legacy of Agent Orange” by Deshaun Mitchell

“You’re a devoted recycler. You’ve installed solar panels in your house. You drive a hybrid car. You have a homemade compost pile in your backyard. You live an eco-friendly life, and you wouldn’t have it any other way. But what happens when you leave your personal green kingdom for a summer vacation trip with the kids or a weekend getaway with your spouse? Do you abandon your green morals for a few days, or do you stick to your roots?

“Staying green while traveling can be a challenge, but in recent years more and more eco-friendly hotels have been popping up, and classic hotel chains like the Marriott and Hilton have been adapting practices that cut back on water use and air pollution.”
--from “Go Green: Eco-Friendly Hotels” by Diana Stanczak

“The students also found that vapor intrusion from the VOCs in the groundwater is a real threat to nearby buildings.  The area where the contaminants are found is right where a movie theater and parking lot are proposed.  This means careful investigation is needed to determine if vapor intrusion is a threat to indoor air quality.  Mitigation measures include a vapor barrier and venting systems.
“More suggestions include solar panels on buildings or in parking lots to reduce heat and produce clean energy.   Additionally, using LED parking lot lamps with special covers to reduce light pollution and in the long run, save on electricity and maintenance costs.  The use of native plants for landscaping was suggested, and not just for the bio-retention basins.  Native plant usage reduces water, fertilizer and maintenance needs, but also eliminates the threat of invasive species infiltrating the valuable wetland and riparian river habitat nearby.  They also stressed the importance of an efficient waste cycling program with the goal being zero-waste, which seemed to intrigue the members of the Environmental Commission and residents at the public hearing presentation.”
--from “Ramapo College Students Assess Proposed Mall’s Environmental Impact” by Barbara Bodden

“There obviously are serious concerns with the mega-million project, including damage to the pristine land--tearing through the Ramapo Reservation--and also the problems that come with fracking for natural gas for the pipeline. I wonder what is the point of reserving land if you’re going to destroy it anyway. Reservations are turning into layaways for companies. The same way department stores used to let customers put products on reserve to buy them at a later date, is what going on here. People and other businesses can’t build on this land. How strange that a gas-related project gets precedent over everything else.”
--from Tennessee Gas Pipeline Project: Why Is It Allowed in Preserved Parkland?” by Thomas Babcock

“The installation of solar panels in New Jersey ranks among the highest in the country and is set to continue to grow. Over the past couple of years, solar panels have exploded onto the New Jersey landscape. They were most commonly seen in multiple-acre solar farms, on rooftops, and car ports. But now they quite likely line the streets of your local neighborhood.
“Behind a majority of New Jersey’s solar energy projects is its largest utility provider, Public Service Gas and Electric (PSE&G). It is recognized by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) as the nation’s third most solar connected utility, ranking behind only Pacific Gas and Electric in California and Florida Power and Light Company.”
--from “Solar Panels Spreading Across New Jersey” by Joseph Pianese

“In a time where IPhones and fast cars are celebrated more than natural things, it is safe to say that humans have drastically affected this planet. It is hard for people to remember that we were not always the superior species to walk this vast realm, but that before us Earth belonged to the animals.

“Is it a scary statistic to learn that almost 99% of living organisms that were here when the Earth was created are no longer in existence. Every day, more and more of our beloved creatures are forced out of their homes and into extinction. Although oftentimes not a primary concern to most humans, there are plenty of reasons and statistics proving why they should be concerned.”
--from “Animals: Pertinent to Our Survival” by Alexis Lopez

“Last summer, Tennessee Gas expanded the existing pipeline from 30 feet in width to almost 200 feet.  In these areas where the pipeline already exists, specifically in the region off of Clinton Road, waterways were flooded with excessive runoff, motor oil and other fluids from bulldozers and construction vehicles used in the projects, and wetlands along its route have been contaminated, say residents who were directly affected.
“The Monksville Reservoir, which is the starting point for the extension, holds up to a billion gallons of water, and serves as the backup water supply during droughts for the Wanaque Reservoir. Approximately 3 million people are served by this water system. The plan is to drill under the reservoir, minimizing its impact to the water body, which extends 505 acres, and is a popular fishing spot.”
--from “Gas Pipeline to Mahwah Set Off Alarms” by Victoria Ahlers

“Over thirty years ago, it all started with just 12 farmers in a parking lot on 59th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. Now it has grown to become the biggest and most diverse outdoor urban farmer’s market system in the country. There are now 53 markets, over 230 family farms and fishermen participants, and over 30,000 acres of farmland protected from development.
“Since the creation of the greenmarket, the relationship between farmers and city residents has changed rural communities and urban spaces. There is an improvement in consumer health and people who are in need of fresh and nutritious food can get it through the organizations EBT/Food Stamp and Youth-market program. The market has also helped support immigrant farmers, educate school children and city residents about regional agriculture importance, provide an opportunity for medium sized farms, and influenced chefs and local eaters in one of the most popular and famous cities in the world.”
--from “Bringing Farm Life Back to New York City” by Vanessa Camargo

“Since the concept of environmental justice was recognized over three decades ago, the issue has been growing in size and importance.  However, it is still far from where it needs to be.  Environmental Justice issues are largely under-reported, and hardly ever show up in local, state, or national political debate.  This is because residents of poor and minority communities have little to no representation in government, and therefore have little to no voice.  
“As it stands now, environmental justice issues are all too often left to be discovered and advocated for by the residents of the affected communities and environmental groups.  In these cases, the residents and environmental organizations are usually up against large corporations whose financial status and sheer size give them the upper hand.  The fact is, the task of discovering toxic waste and other harmful pollutants in communities should not be left to the residents.  It is the responsibility of government, specifically on the local level, to protect the interests and well-being of its people; therefore, it is they who should be held responsible.”
--from “Environmental Justice: A Growing Issue” by Bliss Sando

“In most towns, the discovery of a misplaced military explosive would have been big news, but this incident in Edison went by without a peep from the media or government officials.  This was not the first time a shell was found in the ground below bustling Raritan Center. 

“They only found one this time,” said Lieut. Salvatore Filannino, the public information officer at the Edison police department.  

“Raritan Center is one of the largest business parks on the East Coast of the United States, and the biggest in Middlesex County, NJ.  It contains approximately 100 buildings and a daytime population of 45,000 workers.  Raritan Center includes several hotels, banks, a day care center, and the main studio and newsroom of News 12 New Jersey. So this issue of old munitions may affect all different types of people in Edison, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“In years past, it was home to the Raritan Arsenal, a sprawling military base…”
--from “Bomb Squads at a Business Park: Another Day at the Office” by Richard Fetzer

“The odors have become more noticeable to Middlesex residents for the past three years. Some residents describe the odors as unpleasant, and some say the odors are not that bad. The overall issue that the Board of Health is concerned about is if these odors are safe.

“There has been no confirmation that the odors produced are dangerous to the residents, officials said. In fact, all of the products that Spray Tek converts are consumable products by manufacturers that are highly regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.”
--from “Fragrance Company and Town at Odds over Odors” by Molly Rothberg

“I remember driving into Pennsylvania for a weekend away some months ago and seeing signs on every lawn in the neighborhood I was driving through. Each sign read “FRACK” circled and crossed.

“I had thought “FRACK” was someone running for office that no one seemed to like; my friend told me otherwise. He informed me what hydraulic fracturing was, but I didn’t believe him that these people were lighting their sinks on fire and so I had to Youtube it.”
--from “Hydraulic Fracturing: A Brute Enemy to Water” by Samuel Arnowitz

“Electric cars are beginning to become more popular and are said to be better for the environment. With the rise of this, it is important to understand what an electric car is, the difference between electric and gasoline powered cars, and if they really are better for the environment.”
--from “Are Electric Cars the Way to Go for the Environment?” by Amanda Daley

“The Ramapo River is a popular destination for trout and fly fishermen and a retreat for families in the summer. Part of the Passaic River Basin, it is the most populated river in Northern New Jersey.
“On the surface, the river looks to be in great condition and a safe haven for wildlife. However, looked at more closely, the river is heavily polluted due to commercial development over the last few decades. Also, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, industrial companies used the river as a hazardous waste disposal site.”
--from “State of the Ramapo River” by Luan Madani

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Commitment to Uncovering Local Environmental Issues

Toxic sites map/North Jersey.com
The headlines in a recent newspaper series unveiled a shocking story: “DEP let poison flow for decades” … “North Jersey riddled with failed cleanups” … “Desperate to move, but bound to stay; Residents say homes in Superfund site are worthless.”

Got your attention? That’s the intent of the “Toxic Landscape” series that The Record, a daily newspaper in northern New Jersey, has instituted as an on-going investigative look at industrial contamination lingering in local communities in its coverage area. Here’s the opening salvo in a three-part expose by Record environmental writer Scott Fallon that burst from the front pages recently:

     A highly toxic industrial chemical has been spreading under a Garfield neighborhood for almost three decades, slowly seeping into homes and threatening the health of thousands.
     Residents live in fear that hexavalent chromium is infiltrating their basements, that their families could get cancer and that their property values have been destroyed.
     And state officials allowed it all to happen.
     What occurred in Garfield over the course of 28 years is a story of an environmental oversight system that failed the people it was supposed to protect. In instance after instance, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection showed poor judgment, lax enforcement and bureaucratic indifference to an emerging public health threat….

After detailing the spreading contamination through groundwater under an urban neighborhood and the startling lack of government action even after a city firehouse was closed in 1993 due to the hazardous substance seeping into the basement, Fallon’s report widened the scope of the problem to encompass many more communities:

“Garfield is one of the more egregious examples of failed environmental oversight. But all over North Jersey there are botched cleanups caused by questionable decisions, bureaucratic indifference or both,” Fallon wrote. "’There are Garfields in literally every corner of this state,’ said Robert Spiegel, head of Edison Wetlands, an environmental advocacy group. ‘The system for cleaning thousands of sites has been dysfunctional, chaotic, and it just doesn’t work,’" Fallon’s report added, after listing a number of failed, incomplete or barely ever started contamination investigations and cleanups in North Jersey towns that have been periodically in and out of the news.

The back story behind this unusual newspaper series—which began last year with a detailed examination of unfinished cleanups at several federal Superfund sites across the region—is a recognition by The Record’s editors and publisher that hazardous waste cleanups habitually stall when there’s no on-going, in depth news coverage.

That realization was crystallized by a previous investigative series in 2005 called “Toxic Legacy,” which showed how the US Environmental Protection Agency allowed Ford Motor Company to claim it had cleaned up a toxic waste dump in the late 1980s in Ringwood, NJ. The newspaper investigation, which I participated in as a reporter, uncovered the fact that the officially approved cleanup barely scratched the surface of buried mounds of lead-based paint sludge and other potentially cancer-causing contamination that local residents, environmental groups and newspaper reporters found and made public.

A far more substantial cleanup has taken place since that investigative series, with every step reported by local newspapers, sometimes bird-dogged by national news organizations and further exposed to a wide television audience by a documentary shown on HBO titled “Mann v. Ford,” after the name of a lawsuit by residents of the affected residential area.

Yet, despite the residents’ lawsuit, the renewed cleanup in Ringwood stalled once the initial flurry of news coverage subsided. Record editors then expanded the “Toxic Legacy” coverage into on-going, frequent update reports published under the same label.

“The [initial] story was about the government’s failure to live up to its promise,” Tim Nostrand, The Record’s editor for investigative projects, told a gathering in September at Columbia University’s Journalism School that honored new and past winners of the Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment. The “Toxic Legacy” investigative team led by Nostrand won the 2006 Grantham Prize, among a number of other national journalism awards.

Once congratulations on winning major awards are collected, news organizations usually ease off covering that topic and move on. But Record editors found their readers appreciated the “Toxic Legacy” coverage. And they found that government officials slipped back into old habits once that coverage eased off.  “We did a five-year look back and found history repeating itself. We’re now staying on top of that,” Nostrand added in his account of how one investigative project morphed into a long-term commitment.

On top of reporting every new twist and turn in the Ringwood Superfund site case, six years after publishing a series that shook up the EPA, Record editors have assigned municipal reporters to dig into environmental contamination issues in the towns they cover, Nostrand told the audience of award-winning journalists, journalism professors and students at Columbia. Previously, as was my experience during a more than 20-year career at The Record, municipal reporters often ignored environmental issues unless they were prepared to wrangle with editors to provide time from the relentless pressure to file daily news stories in order to dig into often complex, hidden contamination problems.

The latest in The Record’s remarkable “Toxic Landscape” local reports rolled out this week. The first day’s headline conveyed a double drum-roll: “DPW cleanup tab put at $200,000; Decades-old pollution ‘ignored’ mayor says.” And thus residents of Dumont, NJ were told about the mounting costs of inaction by local officials and the state environmental protection agency in dealing with contamination from leaking gasoline storage tanks at the municipal Department of Public Works property dating back to the 1980s.

A Dumont Borough Council subcommittee trying to get to the bottom of why nothing was done, despite a DEP order in 1992 to do a cleanup, got some astounding responses, Record reporter Rebecca D. O’Brien found. A former councilman who served in 2004-2009 said “We never discussed any issues of any gasoline spills or any contamination down at that site,” O’Brien reported in her second-day article.

Another former councilman who served in 2003-2008 put this kind of investigative story into glaring perspective, when he testified that “he didn’t even know about the DPW contamination until he read about it in the newspaper,” O’Brien added.

So that readers can follow the newspaper’s probing into the tangled, toxic mess underlying much of the Garden State, The Record offers on its web site a special projects section titled “Toxic Landscape: Tracking contaminated sites in North Jersey,” which provides interactive maps and hotlinks to an extensive list of investigative articles on local contamination sites.

For more information:


   

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Why Do Superfund Environmental Cleanups Take Decades?

Tuesday 10/4/11 "Why is Environmental Cleanup So Slow?” Panel Discussion at Ramapo College, Mahwah, NJ

Friends Hall (SC219) in Student Center, 6:30-9 p.m. 

The regional head of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program, Walter Mugdan, will speak Tuesday on a panel with Ramapo College professors. Other panelists are Adjunct Professor Jan Barry Crumb, who teaches environmental writing; Adjunct Professor Chuck Stead, who teaches courses in environmental investigations; and environmental studies Professor Michael Edelstein, the panel chair.

The event, which is open to the public, is sponsored by the Ramapo College Institute of Environmental Studies.The panel will discuss why environmental cleanups at Superfund sites often take decades, with a focus on the Ringwood Mines Superfund site in New Jersey and sites near the Town of Ramapo landfill in Rockland County, New York. These sites were all contaminated by paint sludge and other industrial waste from the former Ford Motor Company plant in Mahwah, NJ.

Panel Chair, Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D. Professor of Environmental Psychology, Ramapo College of NJ. He is author of Contaminated Communities, 2nd Edition (Westview 2004) and lead editor of Cultures of Contamination (Elsevier, 2007). Edelstein has a perspective on cleanup activities that stretches back to research done at Love Canal in the late 1970s. He has studied Superfund communities and testified in administrative hearings and toxic torts, not only about the consequences of living in contaminated communities which have not been addressed, but also about the impacts of cleanup itself.

Walter Mugdan, Director of the Emergency and Remedial Response Division at the Region 2 office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), located in New York City.  He heads a staff of some 220 employees responsible for the Region’s “Superfund” toxic waste cleanup, emergency response and brownfields programs.  Previously he headed the Region’s Division of Environmental Planning & Protection, where his staff of about 180 scientists, engineers and planners managed the Region’s air, water, hazardous waste and environmental review programs. Prior to that appointment, he served as Deputy Regional Counsel and then Regional Counsel for Region 2, where he headed a staff of 80 attorneys.   He joined EPA in 1975 as a staff attorney, and subsequently served in various supervisory positions in the Office of Regional Counsel, including Chief of the units responsible for Superfund, RCRA, TSCA and the Clean Air Act.  

Jan Barry Crumb, Journalist, Adjunct Professor, Ramapo College. He is the author of A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns (Rutgers 2000). During an award-winning career at The Record of Bergen County, NJ, Jan Barry intensively reported on the Ford contamination issues and their impact on the Ramapough Indians. His work with an investigative team of reporters and editors led EPA to reopen the closed Superfund project in Ringwood. The Record's Website www.toxiclegacy.com documents this effort.

Chuck Stead, Social Ecologist, Adjunct Professor, Ramapo College and Cornell Cooperative Extension. A native of Hillburn, NY, he is a local historian, activist and place scholar who has worked for years on the Ford contamination. Ramapo students, under his supervision, have helped him identify areas of contamination in New York State that have never been addressed previously. These hazardous waste sites are now the subject of cleanup efforts under the New York State DEC. Mr. Stead is in the process of erecting an education center dedicated to the contamination cleanup efforts in the Ramapo Mountains.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Environmental Writing 2011

From Agent Orange’s insidious grasp out of the past of the war in Vietnam to current health concerns of many residents of Ramapo River communities, to the potential future effects of global climate change, 11 student-reporters at Ramapo College of New Jersey dug into a wide array of ecological issues in the Spring 2011 Environmental Writing class.

Here are some of many insightful passages that summarize topics students chose to research and report in magazine-style final writing projects, all of which are posted on our class website, ramapolookout.blogspot.com, along with their other writing assignments throughout the semester.

“The Earth is as a storm. Violently it crashes and trumpets along its trillion year journey. Like a wildfire burning on a California horizon, the Earth surrounds itself in tapestry of both beauty and terror. In essence our planet is a hospitable destroyer. It will deny life as easily as it fosters it. Often times life will simply die off, a casualty of the constant unseen equation of nature. Still, despite the changes our planet has seen, the existence of life has always remained firmly rooted. However, our modern age has threatened life with a new villain: pollutants.”
--From Destroying our Oceans: Impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by John Clancey

“Beekeepers throughout the Garden State know there is something wrong. Some blame mites and pesticides but others are still puzzled as to what exactly is causing colony collapse disorder.

“’I had beehives that were full of bees and produced a great honey crop, and two weeks later were empty,’ says Joe Triemel, Corresponding Secretary at the Essex Co. Beekeepers.

“Why all the buzz? Bees are very critical to agricultural practices.”
--From New Jersey's Buzz on Colony Collapse Disorder by Courtney Leiva

“When being advised to follow a healthy diet, the one food that is indisputably on the top of the list is fish. Its Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals keep our heart pumping and our blood pressure low. It is an easy food to cook, requiring little preparation and, in most cases, done in less than 30 minutes. It is almost impossible to make a bad dish with fish unless, of course, the fish itself has been contaminated.

“With the recent environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which was formally known to produce quality fish, particularly shellfish, fish lovers now question the safety of the fish coming from the Gulf. Do we believe the government agencies that maintain the fish from the Gulf is safe or do we stop buying, adding to the sorry economic state of the Gulf fishermen’s woes, who are just recovering from Hurricane Katrina?”
--From Is Eating Fish as Healthy as It Used to Be? by Virginia DiBianca

“Climate change, or global warming as it is often referred to, has been a hot button issue in recent years. It has dominated the environmental arena, and has even played a role in the political spectrum, as Democrats and Republicans hold very different ideas about the phenomenon. There is a lot of conflicting information about this so-called global warming and the process of weeding through all of it to separate fact from fiction can seem overwhelming. The truth of the matter is, depending upon who you ask, you will likely get a very different interpretation of climate change, its causes, its effects, and what it ultimately means for you and me. …

“Climate change, or global warming, is certainly a very complex issue with a myriad of facts, data, and evidence from a host of different organizations to take into account. But these are the bare-bone facts of the situation. There is evidence to support hundreds of thousands of years of constantly changing climate situations on our planet. But there is also hard proof that humans have, if nothing else, sped the process up a significant amount. It is really up to each citizen of the planet Earth to make their own decision about climate change and make their day-to-day choices accordingly.”
--From Climate Change: A Complex Issue with Clashing Points of View by Lindsey de Stefan

“Jeff Genser, a Suffern native, pleaded to the council about flood issues. He stated, ‘You're proposing to eliminate 100 acres of flood plain, and turn it from a pervious area to an impervious. And that is unacceptable, in my opinion.’ He went on to propose his own idea for what could be built on the flood plain next to the Ramapo River, a Vertical Farm. ‘A building could be constructed that could supply food to half of Bergen County...use all the water it comes into [from the river], over and over again, and have no pollution and environmental impact.’ The idea seemed to stir no interest by the council.

“Many individuals mentioned how the mall would impact the surrounding community. Some were frustrated over the idea of Stag Hill residents being stranded in an emergency situation, being that the only access road to their community would become a constant point of traffic and congestion. Retired resident Ron Whalberg asked the council, ‘At what point do we stop endangering future generations?’”
--From A Changed Mahwah by Graig Mihok

“It is a race against time for a fading era of American heroes who served their country and feel they were poisoned by their government. It is a race against time for the Vietnamese people suffering from health conditions and birth defects. The U.S. government is left with a choice. It can accept responsibility and dedicate itself to all who suffered from the Agent Orange spraying campaigns, or it can wait for the end of an era. It can hope for the best that history will forget. The natural environment and the lives it gracefully sustains are in serious danger.

“For Agent Orange investigator Fred Wilcox, justice is yet to be done. ‘The government can start by saying sorry,’ he said.”
--From War After the War: The Environmental Assault of Agent Orange by Dan Savino

“Consumers seem to be paying attention to what they eat more and more. It is too soon to prove whether GM seeds, crops and foods will hurt or help us, but staying informed and questioning claims for will help to insure our safety. Big corporations own the rights to a very crucial part of the food chain. Urging others to ask questions, voice opinions and challenge tests is incredibly important. Food and its nutrients are what help us survive. As consumers and as humans we have the right to take control over the products we use daily.”
--From Genetically Modified Food: What Does it Mean for You and Your Kitchen? by Lorraine Metz

“Some say it’s just a coincidence; that it would take years, if not decades, for us to see any change in prices if we started drilling.  Experts say that the process of actually obtaining the oil, refining it, dispersing it, and using it takes an extreme amount of time and money, so that we wouldn’t see any relief in the near future.  The Energy Information Association found that increased drilling would have a very small, if any, impact before 2030.  They also found that even once the oil starts flowing, it would only bring in about 0.2 million barrels per day.

“Others argue that just by lifting a ban on drilling, it would influence the market to lower prices.  This is what seemingly happened between 2008 and 2010 with President Bush’s decision.  However, other economists argue that the oil industry is part of a global market and since the United States would only be contributing less than one million barrels per day, it wouldn’t do much for the prices.  How would one explain what happened after Bush’s decision?  The theory of supply and demand seems pretty fitting, which would directly benefit us in this situation.”
--From To Drill or Not to Drill? Offshore Oil Drilling and How it Can Affect You by Brittany Shann

“’Many residents have told me they don't trust DuPont or the NJ DEP. They think DuPont is covering up pollution and DEP is rubber stamping inadequate DuPont cleanup plans,’ says Bill Wolfe, former planner and policy analyst for the state Department of Environmental Protection and former policy director of Sierra Club's New Jersey Chapter.

“’They are frustrated by the slow pace of cleanup, angry for not being told about vapor intrusion, and disgusted by repeated failures by local and state officials to provide full information and allow them to have a meaningful role in cleanup decisions that affect their lives, their family’s health, and their property value,’ he says.”
--From DuPont: Pompton Lakes Site Still a Source of Conflict After 25-Year Clean Up by Deanna Dunsmuir

“Some fluctuations in the Earth's temperature are inevitable regardless of human activity, but centuries of rising temperatures and seas lie ahead if the release of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation continues unabated, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore for alerting the world to warming's risks.

“Over the next decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to regulate sources of greenhouse gases, imposing efficiency and emissions requirements. Until the UNFCCC starts taking action on a global scale, it seems that countering global warming and climate change is up to the people’s smaller actions and lifestyle changes. Maybe then those with the greater power will see that we are prepared for much bigger, even drastic changes.”
--From Global Warming: Small Steps Towards Conquering a Big Threat by Jessica Vasquez

“A tract of twenty-two acres of forest named after the former Governor of New Jersey, George Brinton McClellan, was purchased a few years ago by Seton Hall Prep School of West Orange, New Jersey. The school’s plan’s to clear the old growth forest rippled through the community and neighboring towns and has caused many concerns. For two years, town residents and students attended zoning board hearings to voice their opinion on the proposed clear cutting. …

“The Mallangas, both active members of the Sierra Club, also brought in Bruce Kershner. Kershner is a field ecologist who is also a national authority on old growth forests and took a survey of the 22 acres of trees. He identified the trees and expressed the historical and biological value of the forest. Board members attacked his testimony claiming that the use of the term ‘old growth forest’ can not be used if he cannot tell the exact age of the trees. They repeatedly interrupted him during his testimony to ask him for credentials and if he had a background in studying and observing old growth forests. Kershner has studied old growth forests for over 30 years all over the country, but that did not seem like a sufficient enough background for the zoning board members.”
--From Seton Hall Prep Clear Cuts Our Future by Amanda Nesheiwat