Monday, April 15, 2013

The attempted murder of the Passaic River
A half-century has passed since workers at Diamond Shamrock were ordered to dump dioxin into the Passaic River in Newark, and then to march out at low tide and knock down the toxic mud piles with rakes so that no one would know.
So began the long history of polluters evading responsibility for the murder of this river, an effort that continues to this day. Workers with rakes have been replaced by consultants and lawyers.
And as polluters clean up their messes in places like the Hudson River and the Great Lakes, the Passaic remains an industrial dead zone, where fishing and swimming are off limits, and even boats are a rarity.
With each tide, year after year, the dioxin sloshes up and down the river and into Newark Bay. It poisons the worms and crabs that crawl through the tainted muck, and then poisons the birds and fish that eat them.
“When I grew up here, we just never went near it, and I lived three blocks away,” says Ana Baptista of Newark’s Ironbound community. “It was far off limits, so dirty you wouldn’t even touch it. And there was no way to get down close to it. It was like the ugly stepsister of the Hudson.”
If that makes you furious, it should. Because this river is owned by the public, and it could be an ornament to this region of the state.
It could be lined with parks, with pleasure boats tied up at wooden docks. It could be a place where couples get dinner and go for a stroll, where kids fly kites and eat ice cream, where people would pay extra for the privilege of living in a small apartment nearby. That’s all happening in other cities.
“The people of New Jersey were deprived of a valuable resource,” says Alan Steinberg, the regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. “The damage has been terrible, and it has to be remedied. What I’d hope is that (the polluters) get a sense of reality and realize they can run but they can’t hide. Eventually they will be made to pay.”


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