Science and Journalism in Society

Brandeis University JOUR 130B

Companies responsible for contaminating US decades ago now in need to reduce risk of carcinogens reaching the dinner table

My brother, an environmental engineer, goes into work every day at a small environmental consulting office in downtown Boston. When you think environmental, you might think “out in the field” or hands-on-work, but instead he works behind the scenes, programming and inputing data into computer models of rivers  significant for high toxic concentrations. His firm serves as the mediator between the EPA and large industrial corporations, responsible for river pollution that happened decades ago, such as PCBs in the Hudson river. The bulk of the work they do is to identify the concentrations of toxins at specific location points and try to decipher where they originated from – not an easy task when the actual pollution occurred forty to seventy years ago, and in consulting, these companies will put up all defenses to reparations of their mistake until absolutely proven that they are at fault.

It’s interesting to think that it took until the 1970s for the US to ban pouring toxic waste into rivers. Who ever thought that was a good idea? Why were hundreds of companies following suit and doing the same thing? It might’ve been the cheapest disposal method then, but now, forty years after legislation banned river waste practices, these same companies are responsible to contribute millions of dollars for clean up and preventative risk. It has taken decades to drill into our heads that whatever you put into the environment has to end up somewhere, and often it stays close to home.

An article published by WNYC this month talks about the pollution of the Passaic River in New Jersey. The EPA has found approximately 100 companies responsible for the contamination of the River from byproducts of manufacturing products such as Agent Orange and hydraulic fluids. These toxic wastes have been strongly correlated as carcinogenic risks and cause of liver and birth defects. However, their current concern is that the fish from these rivers are being caught and eaten by people of the community. While it is strongly advised against consuming the fish and shellfish of the river, it is hard to reach that message out to community member  unwilling to accept or comprehend the associated high health risks. An emergency “fish exchange” program was recently instated last year, in which the EPA in partnership with the polluting companies encouraged people to exchange fish caught from the river for frozen tilapia bought from Costco. However, only 170 fish had been exchanged during the season the program ran, from June to October 2015.

Last minute executions like these are no long term solution to purifying these rivers and preserving the health of the community. To clean up the Passiac River estimates to be around 1.7 billion to remove and replace two feet of the sediment bed. Even then, it would take many years to deem the fish safe to eat. It’s a large project that needs more attention and pressure on polluters to make up for their mistakes.

1 Comment

  1. This is very well written. Nice opening with a personal anecdote. Good questions raised throughout. Tighten up your grammar a bit and point to some studies and articles that try to answer your questions, and this is a strong blogpost. Nice.

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