New Jersey River = “vilest swillhole in Christendom”

14 October 2012

I think you will agree that this is not the description that you would want for a river that you live near or, if your heart is in the right place, for any river at all.  Yet, this is how the poet William C Williams described New Jersey’s Passaic River back in 1956.

Passaic River (Source: Wikipedia)

The Passaic River provided food to the Lenape [the Delaware Indians], sweet hay to Dutch settlers and drinking water to the region. Its Great Falls powered factories in Paterson, giving life to the Industrial Revolution. The river served as a playground for children in the summer and a wildlife haven for naturalists.

In fact, “passaic” is the Lenape Indian word for “peaceful valley river.”

In return, humans have used the Passaicas an open sewer, a dumping ground for factory waste, old tires, even corpses. Fertilizers have choked the water with algae, depleting oxygen levels and killing fish. The Passaic is so polluted it once caught fire. It has been a Superfund site for nearly 30 years.

Yet, despite lots of efforts and lots of money, little progress appears to be being made.  Cleanups started in the 1970s and prosecutions of companies responsible for the pollution led to massive job losses and a general degradation of the local economy.

Of course, as in all cases like this, the environment gets pounded, the companies that cause it make their money and disappear, and the legacy remains for a long, long time.  Yet again we witness the ravages of short-sighted industrial “progress”, focussed on maximum profits and little else.  Modern Man may be the most intelligent organism on the planet – although this is debatable, but is certainly the most stupid.  There is more truth to movies such as Idiocracy than we may like to think!

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