Thursday, September 25, 2008

Actions of those before us fall on the shoulders of the present, future

We came upon the following article by Rick Malwitz on the website and thought that it is well written and contains some interesting insights into the Agent Orange issues. As a result, we asked the author for permission to reproduce it here as a context for what we are going through. We are not alone. Thanks to Rick for the great article. The link to the actual article is included below.

Actions of those before us fall on the shoulders of the present, future

Summer jobs were hard to come by in the mid 1950's, so when Don Smerecki of the Fords section of Woodbridge learned about a job in Edison he took it, driving his Henry J to a job on Whitman Avenue in Edison.

A word about the Henry J, which cost him $175. It was the economy model in the Kaiser-Frazer fleet. One of the first cars I drove was my father's Kaiser Manhattan, and allow me to pause here to wipe the tear from my eye.

Anyway, the job was at the Chemical Insecticide Corporation where one of his tasks was to apply poison labels on steel containers of a soupy arsenic mix that would be sent to Maine potato farmers. The arsenic was one of many products brewed by CIC.

The arsenic would come to CIC from France in powder form. Barrels would be picked up by a fork lift, opened and dropped into vats where it would mix with water. Smerecki recalled how the chemical reaction would keep the containers warm for several days.

By the end of the summer, Smericki discarded two pair of shoes, and two changes of clothes. "They were eaten away,'' he said.

Employees did not wear special equipment apart from rubber gloves. "There was no union. There were no federal laws, no nothing at the time. All the time it was "Hurry up, and get it done.' As far as safety, it did not exist,'' said Smerecki.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration — the workplace watchdog — was not created until 1970.

This week, we learned the real cost of CIC, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave title of 5.7 acres on Whitman Avenue to Edison Township, following a $53 million cleanup. At more than $9 million an acre, it's quite pricey real estate.

The cleanup was a function of the so-called Superfund, federal legislation originally designed to make the polluter pay for environmental cleanups. But because CIC's owner filed for bankruptcy — and because the tax on the chemical and oil industries that funded the Superfund expired in 1995 — the $53 million tab was picked up by the taxpayer.

While it's easy to condemn the property's owner, the damage done by CIC was a function of the careless environmental attitude that existed in the 1950's. Laws? We didn't need no stinkin' laws.

Our gasoline — the gas selling for $3.29 that I used to fill the Kaiser Manhattan when my brother left it empty — included lead. Paint included lead. There was no need for landfills because we burned our garbage. This summer I was at a museum in Pittsburgh that had black-and-white pictures of downtown Pittsburgh in the 1950's when steel was king. The sky was black and cars drove with their lights on at high noon, so thick was the smoke.

Smerecki, born in 1938, recalled as a kid swimming at a swimming hole that formed in a clay pit near the current location of the Woodbridge Center Mall. "The water was this thick blue,'' said Smerecki. It was not clear blue, but a cloudy mixture.

He recalled how many roads in Woodbridge were gravel that would be sprayed with used oil to minimize the dust.

After college Smerecki was a transportation manager at Diamond Shamrock in Newark. Among its products were two we associate with the Vietnam War: Napalm, a flammable gel used as a weapon, and Agent Orange, a defoliant, used to make sections of Vietnam barren.

Agent Orange was also manufactured at CIC, and its effect on Vietnam War veterans remains a major concern among veterans and their families.

In June the EPA announced an $80 million plan to dredge sediment from the Passaic River in Newark, in the area where Diamond Shamrock dumped dioxin, a byproduct of Agent Orange. The cost will be borne by the chemical company that assumed Diamond Shamrock's liability.

The cost of cleaning up the mess of our sloppy forefathers is something Moses cautioned about in the book of Exodus, when he warned of punishment, ""on the children and their children for the sin of their fathers to the third and fourth generation.''

Our fathers' and grandfathers' concocted these brews at CIC and Diamond Shamrock. We're stuck with the cleaning bill.

Rick Malwitz's column appears Sundays and Thursdays. Contact him at 732-565-7291 or
Again, thanks to Rick Malwitz and for the great article.


”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Bush Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows than as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

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