Protecting New Jersey's Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State

Protecting New Jersey's Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State

Protecting New Jersey's Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State

Protecting New Jersey's Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State


Contaminants in fish. Ocean dumping. Biological diversity/integrity and endangered species. Pinelands and forest preservation. Wetlands protection. Watersheds and headwaters. In Protecting New Jersey's Environment these concerns translate into real human interest stories about people and their surroundings not only in the state-a critical site for the growth of environmentalism-but all around the country as well.

And you can add even more to the list- ozone depletion, nuclear power, toxic waste, sprawl, racial inequity, brownfields remediation versus environmental justice concerns. Through a series of gripping accounts organized by geographic area, Thomas Belton considers key environmental issues in New Jersey and champions the ways common citizens have sought justice when faced with unseen health threats. Often, as people search for remedies in their neighborhoods, the challenges they face result in what Belton calls bare-knuckles environmental protection, replete with back-room political deals, infighting, criminals, and hapless victims.

With people as its focus, Protecting New Jersey's Environment explores the science underpinning environmental issues and the public policy infighting that goes undocumented behind the scenes and beneath the controversies. Belton demonstrates the ways that scientists, regulators, lobbyists, and politicians interact and offers the public a go-to guide on how to seek environmental protection in practical ways.


It was 1971. The United States had just invaded Laos to shut down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, George Harrison had organized a benefit concert for starving Bangladesh—and I had just graduated from St. Peter’s College in Jersey City with a degree in classical languages. “Wonderful training for an archbishop or a college don,” my dad said sarcastically. But I was destined to be neither. Instead, I took what came my way: work as a telephone lineman for Bell Telephone.

It was my first day on the job, and I walked quickly through the Ironbound section of Newark, cruising over rusted railroad sidings and along the Passaic River, past abandoned factories with busted windows that welcomed pigeons whirligigging in the early morning sunshine. Brown-bag lunch in hand, I was off to pole school, where I would learn to strap gafters on my legs and shimmy up a telephone pole like a demented monkey. From atop my perch, I worked heavy tools for ratcheting cables across backyards, ate my lunch on the fly while dangling like a macaque, and scanned the soiled landscapes of Newark like a hawk.

Years later, when I returned to Newark as an environmentalist, visions from my days as a telephone lineman would come back like a distorted dream, helping me locate abandoned oil tanks and toxic waste piles behind seemingly innocuous buildings. But on that first day on my telephone pole in the Ironbound, I had no clue as to my impending transition from classicist into environmental scientist. That metamorphosis was a long way off, although the seeds for transformation were already germinating.

I first thought about the link between environment and disease when my brother Joe learned that he had leukemia. Joe wondered if he had gotten it from an extreme case of sun poisoning at the Jersey shore. It was not until years later—after Joe’s death and my return to college for a second degree in marine . . .

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