Sunday, June 8, 2014

Don’t drink the water

June 11, 1980

The sign said, “Polluted water: no fishing, swimming or drinking.”
This surprised me as to why they bothered.
This steam has been polluted for so long even the sea gulls don’t eat out of this part of the canal.
Brown crud taints the concrete walls marking the high tide line.
The stream itself trickles down the middle at low tide, struggling even to reach the river.
The stench reminds me of a medicine cabinet, especially on warm days like these. Still, I insist on sitting here.
Who would be crazy enough to swim in this open sewer?
Still this is New Jersey, and there are more than a few crazies from the Passaic side I have seen stumbling over the stony sides to dip their toes.
The newspapers claim the factories dump raw sewerage upstream. Even the city does it when it rains too hard and the sewerage plant can’t handle the volume. Downstream, the chemical companies even dump Agent Orange into the river – yes, the same Agent Orange the vets say made them ill ten thousand miles away on the other side of the world. Leave it to New Jersey to make the stuff here, and to poison its civilian population along with those we drafted to fight in our wars.
And the report says the government decided raw sewerage in the river didn’t really matter and so let them continue to do it.
It makes no sense.
We value profits more than people. What’s the death of a few people as long as the corporations don’t lose money?
They might not say it so directly as that, but it is what they mean.
Every time they let loose something out of their pipes, someone along this river heads to an early grave.
Fear not, friend, we all gotta go sometime.
Make my going later, thank you just the same. I do believe I still have a few years left in these bones without adding radium or Agent Orange to them.
Still I stare at this steam, fascinated by the dark water that moves as slushy as an over filled toilet struggling to flush. It almost looks like batter for pancakes or bread, but the only souls who would chance to eat from it are the people without options, the homeless that live in the park upstream, or the poor who fish off the bridge because food stamps won’t last their families for the whole month.
And in Passaic, we all actually drink it, refined somewhere into acceptable levels, and yet suspicious when it sputtered out of the pipes, a brown tinge the city tells us comes from rusted pipes, but we – in our hearts know better. It’s what I think about when I stop for coffee during my jog up along the river. Where do they get their water from? And how exactly do they manage to extract the Agent Orange?

And what’s the point of putting up the sign saying not to drink it, if in the end we end up drinking it anyway?

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