Sometimes an authentic local news story can give us deeper insight into something more universal and truly consequential like the power of collective action to limit the damage done by predatory profit takers to a community and the environment.
All too often, from the Amazon to the Ironbound in Newark, big money can corrupt the political officials that are charged with protecting a place, so it is left to the unelected public, just regular people, armed only with common sense to counter this nexus that invariably puts profit over people.
Such is the case with the ad hoc group of local residents from Glen Rock and Fair Lawn who raised enough of a ruckus that the redeveloper of the Nabisco Bakery Plant site opted to use “an alternative method” other than explosive detonation to clear the site for a proposed warehouse.
Thanks to the eagle eye reporting of NorthJersey.com’s Stephanie Noda we know that last week “about 25 residents from Fair Lawn and Glen Rock organized a town hall meeting at the Glen Rock Inn to discuss their worries about the implosion” and “heard via Zoom from a community activist in Chicago who discussed the ‘botched implosion’ of a power plant that contaminated a neighborhood in that city.”
As it turns out “one of the contractors for the Chicago project, Controlled Demolition Inc., was also one of two companies hired by Greek Development LLC,” the East Brunswick developer linked to the limited liability company that bought the former Nabisco cookie factory 40-acre site off of Mondelez International for $146.5 million two years ago.
Instead, the tower along Route 208 will be dismantled using “an alternative method” that does not involve explosives, Greek Development LLC said in a statement emailed to reporters.
“After extensive dialogue with local communities and businesses, Greek Development has made the decision not to implode the remaining portion of the Nabisco Tower,” the developer said in a statement. “We will utilize an alternative method of demolition that does not include the use of any explosives.”
What a world we live in.
More than a half a century ago, as I sat in my second-grade classroom in St. Catherine’s Elementary School on Harristown Road in Glen Rock, the smell of Nabisco cookies was a real distraction before the lunch bell rang.
Scroll forward to 2023, and children living in and around the Nabisco plant, might have to worry about breathing in whatever residual asbestos or other hazardous material remained in the industrial structure that might become airborne upon detonation.
They would be very much like the 19,000 New York City school kids ordered back into schools in lower Manhattan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and for the months of the clean-up during which time the Ground Zero fires continued to burn and smolder. At the time, former Governor Christie Todd Whitman, then leading the U.S. EPA said the air was “safe to breathe.”
Of course, we know we have lost more people since 9/11 due to their exposure to the unique blend of toxics than we lost on the day of the attack.
On April 19, CBS-TV’s Christine Sloan reported that the Nabisco implosion had been postponed because of “asbestos found in the building.”
Back in 2003, researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins Hospital warned that building implosions “can have a severe, but short-lived impact on air quality.”
“A study of a Baltimore building demolition found that airborne dust concentrations were especially high in the immediate vicinity and downwind of the demolition,” according to a press release announcing the findings. “Spectators should be discouraged from attending such events, or if they must attend, they should position themselves at an upwind, distant location. In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers have filled a research gap and responded to community concerns about the impact of such events on community air quality.”
NorthJersey.com reported that the developer didn’t say what specifically prompted them to scotch the long-planned demolition but assured the public the company would take “the additional time and expense to ensure the well-being and peace of mind of the surrounding residents.”
Local officials in both Fair Lawn and neighboring Glen Rock welcomed the news. Initially, municipal officials in Fair Lawn had pledged that the demolition of the massive tower could be done safely. Certainly, keepers of the municipal purse, so reliant on property tax revenues and ratables, wouldn’t want to be faulted for impeding the redevelopment of the site by a going commercial concern.
Corporations can really ride roughshod over communities and their workforces. Consider how Nabisco’s parent Mondelēz treated its loyal workforce before the global snack giant shut down the Fair Lawn plant by illegally terminating veteran leaders of Local 719 of the Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Union by falsely accusing them of stealing time from the company.
Ultimately, the company had to pay $2.3 million to three of the former Nabisco employees who “were unlawfully suspended and terminated in retaliation for their Union support or otherwise engaging in protected concerted activities,” according to the NRLB 2020 decision. “The three employees in this case were icing mixers and floor helpers at the plant and were active in the Union for many years prior to their unlawful discharges.”
The multi-billion-dollar company only relented after a unanimous three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mondelēz actions “was sufficient evidence of anti-union animus that violated the National Labor Relations Act,” Reuters reported. The court also upheld the NRLB’s finding that the company made “unlawful unilateral changes to working conditions after a collective bargaining agreement expired.”
America is pockmarked by vast industrial tracts of vacant poisoned land because governments failed to regulate what went on at these properties because the sites generated gainful employment, tax revenues and dividends. The big money invariably rolls on to the next ‘host’ community, either in another part of America or the developing world where cash money has the leverage to secure a site as well as cheaper labor.
While we are told the nation is frightfully fractured along partisan party lines, all of our corridor communities, whether they are red, blue, or purple, share the vulnerability that they can be turned into a toxic waste site with just one derailment or tanker truck collision.
Consider the fate of East Palestine, Ohio who back in February were victimized when a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed, and the railroad opted to release more than a million pounds of highly toxic vinyl chloride, more than was emitted by all of the nation’s industry in 2021, according to a lawsuit filed against the rail carrier.
In the weeks after the derailment, Ohio officials have documented that over 43,000 fish and amphibians died within a five-mile radius of the derailment. State and federal officials insisted that it was safe for residents to return to their homes from which they were initially ordered to evacuate. But officials also set up public health clinics to address persistent complaints from residents about rashes and respiratory issues since their exposure.
Prior to the order to evacuate, officials had warned the residents that the required controlled burning of the contents of the chemical tank cars were likely to fill the air with phosgene and hydrogen chloride. Of course, into this hazardous breach went the volunteer first responders that were the first and last line of defense as they always are often without the training and personal protective gear required.
It was widely reported that residents and workers near the derailment site had “been diagnosed with bronchitis and other conditions that doctors and nurses suspect are linked to chemical exposure.”
In a nation where corporations have such massive leverage over our local, county, state, and federal politics, every community runs the risk of becoming just another disposable corridor community.
Ultimately, it’s the general population, that’s you and I, that remain the last line of defense.