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Perfect Illustration of What Is Going On

Sometimes the Molehill Is the Mountain

[Update: 7/29/10Hunterdon County Democrat weighs in – how hard is it to interview a resident or source this blog for breaking the story? Awful smell in Raritan is due to sewer problem at Johann food plant]

Monday morning, I went out for a bagel, but was sickened before I got there by an unbearable stench.

So I did some investigation, blogged about it, got lots of impacted neighbors riled up and focused, and effectively put some accountability heat on the DEP and the polluter.

But this is the lazy local news coverage that resulted. Read it and note how it parrots the corporate polluter’s PR spin, while totally ignoring the legitimate concerns of many angry local residents and granting government an accountability free zone pass:

Johanna foods admits being the source of foul air in Flemington

(at least the headline writer got it – the term “admits” connotes that Johanna did something wrong, got caught, and was forced to tell the truth: “You did it, admit it”. This is something the reporter compeletly missed in his lazy cover story. It is really pathetic when the headline writer writes the whole story. And I’d bet the reporter would write a completely different story if he lived there or went to the facility to get a first hand smell of that stench.)

Now compare that weak PR to my blog, where I specifically rebut the same corporate spin the reporter swallowed wholesale (and ask the Johanna people some tough questions):

Initially, Joe tried to give me a BS story to downplay the problem.

Joe  claimed that 1) the problem was natural and caused by the heat wave; 2) that they were simply treating yogurt and juice byproduct in lagoons with swimming pool chemicals; and 3) that they were in compliance with all permits and laws.

[Update: to clarify, Johanna’s claims are flat out false: 1) the problem is not natural, but is caused by a waste treatment process at an industrial plant; 2) the lagoon contents are not “byproducts” they are regulated wastes. The “pool chemicals” used to treat these wastes are hazardous (NaOH); and 3) the facility is in violation of state law, DEP regulations, DEP permits, and perhaps local health ordinances.]

I called them on that and in so doing I learned that they were experiencing an upset in the pre-treatment process and waste lagoons. The lagoons had gone or were going anaerobic and were not responding to aeration and chemical treatments to stabilize the pH.

After persistent questioning, they conceded that they made a $5 million investment in a new pre-treatment, aeration, and lagoon processing system 10 years ago in response to DEP requirements after a catastrophic tank collapse, followed by a power outage. That event created anearobic conditions and severe odor problems.

They also admittted that they had odor problems last year and that the most recent problem was ongoing and had begun last week.

The odors caused numerous complaints from nearby residents that led to plant inspections but no enforcement actions by the Hunterdon County and Flemington Health Departments. They said that DEP has not been to the facility to inspect or enforce.

This small example illustrates why people don’t read the papers, have become cynical and apathetic, and our democracy is in danger of collapse.

It also explains some of the reasons why so many people are ripe and willing dupes for right wing crazies, TeaParty, and FAUX News

They know they’re getting BS across the board: from press, from corporations, from government.

And this happens constantly, and not just on so called minor local issues.

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  1. July 28th, 2010 at 11:27 | #1

    “This small example illustrates why people don’t read the papers, have become cynical and apathetic, and our democracy is in danger of collapse.”

    Surprise! Today, The Press of Atlantic City wrote a hilariously middle-of-the-road editorial (http://pressofatlanticcity.com/opinion/editorials/article_2e82ae41-fc6d-537d-907f-526ca7d489c1.html) about how the DEP’s business-friendly approach might not be such a bad thing. The Press of A.C. rarely takes a hard line on any issue, and it seems like they were really channeling their inner Obama on this one (“on the one hand…but on the other hand…both sides…etc.”).

  2. July 28th, 2010 at 11:40 | #2

    Thanks Dennis – The AC Press needs to stop relying on the shallow soundbites of Tittel, the disaster anecdotes by the business communty that stoke the DEP perception, and the self serving spin of Commissioner Martin.

    They need to engage the substance behind the PR – which is something I try to do here.

    AS long as anecdote and spin control the debate, we are doomed.

  1. June 12th, 2015 at 17:18 | #1
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