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What is “toilet generated waste”?

[Update 2 – 8/4/10 – here’s some of those “toilet generated wastes”:

Update 1 – Jim O’Neill of the Bergen Record does a good job expanding the focus and addressing priority issues: N.J. beach water quality ranked 14th“]

I expect corporations, politicians, and government to deploy all sorts of euphemisms and propaganda in their efforts to defend the indefensible.

The classic on this topic remains George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language“.

Here’s a taste – I urge you to read the whole thing:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers.People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. […]

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics”.

But I do not expect the same tactics to be used by what are supposed to be sincere environmental advocates.

Environmental groups should have no “gap between their real and declared aims”. There should be no reluctance to “keep out of politics”. Thus, there should be no need to deploy euphemism and defend the indefensible, right?


Today’s special is toilet generated wastes” (modified by “hygiene products“, no less!), a term – until today – I had never come across in my almost 40 years of study and work in the environmental field.

That term is used in a report that obfuscates the real problems and provides cover for those who are responsible for but badly failing to solve those problems.

And the culprits who use these euphemisms enjoy the highest credibility, public support, and media coverage.

Here’s what NRDC Report (dutifully covered by the Star Ledger in N.J. counties delaying warnings, closures for beaches tested for poor water quality“) said –

“Sewer systems in and around the New York/New Jersey Harbor¬†are designed so that during periods of wet weather, excess flows are discharged to the harbor waters. These excess flows contain floating debris comprised of litter and toilet generated waste such as hygiene products.”

First of all, NRDC left out qualifiers before the word “designed”, like “poorly” or “19th century” or “antiquated“. The unqualified use of “design” makes that failing and crumbling ¬†infrastructure seem OK.

Second, don’t miss the circle chart on page 2, where NRDC documents that NJ DEP does not know what 93% of the source of the pollution is, but somehow does know that only 3% of it is from sewage. This clearly is “designed”to let polluters off the hook.

Third, aside from failing to educate the public about a major pollution and infrastructure problem (known as CSO/SSO in the regulatory jargon) and to criticize DEP for poor performance, how is it possible mathematically to calculate 3% of a value that is not known?

And last, the Report fails to emphasize that ecological and public health impacts from raw sewage discharge of “toilet generated waste” are far more significant than the misplaced focus on “litter” and “floating debris”. But when all you’ve got is a hammer (e.g. COA beach litter cleanups, LNG, and cover for NJ Republican governors), everything looks like a nail.

I spent all of 3 minutes reviewing this report and found these major flaws – does anybody edit these things?

Our view is that environmental advocates have a moral duty to tell it like it is, and hold corporately polluters and government accountable. We believe that our efforts suffer when we sugarcoat the bad news and dodge calling out the poor performance of our so called allies leading the government agencies. Worse, obfuscation and pulling punches misleads the public, such that we never generate the kind of public concern and political support to get things done.

The press takes government statements at face value and prints them as fact without any evidence to support them. The overall public perception is that environmental problems are being solved and government agencies are protecting their interests. We all know that this is far from true.

But no wonder things are so wrong, when the advocates themselves lose the ability to speak truth to power, and thereby enable and contribute to this set of problems.

Here’s what NRDC should have said (oh, but that might generate some “political” concerns):

When it rains, antiquated 19th century pipes discharge millions of gallons of raw sewage you flush down your toilet and an unknown stew of toxic chemicals from raw sewage and storm water runoff  to NY Harbor and our ocean waters.

In NJ, 14 sewage plants discharge partially treated sewage to the ocean, hundreds of industries discharged partially treated toxic industrial effluents to rivers that flow to the ocean, and thousands of miles of old sewer lines and septic tanks throughout the coastal zone are leaking raw sewage to groundwater, soils, and local streams.

On top of all this crap that winds up in the ocean, are the toxic discharges to groundwater and surface runoff from thousands of leaky old toxic waste sites and landfills that have not been cleaned up.

River sediments, poisoned by more than 100 years of industrial waste discharges, with toxic chemicals like PCB’s from the Hudson River, and dioxin, chromium, heavy metals, and a stew of organic chemicals from the Passaic River, continue to impact coastal ecosystems and public health (as great or greater impacts than banned ocean dumping??).

When you go swimming in the ocean or eat fish and shellfish, you are exposed to all these chemicals, bacteria, and viruses.

Scientists have very little understanding of how these chemicals effect human health and ecosystems.

But available data suggest that all this pollution has a significant negative impact on the declining health of ocean ecosystems and fisheries.

The NJ DEP has a very poor handle on all of this – according to the State’s own reports, 93% of pollution sources are not identified by the DEP.

For years, DEP has failed across many fronts in regulating and enforcing pollution and land use controls.

Worse, the current Christie Administration is engaged in an across the board assault on regulations and DEP’s remaining resources supporting science, monitoring, permitting and enforcement capabilities.

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