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Long may the Passaic flow … er, glow

The headline in Friday’s Star-Ledger read: “EPA to check for chemicals leaking into Passaic River.”

So, you might think, what else is new? Read it again. Note the present tense of the verb.

In addition to all the poisonous gunk dumped into the Passaic in decades past, the feds suspect that pollutants from a Newark industrial park may have “leached into the waterway in recent years.”

Poor Passaic.

This is a river for which I have great affection, having grown up along its banks in Down Neck, Newark.

We didn’t think about pollution then. Oh, we knew the Passaic was polluted; you could tell from the stench when the tide went out. We just didn’t think about it.

In those days, kids played unsupervised, and we played along the Passaic shoreline. It was especially fun at low tide.

We’d pick our way along the wet rocks, looking for curiosities that may have washed up. These included the occasional dead dog. Once, we also found an exotic animal: a dead pig. From whence it came was a mystery. Perhaps from Secaucus, where the pig farms were.

Using a tiny net, I fished for killies in the Passaic. I’d put them in a big jar of river water and take them home as pets. But when I transferred them into a fishbowl of clean water, they always died. Apparently, they thrived on pollution.

Chemical plants abounded in the neighborhood, too, but it was only a few years ago that I learned that one of them had been producing Agent Orange. Just a few blocks away from my home.

Throw in the asbestos that covered the pipes in our apartment complex’s laundry room, and I am surprised I have made it this far.

I am convinced that I am today a walking toxic wasteland.

But I look on the bright side. I am probably immune to most pollutants. And I never worry about electrical blackouts.

Because I glow in the dark.

— Karen Zautyk

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