Ward Stone — NYS Wildlife Pathologist Worked for the People

Ward Stone — NYS Wildlife Pathologist Worked for the People

Editor’s Note: Ward Stone died on February 8, 2023 at the age of 84. Ward Stone was a friend of Save the Pine Bush and often spoke at SPB vegetarian lasagna dinners. Here are two letters which describe Ward. The first letter was written by long-time friend, Lewis Oliver and sent to many media outlets, but, never published. The second letter from Tom Ellis was published in the Altamont Enterprise.

Dear Mr. Seiler:

The front-page article about the death of my friend Dr. ward Stone, ScD. in the Times Union on February 10 was slanted and disappointing in its negative tone. The article seems to be carrying on the newspaper’s campaign against Dr. Stone’s reputation even in his death, damning his national and statewide leadership in protecting the environment with faint praise and unfairly besmirching his personal life.

Ward Stone was constantly at odds with the state governors, including Mario Cuomo, George Pataki, and Andrew Cuomo, and the leadership at the Department of Environmental Conservation during his 41 years as state wildlife pathologist because he had the courage to fight for the environment, no matter at what personal cost. The fact is that Ward Stone almost single-handedly drove DEC to deal with toxic pollution issues that the state wanted to sweep under the rug.

Dr. Stone identified the location of the Caputo dumpsite in the town of Moreau, where General Electric was dumping PCBs from the Fort Edward and Hudson Falls capacitor plants into the ground water aquifer. National television and other media showed Stone and Gardner Congdon, the supervisor of the town of Moreau, who was riding his bulldozer covering up the dumpsite with a clay cap. General Electric exerted its substantial political and economic pressure to shut him up. The national media coverage Stone and Gardner Congdon generated, along with the publicity about Love Canal , resulted in passage of the federal and state Superfund laws. The recent multibillion dol1ar partial cleanup of the upper Hudson River by General Electric is a direct fruit of Stone’s work.

Ward Stone persistently warned that viruses and bacteria that affected animals would crossover into humans and infect people. He did not believe animals were so-called “canarys in a cage” for human illnesses, he knew that animals infected humans because we too are animals. He researched chronic wasting disease in deer, white nose disease in bats, and bird f1u in avians. As a result of his work as a wildlife pathologist, Stone was the first to identify the presence of West Nile virus in crows and other birds in the United States, which was carried by mosquitos and killed hundreds of people. The Covid 19 pandemic, apparently generated from bats in a cave in China, is an example of this transmissibility from animals to people.

Ward Stone was relentless in fighting contamination and pollution everywhere in the environment. against the agenda of the state and DEC commissioners. Stone identified and fought against dozens of municipal and private landfi11s across the state that were leaking toxics into the environment, including, most recently, the Dunn construction debris landfill located across the street from the Rensselaer school . As a result of Stone’s work, DEC had to update and revise its Part 360 landfill construction regulations and began to promote recycling.

Stone fought and won many other environmental battles too numerous to mention: he identified PCB contamination in the St. Lawrence River at the site of the Akwesasne nation; he did research that resulted in a national ban on using the herbicide Myrex in lakes and rivers; he conducted experiments that closed down the Answers burn plant in Sheridan Hollow which was spewing toxics into the African-American community in Arbor Hill; he led the campaign to outlaw lead in children’s toys, paint, and drinking water; he focused public attention on the dwindling population of the American Bald Eagle on account of lead poisoning in their prey, and, along with Peter Nye at DEC, he forced the agency into a program to save eagles which has proven successful; he persistently warned about the dangers from contamination by mercury and dioxins; he fought against renewal of the air emission permits for the Lafarge cement plant in Coeymans, which spews toxics out of its stack adjacent to the local school; and he was among the early leaders against hydrofracking, and warned about the effects of global warming. Every one of these efforts earned him more enemies in the corporate world and state government, but he carried on.

Stone was a critic of DEC’s structure and operations. During the Pataki and early Andrew Cuomo administrations, DEC’s scientific staff was decimated by personnel reductions and budget cutbacks. The scientists in key areas regarding air, water, and soil purity were the main victims, and they were replaced by bean counters and political bureaucrats. DEC relied more and more on industry self monitoring and self-regulation . Industries that manufacture or process hazardous wastes were allowed to monitor their own compliance with permit conditions and regulations, either by hiring their own engineers or by entering into contracts with engineering consultants, who in either case are beholden to their corporate employers. This is the old story about the fox protecting the chickens. Self-monitoring and self-regulation became the norm at DEC, rather than more aggressive enforcement by trained DEC staff.

Having cut its scientific staff by hundreds, DEC became dependent on independent contractors like big engineering firms with cost-plus contracts to do its real scientific work, costing the public more taxpayer dollars. Politically connected sycophants and internal favorites were promoted, and scientists and independent thinkers were stifled. DEC became a top-heavy bureaucracy full of administrators and public relations managers with big sounding titles and big salaries, but lacking scientific knowledge or experience. one glaring exarple of this expensive outsourcing is that after Dr. Stone retired as the state wildlife pathologist, DEC contracted with a unit at the veterinary school at Cornell- University to do all of the animal pathology work Stone had performed for four decades in the lab at Five Rivers. DEC no longer has a state wildlife pathologist, the item was eliminated.

Ward Stone loved people and was committed to education about the environment. He lectured and spoke at hundreds of grassroots community groups, colleges, high schools, grade schools, and public hearings across the state. If there was a bear up a tree in an urban area. or someone was bitten by a rabid animal , Stone would immediately drive there even if it was late at night or hours away. He participated in and assisted with the wildlife rehabilitator program at DEC. He wrote numerous scientific articles which were published in scholarly journals. On top of all of this, he conducted thousands of necropsies on dead birds, bears, deer, raccoons, turtles, and all manner of wildlife at the wildlife pathology laboratory at the Five Rivers Preserve. If a family with children came to Five Rivers, he would drop everything and take off his gown and give the children a tour of the pathology lab or show them the birds and amphibians in the wetlands at the Preserve.

While mentioning a couple of his most sensational scientific accomplishments, the Times Union article was skimpy, especially for a front page story, about the leading role Stone played in setting the direction for DEC’s programs and policies. Like all state agencies, the bureaucracy at DEC wanted to keep problems quiet and in-house. Dr. Stone’s environmental battles set the agenda at DEC for decades. The Department’s most important program areas were developed in response to public pressure on the agency about environmental issues that Stone publicized and put at the forefront in the public mind. Ward was the archetypal anti-organization man, always dragging the reluctant bureaucracy at DEC to deal with new environmental threats .

The commissioners and managers at DEC regularly harassed and threatened Dr. Stone. In 41 years as state wildlife pathologist Stone never got a promotion or upgrade of his civil service item. People who had nowhere near his credentials or experience were promoted above him to be his bosses. The bureaucrats were jealous of his power to affect public opinion. When he used his wildlife pathology unit chemistry money to test for toxics leaking from landfills or spewing from smokestacks, they cut his budget for chemistries. When he used his secretarial staff to type scientific research papers about toxics in the environment, they eliminated the secretary item from the wildlife pathology unit and cut it from his budget. When he was subpoenaed to testify as a witness in litigation, they threatened to terminate or discipline him for giving expert witness testimony.

Unfortunately, the Times Union article propagates the same bias against Dr. Stone felt by greedy corporations, state politicians, and DEC management. The article cites a Times Union investigation which resulted in a “scathing” report. by Andrew Cuomo’s Inspector General’s office, accusing Stone of abusive treatment of his underlings at the pathology lab, living at the pathology lab, and improperly using a state car to chauffeur him to his WAMC radio show and to teach at the College of St. Rose and SUNY Cob1eski1l.

Yes, Ward Stone did have a cot at the wildlife pathology lab building, and he did eat and sleep and take showers there for periods of time. It is because he was always on the job, he did all of the wildlife necropsies and other standard work of the unit, and he was always available to respond to any emergency. He dedicated his entire life to protecting the environment for the public, and he worked practically 24/7/52 without taking a vacation for decades. For this DEC rewarded him by accusing Stone of theft of public property, and attemPted to eharge him $43,000 for rent, when the agency should have been paying him overtime. If contrast, presently the state parking lots in Albany are empty and state employees are allegedly working at home, but you can’t contact them and if you try to call them you get disconnected after being put on hold for a long time.

Stone did lecture and speak at colleges, schools, and community groups, and he did participate in a weekly talk show called “ In Our Backyard” on WAMC radio as part of the educational mission of the wildlife pathology unit. Instead of appreciating the good face Stone gave the agency with this popular long-running program, DEC accused him of theft of public services by having his staff drive him back and forth from Five Rivers to the radio studio in downtown Albany. When DEC made this charge, Alan Chartock, the WAMC guru who was a close friend of Mario Cuomo as well as Andrew, dropped Stone from the station like a hot potato. Stone was never heard from again. So much for the presumption of innocence and so-caIled “progressive radio” .

DEC’s claim that Ward Stone was abusive to his staff was a lie. which was propagated by the investigation by the Times Union which prompted the IG report. Stone was not abusive, but he was frank and direct when staff at the wildlife pathology unit did not do their job or did not do their job adequately. He was a perfectionist in his own work at the wildlife pathology lab, and he demanded that his staff perform at a high 1eve1. He was not apologetic when giving constructive criticism, and some of his staff resented his manner. After these dissatisfied staff cooperated and gave interviews to the Times Union in an attempt to get Stone fired, they were promoted to higher paying jobs in the agency.

It. is true that during the last approximately five years before he retired, Stone did not keep daily timesheets recording his hours of work. Lower level civil servants are required to keep timesheets, but managers and most higher grade 1eve1 civil servants are not required to keep timesheets. What had happened was that because he was not particularly computer literate, Stone had his secretary keep and report his timesheets.

About five years before he retired DEC cut the secretarial position from the wildlife pathology unit’s budget. so Stone simply did not turn in timesheets for five years. The bureaucracy at DEC knew Stone was not keeping any timesheets because for years he did not turn in any timesheets to his supervisors. This was not a problem because everybody at DEC knew that Wald Stone worked at his job day and night and worked longer hours than anyone else in the agency. However, in order to get a New York State pension upon retirement the agency must certify that the employee has worked a certain number of hours. After the IG report came out, DEC took the position they could not certify that Stone was eligible to receive his pension because of the absence of timesheets. Only the threat of litigation resulted in a settlement in which Stone retired with his pension.

All state employees know what stressful pressures can be brought to bear on an employee who is out of favor with the agency management, and Ward Stone fought for the public and for the environment under those pressures for four decades. We are now seeing this same type of pressure being brought against Dr. David G. Carpenter, the former Director of the New York State Health Department’s Wadsworth Laboratory, the former Director of UAlbany’s Institute for Health and the Environment, and currently a professor at UAlbany. Dr. Carpenter has been retained as an expert witness in litigation against the Monsanto company whieh manufactured PCBs and sold the cancer-causing substance to General Electric and other industries prior to its being banned in 1977. There are now PCB molecules in every piece of vegetation, in every animal , and in every human being in the world.

Dr. Carpenter has been retaliated against and suspended from teaching his graduate students on account of his expert testimony against Monsanto for PCB contamination of the St. Lawrence River near the Akwesasne Mohawk tribal lands. The President of UAlbany made a typical bureaucratic statement about commitment to academic freedom which attempted to gloss over the injustice in persecuting Dr. Carpenter. Dr. Carpenter is one of the world’s foremost’s experts on the effects of PCBs on human health. Dr. Carpenter was a valued colleague and a long time friend of Ward Stone, and a scientist with the highest degree of ethics and integrity. The public should be outraged by this retaliatory action, and UAlbany should be ashamed. Based on recent published articles, at least the Times Union was on the right side of this effort and was against shutting up someone speaking truth. Public pressure resulted in UAlbany revising its position, and Dr. Carpenter is free to speak and testify again.

Ward Stone died of prostate cancer at Columbia Memorial Hospital on February 8. 2023. Tom Porter the spiritual chief of the Mohawk nation, spoke loving words of wisdom to the spirit of Ward and to his family at the funeral home. He was buried in the Red Rock Community Cemetery, a rural area near Chatham where he grew up fishing and hunting and roaming the woods. He received full military honors as befitting a Navy corpsman on a hospital ship stationed off the coast of Vietnam treating American servicemen wounded in battle and exposed to agent orange. Remember him and honor him because he was a dedicated soldier for the planet earth and for your children and grandchildren and the generations to come.

Very truly yours

Lewis B. Oliver, Jr., Esq.

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