Published in the Altamont Enterprise, 3/2/23
To the Editor:
I greatly appreciate your full-page commentary in the Feb. 16 issue about Ward Stone [“From the editor: A scientist who strove to make a healthier Earth”].
I knew Ward for 40 years. Ward was a rare public servant: competent, articulate, hardworking, fearless. He insisted he had a right and duty to inform and warn the public about environmental health threats.
He was employed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation but he worked for the people, animals, and environment of New York and the world. He had his faults, but who does not.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Ward made occasional presentations at Save the Pine Bush dinners and board meetings of the statewide Toxics in Your Community Coalition (later renamed Citizens’ Environmental Coalition).
Ward was a wildlife pathologist; he performed autopsies on animals to determine the cause of death. He helped New Yorkers understand how poisons impact wildlife and probably people. Ward was excellent at explaining science to people, including children.
Ward was a strong advocate of banning lead ammunition because animals often unknowingly ingested and were poisoned by it. About 15 years ago, Ward tested for lead downwind of the Lafarge cement factory in Ravena after DEC issued a negative declaration, which meant Lafarge would not be required to produce an environmental impact statement for its proposal to burn 4.8 million whole tires per year in a cement kiln on Route 9W directly across the road from the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk middle and high schools.
During the late 1980s, Governor Mario Cuomo tried to silence Ward. Cuomo’s intimidation drew statewide news coverage. Ward’s many supporters quickly organized a statewide rally in West Capitol Park attended by more than 100.
Many spoke including Jessica, about 10, who gave a beautiful speech. The rally drew lots of news coverage; Governor Cuomo had to back off and Ward was empowered to continue his work.
Ward had an excellent relationship with Mohawks, especially those who live at Akwesasne along a heavily polluted stretch of the St. Lawrence, one of the world’s most spectacular rivers. Ward was invited to speak at a Native rally held at the state capitol on Oct. 12, 1992, to mark the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Caribbean.
Ward helped close the ANSWERS [Albany NY Solid Waste Energy Recovery System] trash incinerator in downtown Albany that poisoned countless people with a wide range of poisons including lead. Details of the severity of the assault on public health remain mostly concealed but I learned that some children had blood lead levels many times higher than the far too high allowable exposure limit. Their lives and health are ruined and they will never achieve their potential.
For 12 years, the state government assaulted the children of Arbor Hill. The filthy incinerator was owned by the state and burned or attempted to burn paper, plastics, food, wood, textiles, toys, metals, cosmetics — essentially whatever was in the waste that arrived at the burner on Sheridan Avenue.
I recall brainstorming with people about how to persuade the state health and environmental conservation departments to investigate and acknowledge the severity of the incinerator threat. How do we get one or two state agencies to demand closure of a deadly machine operated by a third state agency?
When the incinerator malfunctioned early in 1994, coating newly fallen snow, including at the Governor’s Mansion, with black soot, Ward quickly took samples and the results were soon presented at a meeting of residents and state officials, who had been unaware of Ward’s actions.
Within a few weeks, the incinerator was permanently closed. For the first time in their lives, the young children of Arbor Hill were able to breathe much less polluted air.
Actions such as quietly taking, evaluating, and reporting on soot samples made Ward a hero to many and an enemy to governors and commissioners who normally do not tolerate such independent behavior. (The recent mistreatment of David Carpenter, M.D. by the state government for repeatedly telling the truth, as he understands it, about PCBs and other poisons, is similar to what Ward experienced.)
Governor Mario Cuomo’s administration insisted the state government must speak with one voice, a stance Ward and I strongly disagree with. What do we do if the state government is lying and suppressing the truth, as it often is, about environmental and health issues?
Surely when the environment, wildlife, or people’s health are at stake, professionals, or anyone working in government, has a duty to speak out or secretly expose official lies.
Many environmental and health abuses occur because the state government speaks with one voice. Recall the harm done three years ago when the state government returned people to nursing homes who were COVID positive, where they and many others died.
We need a real system of checks and balances in state government and Ward Stone provided it for decades.
Tom Ellis, Albany