'Stop Ignoring Roxbury': Councilman Joins Fenimore Activist in Fiery Letters to State

Roxbury Councilman Richard Zoschak

ROXBURY, NJ – Township councilman Richard Zoschak today joined with one of Roxbury’s more vocal activists in criticizing the state Department of Health, asserting the agency is shirking its responsibilities when it comes to safeguarding the health of Roxbury residents.

“I must side with our residents on this matter,” wrote Zoschak to Joseph Eldridge, the assistant commissioner of the department’s division of epidemiology, environmental and occupational health. “Their health and safety is Roxbury Council’s number one concern here. You, as the state of New Jersey’s health department, have a fiduciary responsibility for the health and welfare of the state’s citizens.”

Zoschak’s email to Eldridge came several hours after one sent by Roxbury resident Bill Morrocco, a chemical engineer and member of the Roxbury Environmental Action Coalition (REACT). In his email, Morrocco lambasted Eldridge over the official’s refusal to address Roxbury resident Bob Mederos’ questions about the possibility of chemicals from the defunct Fenimore Landfill entering his drinking water well.

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Recent reports indicate that chemicals dumped at Fenimore decades ago, including benzene and arsenic, are working their way into groundwater beneath the Mooney Mountain site.

Mederos asked his questions both at a recent meeting of the Roxbury Mayor and Council and in an email to Roxbury Manager Christopher Raths. The manager subsequently wrote to Eldridge and state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official Ed Putnam, asking them to review Mederos’ points and “respond directly” to Mederos by May 28.

Eldridge chose to not respond to Mederos. Instead he wrote to Raths on June 12 and said Mederos’ concerns were not something the state Department of Health (DOH) was going to consider. Eldridge pointed to an ongoing review of the Fenimore air quality issues being conducted by the federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

“As you are aware,  ATSDR is the agency addressing the various health concerns,” said Eldridge in his email to Raths. “As such, they would be the appropriate agency to review the information.”

The response provoked Morrocco – and, later, Zoschak – to stridently call Eldridge to task.

“I am appalled by your response … to resident Bob Mederos, essentially yet again passing responsibility of Fenimore Landfill health concerns off to others, this time the ATSDR,” wrote Morrocco. “Your department has ignored the residents and Township of Roxbury since the start of the problems with the Fenimore Landfill back in November 2012.”

Morrocco then listed a number of examples that, he suggested, proved the DOH was not doing its job:

  • Although the township, in September, 2013 requested the DOH to hold a public meeting about health concerns from the landfill, the DOH never conducted a meeting.
  • “Hundreds, if not thousands of documented emails and phone calls from Roxbury residents to your office that you never responded to, on the matter of health concerns from the Fenimore Landfill.”
  • An unanswered letter from Morrocco from September 2013, that pointed to the “insufficient data and analyses” used by the DOH in the “fact sheets” it published about Fenimore.
  • An unanswered September 2013 letter from Dan Masi, another Roxbury scientist, that also “expresses valid concerns on the content” of the DOH fact sheets relating to the noxious hydrogen sulfide gas that was coming from the dump.
  • The DOH’s “lack of willingness to perform a health survey, something that is frequently performed immediately by health departments in other states” that have experienced similar cases of hydrogen sulfide emissions.

“Despite recurring requests from the township and the residents of Roxbury, your department continues to lack involvement and has failed to address current and potential health impacts and concerns regarding water and air quality,” wrote Morrocco. “Your unwillingness to communicate with the township and residents regarding this matter forced me to personally petition the ATSDR for help.  The ATSDR accepted my petition for a health consultation in April 2014.  The ATSDR involvement is limited and does not excuse you from your duties of acting director of Consumer, Environmental, and Occupational Health Service.”

Eldridge did not respond to an emailed request for comment sent today by TAP into Roxbury.

In his email to Eldridge, Zoschak took issue with Eldridge’s pointing to the ATSDR. “It is you and your department who should be here in Roxbury Township providing our residents with an answer to their questions about their health and welfare, not Roxbury's Council or management,” wrote the councilman.

He said he was “tired of the state agencies … hiding their heads in the sand,” and said Roxbury residents “deserve more from you ...  honest answers to all of their concerns.”

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