Author Mary Bruno recently spoke to Chatham High School physical geography students about her book “An American River: From Paradise to Superfund, Afloat on New Jersey’s Passaic River.” Bruno’s book details her experiences kayaking the river and provides readers an overview of the river’s rich and storied past, as well as insight into how and why the end of the river became the federal Superfund site that it is today.
Bruno has a master’s degree in aquatic ecology, and she has spent years studying the river’s history and its environmental problems. Bruno walked students through the river’s geographical and historical paths by narrating from her book and offering additional anecdotal and factual information. Students were surprised to learn about the stark difference between the upper/central valley of the Passaic and the lower Passaic, beyond the Pompton/Passaic confluence. They were shocked to learn that Newark was second in the world behind Vietnam with the amount of dioxin in the environment and that areas along the river are home to wildlife not found anywhere else in the state, like minks and bobcats. Bruno offered students insights into how best to help clean up the river and prevent more pollution from occurring: stop drinking bottled water and secure all garbage so that it doesn’t end up in storm drains.
Many CHS community members live on or near the Passaic, and they had an interest in learning about this natural beauty – and its tragedy – that exists in their backyards.
The Chatham Education Foundation (CEF) provided a grant to Missy Holzer, who teaches physical geography, so that she could purchase Bruno’s book for her students to read.
Holzer said, “Mary provided a personal connection to the Passaic River which gave the river meaning. It is no longer a river that overflows during heavy storms or that polluted place in Newark, but instead, it is a place with specially meaning to so many. In order for people to connect with their environment, they need a personal connection. Otherwise, the river is a river, trees are simply trees, etc. In these challenging times when it is important to protect our resources from human encroachment, that personal connection to the environment will propel us into being stewards of our natural environment.”