Rescuing the River: The Raritan

April 16th at 10pm on NJTV

Narrated by actor Avery Brooks, this hour-long documentary tells the story of New Jersey’s Raritan River, a water source profoundly contaminated for over 200 years, and the extraordinary efforts to clean it up. The film reveals how government agencies, corporations, environmentalists, developers, scientists, and lawyers have clashed for years in their attempts to deal with the aftermath of extensive pollution and environmental neglect.

Rescuing the River takes viewers down the lower ten miles of the Raritan, giving them a close, unflinching look at four notoriously toxic sites to see how they became so abused and why it is so vexing to fix the problem.  


Filmmaker Notes

The Raritan River runs through the center of New Jersey, with upper reaches that are incredibly beautiful, providing forests, hiking trails, and a valuable source of water for more than a million people.  However, the lower 14 miles of the river, which flow to the Atlantic Ocean next to New York City, have been profoundly contaminated with 200 years of industrial pollution.

Throughout most of the 20th Century, it was standard practice for businesses to simply dump their waste into the river or into landfills along its shores.  In 1972, the federal Clean Water Act mandated that America’s waterways should be fishable and swimmable, and while new regulations put a stop to reckless dumping, that goal has still not been achieved.

While most of the factories along the Raritan River are gone, more than a hundred toxic waste sites were left behind – sites like the notorious Kin Buc landfill, where pesticides began to seep into the river in the 1970s, or the Sayreville factory whose owner, the National Lead Company, left behind radiological waste among other poisons.

At the heart of this issue is a community left with many unanswered questions.  How clear are the links between birth defects, cancer, and other diseases and exposure to toxic waste?  How clean is clean?  How safe is safe?  Who’s going to pay for the clean ups?  How effective are our current solutions?
In Rescuing the River, we hear from many of the people most concerned: environmental activist Robert Spiegel, real estate developer Brian O’Neill, Department of Environmental Protection official Irene Kropp, and former Governor and an author of the original Superfund legislation, Jim Florio, among others.
While the environmental impact of wide-spread pollution is staggering, considerable progress towards restoring the area has been made.  At Kin Buc, the EPA constructed a massive treatment plant which pumps out toxic waste 24 hours a day.  At the Horseshoe Road Superfund site, where arsenic, PCBs, and dioxin were left behind, the EPA has excavated the soils right down to the bedrock.  And now, one of the largest brownfield redevelopment projects in the country is underway, set to convert hundreds of acres of contaminated land once owned by the National Lead Company into safe and clean condominiums and retail space.  All positive steps indeed, but there is still much more work to be done.
Restoring the Raritan River to its safe and natural state is an extraordinary task which will require many millions of dollars and years of effort from businesses, government agencies, scientists, and developers.  Rescuing the River: The Raritan provides a behind-the-scenes look at the daunting road ahead and whether the dream of a truly restored Raritan River can ever be achieved.


Rescuing the River: The Raritan was produced, directed, written, and edited by Eric Schultz.  The producer/writer was Lynn Kosek-Walker and the executive producer was Nila Aronow.  Additional production credits include director of photography, Paul Horvath; on-line editor, Bob Herman; and graphic designer, Charles Starkey. Rescuing the River: The Raritan is an NJN Production; the film initially aired on New Jersey public television in 2011.

Rescuing the River: The Raritan was made possible with support from the Cape Branch Foundation, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities*, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Mushett Family Foundation, which believes that we are all one family in protecting the environment.
*Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

Community Conversations

Keep the conversation going about Rescuing The River: The Raritan – attend a free local screening and discussion at your local library, courtesy of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.  Click here for an event location list.