September 24, 2018 | ° F

Group works to clean up Raritan River

Due to more than a century of industrial waste as well as recent development along the banks, the Raritan is now the 14th most polluted river in the country, said Rebecca Grinstead, the campus organizer for New Jersey Community Water Watch.

Nearly 200 University students and members of several environmental groups, as well as community members, gathered Saturday morning in the parking lot of the AMC Loews Theater, located on Route 1, to remove the resulting debris at the Raritan River Conservation Area.

The area is a 20-acre, county-owned piece of open space, adjacent to 85 acres of open space owned by the city of New Brunswick, all along the Raritan River, said Rick Lear of the Middlesex County Parks and Recreation Department.

"The Raritan River runs right through our backyard," Grinstead said. "I think people forget that it could be really beautiful. We're not going to accept it."

Most of the pollution in the Raritan came from factories along the river from the turn of the century up to 1960s and 1970s, said Bill Shultz, a Raritan Riverkeeper with the N.Y./N.J. Baykeeper organization.

"Most of the industries are gone now, but we have the legacy of the pollutants they left behind," he said.

Contaminants from development have also contributed to the river's pollution, said Mahreen Alam, an intern with the New Jersey Community Water Watch.

"There is a lot of debris and trash that gets funneled into the Raritan River," said Alam, a Cook College senior.

Members of Water Watch at the University organized the cleanup along with the New Brunswick Environmental Commission and the Middlesex County Parks and Recreation Department.

The cleanup was part of the fourth annual Raritan-Wide River Cleanup, an event coordinated by environmental groups at more than 20 locations along the river with about 700 volunteers, according to a Water Watch press release.

The Raritan basin is 1,100 square miles, the largest basin contained completely within the state, Schultz said.

Alam said Water Watch wanted to raise awareness about the pollution in the river and get the community members involved. Although this is the fourth cleanup, it is the first time her organization reached out to the community, she said.

"Basically, the environment is something that affects everyone," Alam said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to connect the local community members with the environment as well."

Volunteers included several University sororities and fraternities, Boy Scout troops and members of the Lawrence Brook Watershed Partnership.

"We just wanted to do some service," said Prit Patel, a member of Delta Epsilon Psi and Rutgers College sophomore. "We're a service-based society."

Alam said she joined Water Watch to become more actively involved in making a difference in the environment. As a biology major, she said she always thought she would be working in a laboratory.

"I feel like I'm obligated to give back," she said. "I have a new found passion and that's with the environment, and I basically want to make a difference."

Michelle Cerone

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