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March 14, 1998

Shamed by New Jersey

by Ted Mooney

Chemical paranoia has gripped New Jersey for a decade, with our elected leaders quick to fan the fires whenever the panic threatens to abate. But somehow I was confident that our State Supreme Court would be a little more intellectually honest. Instead they shamed us.

An after-hours fire, apparently set by vandals, destroyed the buildings, property, and inventory of Alden Leeds Inc. Never mind that the company suffered a loss of $9 million dollars when the State failed in its duty to protect them, the State then saw fit to prosecute them for a release of chlorine from their inventory of pool chemicals, because their containment plans did not withstand criminal wildfire!

In NJ--where our elected officials have been worthless at controlling sprawl or urban decay, this seems to be a new standard operating procedure: allow the police and firefighters to be ineffective in preventing vandals from burning down the old industrial buildings, then blame the victims.

Prosecuting someone for a chemical release caused by a major criminal act perpetrated on them is no different than criminally prosecuting a home owner if her window is blown out by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting and the glass shards cut someone. Drawing the distinction when there is simply no difference can only be one of two things: either total panic-induced mindlessness or shameless whoring.

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