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Fred Danback
03.14.03
Science and Health:
America's First River: The Hudson
More on This Story:
Fred Danback, Hero of the Hudson

In April 2002, PBS first aired AMERICA'S FIRST RIVER: MOYERS ON THE HUDSON, a journey exploring how the Hudson River shaped American history and culture and inspired the environmental movement. One of the heroes of the Hudson featured in this two-part series, Fred Danback, died this week at the age of 79. In honor of his memory, NOW presents his heroic story. Read the transcript of this week's BILL MOYERS' JOURNAL below.



MOYERS: Looking at the Hudson River today, it's hard to remember how polluted it once was. It would have remained that way were it not for a small group of dedicated, citizen activists. One of them was a local boy named Fred Danback.

When Danback returned from World War II, he did what a lot of working people who lived along the Hudson did - he found employment at the Anaconda Wire & Cable Company, in Hastings, New York. Anaconda not only provided good paying jobs, it also had been instrumental in winning the war, producing one third of the cable used by the U.S. Navy. But Fred Danback noticed — with increasing alarm — that cable wasn't all the company was turning out.

[Excerpt from Part Two of AMERICA'S FIRST RIVER, "The Fight to Save the River"]

FRED DANBACK: I seen all kinds of oil and sulfuric acid, copper filings; my gosh, they were coming out of that company like it was going out of style. I've seen lubro oil and I've seen #2 oil. All over Anaconda, off the dock, you could see this stuff coming out.

And when I complained about it, they told me oh, it wasn't a big amount. So, we come down here, got a boat, brought up a seine, put it up against their pipes and you wouldn't believe how much copper dust we got in about half a minute. We got loads of it. This was entering the river on a daily basis, you know.

JOHN CRONIN: This was a time when environmental issues were not heroic issues. If you were anti-pollution, you were anti-American and you were anti-industry, you were anti-progress, you were just you know, you were a deviant.

FRED DANBACK: They told me at one point, they says, look Fred, you're being paid to produce here, not to worry about pollution. I said well, that's simple to solve. Knock off the pollution and I'll work here. It's very easy to do here, you know?

JOHN CRONIN: So Fred's punishment for badgering company officials and the Coast Guard to come up and investigate the company for the pollution events he documented was that they gave him every crummy job in the company, one of which was pushing a broom. But what Fred did is he pushed the broom everywhere he could and he went to every building. He followed every trench that had liquid going out of it. I think he even found excuses to go outside and sweep the dirt so he could see where things were going. And Fred made maps and took notes of everything.

MOYERS: Danback, along with the Hudson River Fisherman's Association, turned to an obscure, 19th century law that prohibited dumping in the river, and convinced the U.S. Attorney's office to take Anaconda to court in 1971. Danback risked his livelihood to testify against his employer.

FRED DANBACK: Took them to court for discharging copper filings, sulfuric acid, lubro oil and #2 heating oil.

JOHN CRONIN: And when it came time to prosecute the company in Federal Court, the U.S. Attorney used Fred's maps and Fred's notes to document where everything was.

FRED DANBACK: They put up a team of lawyers in the court, trying to fight me. But every way they turned, I'd beat them down because I was foolproof. They couldn't — they had no case to defend themselves with.

JOHN CRONIN: The company was fined $200,000 under the Refuse Act of 1899, You know, even today for a polluter to be fined $200,000 is a big event. Back in the early 1970s, it was a huge event. It was like a thunderclap. There are a lot of really unsung heroes on the Hudson River, people who put their safety on the line, their salaries and their jobs on the line, on occasion, and one of those people was Fred Danback. He was a hero. He was a hero.



Regarding the current effort to clean up PCBs in the Hudson River, the Environmental Protection Agency reports an adjustment in the dredging start date:

In the February 2002 ROD, EPA projected that a three-year period would be needed to design the cleanup project, with environmental dredging to begin in the summer of 2005. The schedule has been adjusted to accommodate the time required for negotiations with General Electric (GE) and the need for additional community involvement. The adjusted schedule anticipates that dredging will begin in late spring 2006, the next dredging season.

See a list of Hudson River Groups.

Read the full transcript of Part 1 and Part 2 of AMERICA'S FIRST RIVER: BILL MOYERS ON THE HUDSON.


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