June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I recall a metaphor being used to describe the far-reaching impacts of expressing a juicy tidbit about another individual that wantonly tarnishes their reputation—a classic form of lashon hara. The metaphor was something along the lines of an overstuffed feather pillow being torn apart and a gust of wind dispersing the feathers until it’s impossible for them to be retrieved or contained. I wonder if the younger generation of school children today are taught the lashon hara lesson: using—what regrettably have become common terms due to COVID-19—community spread and contact tracing among others.

As an environmental, health and safety (EHS) professional, I deal with the prevention and mitigation of the spread of—not words in the community—but contaminants in the environment. In the earlier years of my career as an EHS professional, shortly after returning from a number of years in Israel, I interned as a New Jersey watershed ambassador with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), where I presented to K-12 students how contaminants migrate through a watershed with the aid of a cool contraption—the Enviroscape™. Using food coloring to represent the contaminants and a spray bottle to represent a rainfall event, I demonstrated how an otherwise clean downgradient water body can end up being contaminated from multiple upgradient pollution sources. Think of the Passaic River, Hudson River and Gowanus Canal, among others.

The presentations were well received if not for the message—pollution prevention is more desirable and manageable than intervention, certainly for the messy simulation and audience participation.

Currently, I consult for property owners, investors, lenders, insurers and developers to avoid and/or address environmental liabilities. While many may not be driven by a particular passion for environmental protection or a love of nature, there is a growing awareness of the business risks of ignoring the potential presence of soil or groundwater contamination; or abandoned buried tanks at a property; or neglecting a building with mold, lead paint, lead in water, elevated radon, vapor intrusion or deteriorating asbestos-containing building materials.

I’ll never forget when I reviewed due diligence reports that had been provided to a commercial real estate investor who asked me to check that everything seemed “kosher” for what appeared to be an innocuous, undeveloped, multi-acre parcel of land with dense vegetation, in Bergen County. Upon reviewing historic fire insurance maps, buried deep in the appendices of a 2,345- page Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Report, I noticed (by zooming in) that a gasoline filling/service station had occupied the site from the 40s to the 60s, with no documentation of decommissioning or removal of underground storage tanks. I braced for an uncomfortable call when I reached out to the consultant named on the report. I wanted to understand the rationale for not discussing the tank or suggesting additional investigation. I respectfully explained the environmental and legal concern, expecting a defensive posture. Upon reviewing the historic maps together, the response, too colorful for this publication, was essentially an acknowledgement of the oversight. Before being developed, the site would end up needing six figures’ worth of investigation, remediation, reporting and ongoing monitoring. Although the development timeline was delayed, the discovery of the historic gas station prior to construction ended up being beneficial for all stakeholders.

Many of us are familiar with the 811 number and the associated slogans of “Know What’s Below” and “Call Before You Dig.” While the risks and ramifications of hitting a natural gas line are immediate and dangerous, the risks associated with environmental conditions at a property may be less apparent. For prospective buyers, “Know Before You Buy.” For owners/managers—try to prevent environmental conditions that could have adverse health effects on tenants before lawyers enter the picture.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”tl in his epilogue to “Morality,”* expresses the following: “I hope that we will retain the spirit of kindness and neighborliness that humanized our fate during the months of lockdown and isolation when people thought of others, not themselves, living out what William Wordsworth called ‘the best portion of a good man’s life / His little, nameless, unremembered, acts / Of kindness and of love.” Those who did these acts discovered, as we almost always do, that in lifting others, we ourselves are lifted.”

When it comes to the properties and buildings we are buying, developing or managing, the spirit of “kindness and neighborliness” should govern our business culture and decisions in the environmental, health and safety sphere. Shabbat Shalom.

*Sacks, Jonathan. 2020. “Morality.” London: Hodder & Stoughton.


After learning in Yeshivat Har-Etzion, Etan Hindin studied biology and ecology at Bar-Ilan University and was a member of the Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Study (Bar-Ilan Kollel). He lives in West Orange with his wife and children. He works as an Environmental, Health and Safety professional and is the director of spiritual care at Daughters of Israel, a local Skilled Nursing Facility.

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