As chance would have it, I began researching this beautiful Victorian house in North Newark and found a direct connection to one of the nation’s worst superfund sites in the Ironbound section.
First the house. Alfred Lister , an industrialist, lived in this house until he passed away in 1890. On November 29, 1890 Mr. Lister set sail on the steamship Adirondack bound for “Hayti”. The New York Times published a report on December 12, 1890 that Mr. Lister had undertaken the voyage in search of health accompanied by his physician Dr. Cooper of Westfield, NJ. Mr. Lister jumped into the sea while the steamer was two days out from her destination. The suicide occurred in the night when he left his stateroom ostensibly to visit another part of the ship, and failing to return.
Mrs. Miller, daughter of Alfred Lister, would only confirm that her father was undoubtedly dead but said it not certain he had committed suicide by jumping in the sea.
“Papa”, said Mrs. Miller, ” was not in a perfectly sane condition when he left home. He was affected by softening of the brain, and we have been apprehensive for some time that he might commit suicide, so that if it is really true that he has drowned himself it can hardly be said that he has done an unexpected thing, shocking though it may be. He has been worried of late by financial troubles, and we have been very anxious about him. We hoped, though, that he would be benefited by a sea voyage.”
Mr. Lister was 69. He was a native of England. Up until 1887, he was associated with his brother Edwin in the manufacture of fertilizers. In 1886 the company became a stock company. In 1887, Alfred Lister sold his shares. He was reputed to be worth about $1,000,000.
Soon after he formed a partnership with his son-in-law, H.S. Miller, and did business with him manufacturing and selling fertilizers. The company was not successful and Mr. Lister lost a great deal of money. The business was winding down when Mr. Lister took his fateful cruise.
Alfred and his brother Edwin owned the Lister Agricultural Chemical Works where they ground cattle bones into fertilizer. They purchased the property , which became known as 80 Lister Avenue in 1850. In the 1940’s Kolker Chemical Works acquired the Lister Avenue property. Kolker made farm chemicals too. But the pesticides and herbicides it produced on the site were not so benign.
Kolker manufactured DDT and phenoxy herbicides. In 1951 Diamond Alkali acquired Kolker. Diamond stopped making DDT in the late1950’s, more than 20 years before the EPA banned its use. For those too young to remember, DDT was a pesticide that killed insects by attacking their nervous systems. It also wreaked havoc on those animals that ate these insects, especially birds. From the late 1950’s until 1969 when Diamond closed the Lister Avenue plant the only thing manufactured there were phenoxy herbicides. Phenoxy herbicides were the ingredients in Agent Orange a defoiliant used extensively in Vietnam.
If the manufacture of Agent Orange was done incorrectly , as was the case at 80 Lister Avenue , Dioxin one of the deadliest known substances was produced. When the extent of the contamination was discovered in the late 1980’s the entire neighborhood had been exposed and a massive clean up commenced. The plant was dismantled on site and the entire plant was encapsulated and buried on the six acre site. The debris was too hazardous to dispose of any other way. To this day the silt of the lower Passaic River is laden with dioxin.
80 Lister Avenue had achieved a notoriety the Lister Brothers could have never imagined.