Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reference Librarians finds answers to local mystery in minutes!

A patron called the BHPL Reference Department yesterday to ask us to find the name of a chemical plant located near the Passaic River in Berkeley Heights in the 1960's. After answering her question with some questions of our own, (we don't do this to be annoying, it's called the "Reference Interview") she divulged that there had been an explosion there that she remembered from her childhood when she lived nearby. After some fruitless googling, the online Historical New York Times was searched and instantly up popped an article: "Jersey Chemical Plant Damaged by Explosion," dateline July 19, 1966, Berkeley Heights, NJ. Bingo, instant success, a welcome experience for librarians, and apparently for the patron too. She told us when we called back that she was amazed it took us only a few minutes to find what she and her family had been looking for for years. Much mutual admiration of modern research resources ensued.
The point here is not to pat our own back exactly, but to express some frustration that people don't turn to librarians in the first place. While it may seem perverse to turn a successful patron interaction into an occassion for nagging, here it is: don't wait decades, call the Reference Department. It might take a few minutes, hours or longer, but we always try to get our, no - not man, our facts.
By the way, it was the Millmaster Chemical Company's Berkeley Chemical Department at 11 Summit Avenue. It exploded at 3:05 AM and calls from miles around came into local police stations. No one was hurt. The chemical being produced was "classified" information according to the article in the Dispatch from July 21, 1966. Our patron was awakened in her crib by the noise, she was three years old and still remembers it.


Anonymous said...

Congrats!!!! Reference librarians don't have to know everything, we just have to know where to look.

Anne said...

Exactly! Like bloodhounds?

Anonymous said...

The plant was making Agent Orange and that is why it was classified. Even now references are avaialble at the NJ DEP and federal EPA sites but no overt explanation of Agent Orange dioxin. This would explain the regular visits by inspectors asking questions about cancers in the Summit Avenue, Berkeley Heights, New Jersey (NJ) 07922 area. Yes, there is a rare cancer cluster site in that area.

Anonymous said...

No Agent Orange mentioned -

Anonymous said...

Here is a report that mentions Millmaster Chemical Company involved in a landfill in Chatham Township -

Agent Orange's dioxin is mentioned.

"The landfill received wastes from private companies and at least seven surrounding
municipalities including Summit, South Orange, Maplewood, Chatham, Madison, Harding, and
Florham Park (EPA 2004). Wastes dumped at the landfill included household refuse, residential septic wastes, scrap metal, tires, tree stumps, and construction and demolition debris. Additionally, approximately 600 tons of pharmaceutical wastes generated by the Millmaster Chemical Company, Berkeley Heights were deposited in the landfill from the 1930s to 1968. These wastes included alcohols, esters, ethers and other pharmaceutical waste products. Millmaster Chemical Company may have also disposed of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (a.k.a. dioxin) contaminated wastes at the site (NUS 1985). In order to comply with health code regulations adopted in 1959, operational procedures were implemented at the landfill and included the use of pesticides to control weeds, insects, and rodents. Oil was applied to unpaved paths to control dust, and semi-liquid swamp muck obtained from the edge of the landfill was used daily to cover wastes."