In Memory of Ward Stone

On February 8th, New York lost a dedicated public servant and a remarkable human being. Ward Stone was a wildlife pathologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for over four decades and authored more than 250 peer-reviewed articles. He studied the pathways by which toxins like PCBs and lead enter the environment, and through his research confirmed the presence of West Nile virus within the state. However, perhaps one of Dr. Stone’s greatest contributions was in revealing the links between environmental pollution and human health.

Often to the chagrin of his employer, Ward’s interest in science and the human condition led to research extending beyond the boundaries of animal pathology. In the 1980’s, Ward documented pollution caused by the burning of garbage at the state-owned Sheridan Hollow incinerator plant, ironically named ANSWERS, which had been built to heat the Capitol and legislatives offices in downtown Albany. By documenting the presence of air pollution and soot endemic to life within this community of color, his research helped shutter the incinerator and give rise to what would become the modern environmental justice movement.

Years later, in his 80’s, Ward assisted SHARE in opposing state plans to install gas-fired turbines in Sheridan Hollow that would have burned more fossil fuels in the community to power, heat, and cool the Empire State Plaza. Following a debate with authorities as to whether he should receive access to his own data, Albany County Legislator Merton Simpson and I spent hours at DEC offices with Ward as he meticulously sifted through material from the past. With Ward’s help, SHARE convinced the state to abandon its former plans. In fact, last year the New York Power Authority installed electric chillers at the plaza to reduce gas combustion at the Sheridan Hollow steam plant and is now studying how geothermal technology can further reduce fossil fuel loads.

Ward’s love of people, animals, and the planet was apparent throughout his career and personal life. Firmly believing in the importance of education, for years he hosted a radio call-in program titled “In Our Backyard.” I also had the privilege of joining him as he spoke with SHARE publicly about his work. One of my fondest memories of Ward was when he and I met with a member of Congress regarding protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Known for speaking his mind, Ward was never afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom of authorities, expose inconvenient truths, and even risk his career and reputation for the greater good. Government agencies and non-governmental organizations could both benefit from his example. May he remain an inspiration to us all.