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Revelation: Ward Stone in October of 2009, presenting his findings after a five-month study into mercury contamination surrounding the Lafarge cement plant in Ravena.

The Other Face of Ward Stone

The storied pathologist answers allegations, and his supporters question the timing of the Times Union exposé

On Sunday, the Times Union printed a scathing article allegedly revealing the “Two Faces of Ward Stone.” The TU began its story by briefly summing up Stone as a famous local pathologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation—an aggressive scientist who has built a reputation over the decades as a tireless environmental crusader, and a state employee who was willing to work countless hours on issues that often embarrassed his superiors and the powerful. The article, by James Odato, then takes a drastic turn, delving into the sordid details of “what is less known about the 71-year-old scientist.”

“[Stone] has a long history of allegations of abusive, unethical and inappropriate behavior, ranging from berating colleagues to shooting animals, and has been repeatedly faulted by his frustrated superiors, according to interviews and records,” Odato wrote.

With the next 2,200 words, the TU went on to detail years of allegations: that Stone lives in his office and towels off in front of co-workers, that he once cruelly “gut shot” deer, that he feeds his “personal pets—chickens and rabbits” with state-purchased feed, that he owes thousands in back taxes, and that he has been able to get away with these alleged infractions thanks to a fawning press and public and, perhaps, by having “friends in high places.”

Stone declined to comment on the allegations to the TU, Odato wrote, though Stone did speak with Metroland at length following the article’s publication.

“It’s a strange article,” Stone said. “The title is the ‘Two Faces of Ward Stone,’ and it doesn’t have but one side.”

Stone dismissed most of the criticism outright.

“There’s a lot of people there who are disgruntled with me because when they worked with me, we had problems because they weren’t really producing the way that they hoped they would do considering that we were trying to save the world,” Stone said. “We are a medical field. Whether you like it or not, we deal with people’s lives and animals’ lives, and you have to have discipline and do your work. It’s not a fun-and-games kind of thing.”

Many of Stone’s supporters have reached out to Metroland since the article to say that the image painted of the scientist is not one that they know. And many, including long-time environmental activist Aaron Mair, point to Stone’s independent testing at the controversial Lafarge cement plant in Ravena. They wonder if the article wasn’t an orchestrated “hit job” aimed to diffuse the impact of his research into the plant’s possible environmental contamination.

Even WAMC’s Alan Chartock joked on The Roundtable Monday that the materials for the article were probably just handed to the paper.

Elyse Griffin, co-founder of Community Advocates for Safe Emissions, said that the article comes at an “interesting time, because the DEC is holding a public hearing on Lafarge’s air permit renewal next week. It does come at an inconvenient time.”

“CASE believes that the allegations in the Times Union article on May 2nd do not reflect on the scientific validity of the study conducted by Dr. Stone in conjunction with CASE,” reads a press statement from CASE. “Lab work for this study has been conducted at CASE’s expense at an out-of-state, independent and nationally certified laboratory; and has been funded by donation.”

Griffin pointed out that Stone has volunteered “countless hours of his time working with CASE on an Environmental Sampling Study to determine levels of heavy metals in our community.”

A number of Stone’s supporters are members of CASE.

“Stone’s owing taxes or his marital status or the condition of his purported residence has nothing to do with his job performance,” wrote CASE member, Joan Ross, in an e-mail, “and sounds like a smear campaign and character assassination. Stone’s work is a threat to the comfort of some at the DEC, and the TU article was as one-sided as it gets.”

“When we approached state officials, and we didn’t get much action from them, he was one of the only people who really took the time to listen to our concerns, and to look at the impact of the cement plant,” Griffin said. To undertake the study into the effects of the cement plant, Stone had requested $2,000 for studies from the DEC commissioner, and was denied.

CASE raised funds to cover the costs of the study, the results of which were announced in October of last year. According to Stone, he found significant evidence of mercury contamination surrounding the plant.

Aaron Mair, the president of Arbor Hill Environmental Justice, Inc., and a former Chair of New York state Sierra Club, has known and worked with Stone for more than 20 years. Mair said that he believes the article is tied to Lafarge and questioned why mid-level employees at the DEC were so willing to speak to the TU, when the agency has a reputation of tight-lipped discipline.

“They’re usually afraid to talk about anything official and internal, as any reporter would know,” Stone agreed. “That should tell one that there is a certain orchestrated effort here to put this together.”

Metroland asked TU editor Rex Smith via e-mail if he found it unusual that the employees at the DEC chose to speak on the record. Smith responded that it happens “all the time.” When pressed as to whether DEC employees made a habit of speaking to the press about internal personnel issues, Smith responded, “I’m copying Casey Seiler, who leads the reporting team that does most of the coverage of DEC. He assures me we have had no problem with comments from DEC officials. . . . This strikes me as not unusual in the context of the kind of investigative reporting that the Times Union does all the time.”

Seiler did not follow up with Metroland.

Metroland put in a request Monday to speak with the DEC employees who spoke to the TU. The DEC spokeswoman failed to follow-up on that request as well.

Leigh Foster, a local environmental activist, also found it odd that these employees spoke to the TU. “Who lets a mid-level manager off the leash?” Foster asked. “I do not understand how an internal personnel issue makes it to the front page of the Times Union.”

Foster met Stone 20 years ago at an Earth Day event. Stone was speaking to Foster’s high school. Foster said that after Stone’s speech, he chased him down and asked Stone for a job.

“I worked with Ward intermittently from 1990 until 1996,” Foster said. He started working under Stone as an intern, and eventually became a lab technician. “It was grunt work. I was at the bottom of the totem poll at that office. And he yelled at me. Sure he did. He had expectations, and if I fell short, he reminded me of how I did not meet them. He had high standards, debatably impossible standards, but I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t the best job of my life.”

Foster went on to work alongside Mair on environmental activism projects in the Arbor Hill community of Albany and found Stone to be a useful partner.

“Ward was involved in our efforts to mitigate some of the environmental disasters in Arbor Hill,” Foster said. “If you have a question, he’s one of the scientists that you can go to.”

As for the allegations of abuse in the article, “I know some of the people who were involved, I knew Rose when she was there,” Foster said, referring to Rose Diana, the former secretary quoted in the TU article. “And her allegations in terms of hostility that Ward may have had towards her were based on his expectations of her work performance, and these are similar expectations that he has of all of the employees there.”

Odato pointed out that Diana’s allegation that Stone “had created ‘an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment’” was affirmed by the DEC’s Affirmative Action Bureau director, and Odato quoted Diana as alleging that Stone “ruins people’s lives.”

Foster countered that flatly. “He established the foundation for my environmental career,” he said. “He is respected by his peers who are true scientists. And I feel that I earned his respect.”

Stone said that it was likely that the article was designed, he said, to cause his reputation damage. Each criticism, he said, seemed aimed to injure him personally, and wouldn’t hold up under scrutiny. Yet, Stone didn’t comment on the allegations that he lives in his office. And, as one of his supporters points out, “I am angry that he gave them so much ammunition to attack him with.”

Stone, however, went on at length to address other allegations in the article.

Referring to the chickens that he allegedly keeps as pets, he said: “They weren’t my pets. I like animals, and I took those out to many places, many schools, to show the children, to teach them about the animals.” He said that he sees that sort of community outreach as part of his mission at the DEC. It’s why he has done radio spots on WAMC for the past seven years. “And all of that was done for nothing. Not a penny.”

The allegation that he toweled off in front of his secretary was especially amusing to Stone; he dismissed it with a joke, saying, “Never happened. I am so busy that I am likely not to use a towel at all. I am more likely to shower down and then jump directly into new clean clothes. That is more me.”

As for the allegation that he shot penned deer, Stone doesn’t deny it. “Yes, I did shoot them, and yes I did shoot them with a .22.” He said that the deer were blind, and that he had been studying them. “I had thought, initially, that the problem the deer had with their eyes was due to dioxin or some chemical, probably from herbicides.”

He said that he kept the deer until an outbreak of chronic wasting disease swept through the region’s deer population. Chronic wasting disease is very infectious, caused by a protein-based prion that is very difficult to destroy, he said. He couldn’t take any chances, “and we were the ones who handled the chronic wasting disease carcasses. You don’t want to move that prion anywhere else. So I went out and shot the deer. I shot for the head or heart at close range. I am an excellent shot. This was a good way to put them down in a hurry.”

He said he had the deer incinerated at a very high temperature.

“Of course they put that in there because I have pretty strong ties with the humane community. They referred to gut shots, and I didn’t gut shot any of them. I did not aim to shoot them in the stomach. They made it sound like I was trying to make them suffer,” he said. “One of the technicians there was so ignorant of gunshot wounds. The deer was shot, and it fell over immediately, and the technician thinks that the deer is still alive.”

What troubled Stone the most, however, he said, was the article’s recalling of a terrible personal tragedy, using it as a cruel time marker: “Stone set up residence at the state building in 2001 after ending his relationship with a woman who was a former subordinate, co-workers and the DEC documents say,” Odato wrote. “The woman, who no longer works for the DEC, bore him five children, the fifth of whom died in 2000, staff said.”

“She came in, worked for me, and during that time, we fell in love,” Stone said. “She became pregnant, and we decided that we’d have that baby. We did, and she quit being my subordinate, and she was not my subordinate during the following four babies.”

“We had five babies, and the fifth died in my hands in the backyard. A tremendous, tremendous amount of anguish for both her and me,” he said. “That was in June 2000. So when that comes up, when I read this on Sunday, all that pain and anguish comes rushing back,” Stone said. “That was designed to hurt me, I guess. But you probably know me well enough to know that I am not going to just let them run over me and use this stuff without a fight.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net





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