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Tainted Fields, Tainted Wines

Posted: 08/10/2012 8:50 am

Last month in Huffington, Lynne Peeples wrote about our society's unacceptably slow progress in the half-century since Rachel Carson sounded the alarm about the dangers of exposure to chemicals. This week, Katherine Bindley tells a story that puts flesh and blood on that failure -- and the nightmarish consequences of not heeding Carson's warning.

The town is Briarcliff Manor, an affluent New York suburb, where in 1998 the local school district made a deal allowing a trucking company to dump construction debris on school grounds in return for building athletic fields. At the time, such deals were common. But the Briarcliff fields have come under scrutiny as eight students who gathered there over the years -- for sports practice, pep rallies, and bonfires -- have developed cancer.

One student, Demetri Demeropoulos, died from a spinal cord tumor at 18. Others, like Nicholas Mazzilli, have been successfully treated -- though parents worry about long-term effects. Parents are contemplating suing the school, which has responded not by cleaning the field but by hiring consultants to disprove the harmfulness of the soil's contents. Environmental experts say a link between the field debris and the cancer diagnoses, while possible, cannot be proved conclusively.

But Max Costa, NYU's chair of environmental medicine, puts it best: "This is not a good thing to do, use a waste dump site to build a ball field for kids to play on... I don't care how much the levels are or what could have happened: it's playing with a time bomb and you don't know. You don't know what you could be doing to these kids." Katherine Bindley's story is part small town mystery, part bureaucratic nightmare, and part cautionary tale about the consequences of not taking every possible measure to protect our children.

Elsewhere in this week's issue, HuffPost's New York editor-at-large Dan Collins reports on a very different kind of mystery: the glamorous, lucrative and shamelessly corrupt world of wine counterfeiting. It's a winding tale of intrigue and deception, and in Dan Collins' telling it takes on the quality of a Hollywood screenplay. There's Rudy Kurniawan, the brash young wine collector who treats his friends to rare Burgundys and vintage Bordeauxs -- and then asks the restaurant to ship the empty bottles to his home. There's Don Cornwell, "winedom's No. 1 detective," who trails the slippery Kurniawan in "an elaborate game of cat and mouse." There are the wine industry professionals who look the other way while Kurniawan and his friends bankroll lavish lifestyles with dubious -- and easily disprovable -- claims at wine auction sales. Then there are the connoisseurs, enthusiasts and industry insiders who perpetuate the deception -- to salve their egos, and their bank accounts. As Collins writes, "Rather than blowing the whistle on a counterfeiter, many duped buyers prefer to recoup their losses by reselling the phony wine to other unsuspecting buyers." A high-end twist on pay-it-forward.

Will the nefarious Kurniawan continue to dupe and swindle his way into high society? Will Cornwell get his man? Read on to find out. It's a true crime story that mystifies and delights, best enjoyed over a rare Roumier, a '47 Lafleur -- or perhaps a $12 California cabernet, just to be on the safe side.

This story appears in our new weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available in the iTunes App store.

 
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