Brownfields and Environmental Justice in New Jersey

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I do not have to go as far as the mountains of West Virginia or shale country in Pennsylvania to see environmental classism.  Back home in New Jersey, after it rains, all of the lower areas that are quick to flood out are all inhabited by low income and often minority communities.  The rich, white people live at higher elevation, where the fertilizer and pesticides from their lawns run off into the water that is flooding out the poorer regions.  Often times, the water overflowing in the streets is not just stormwater, but combined sewage overflow (CSO), from all of the outdated septic tanks not being able to handle the extra influx of water.  Up in Newark and down in Camden especially are rows and rows of dump sites.

Individuals that make up lower tax brackets have no choice to be surrounded by filth.  Just like the incidents in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, whether it is poor urban blacks or poor rural whites; these people have no money and no political clout, and the politicians take advantage of that.  The rich white folks in Suburbia shout “Not in my backyard!” and back that up with their tax dollars and campaign contributions.  The poorer individuals have no voice.  I bought a shirt from a West Virginia non-profit against mountaintop removal, Coal River Mountain Watch, which says “Stop Mountaintop Removal” on the front and “Save the Endangered Hillbilly” on the back.  While the shirt is pretty funny, it’s also pretty sad.  The Lorax speaks for the trees, but who will speak for these people?  They should still be proud of where they live, have access to clean and healthy resources (like water), and have some standard of living.  It is not just to make someone suffer because they are not as relatively wealthy as someone else.  It is even more unjust to completely ignore and turn a blind eye to a tragic situation, all because the people cannot pay their way out of it.

After interning with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection last winter break, I have been exposed to a lot of environmental justice and environmental classism.  I worked under the Site Remediation Program in the Office of Brownfield Reuse.  The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) defines Brownfields as “properties that are abandoned or underutilized because of either real or perceived contamination.”  My internship focused on the environmental policy; I worked with data from the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund (HDSRF), a fund where applicants can apply for grants to remediate Brownfield sites.  There are about 10,000 Brownfield sites in New Jersey, land of the Superfund.  I noticed when compiling data that are large majority of these sites where in low income areas.  I even saw the sites myself on a field trip to Camden with my internship supervisor.  Going through Camden, we saw just pure industrial grime on every corner.  Camden serves as the garbage can for the state of New Jersey, all because the state can get away with it, based on the demographics of the region.

When I was asked to do a final project for Geographic Information Systems last spring, I decided to call up my internship supervisors from the NJDEP and get some data from them.  After my internship I had developed a strong interest in Brownfields, the socioeconomic areas they surround, and the implications of environmental injustice that results. For my final project, I explored the relationship between Brownfield sites and demographics in Camden County, New Jersey. I thought aspects of environmental injustice to be found would be best represented in Camden County, as the City of Camden is one of the poorest cities in the United States. I divided Camden County by Census Tract. I focused specifically on median household income as they relate to Brownfield site locations. I was looking for a correlation between Brownfields site location and socioeconomic factors.  I found that the large cluster of Brownfield sites was in an area of lowest median household income, excellently displaying the environmental injustice of Brownfield site location.

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9 thoughts on “Brownfields and Environmental Justice in New Jersey

  1. What a great article!!
    Dangerous environmental hazards are directly related to socio-economic status, and wealthier citizens absolutely say “not in my backyard” and all politicians agree with them. In my area it is the tiny town of Chester, PA where incinerators blaze and factories smoke and cause astronomical cancer rates and higher rates of other severe illnesses. At last count 500 mothers and their children were homeless and living in shelters. This town only has approximately 10,000 residents, all poor, minority and in dire straits.
    Great article!

    • Thanks so much! I’m sorry to hear about the conditions in Chester, PA, but it only adds to our argument. Environmental injustice occurs all over the nation! Although there is a federal policy concerning environmental justice, absolutely nothing has been done to follow it. I think this is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

  2. Today, I went to the beach with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to
    my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed
    the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off
    topic but I had to tell someone!

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