Burning Passions and Burning Waste: How Economics Took Precedence Over the Local Community during the Redevelopment of the PJP Landfill in Jersey City, New Jersey From 1970 to 2021
by Matthew Trochim
The PJP landfill is located in Jersey City, NJ near the Pulaski Skyway, a bridge spanning over the Passaic and Hackensack rivers. The PJP Landfill Company operated at this location from 1970-1974 where they accepted hazardous chemical and industrial waste including volatile and semi-volatile compounds, petroleum hydrocarbons, and metals. From the site’s beginning in 1970 to 1985 there were a series of underground fires caused by material buried at the site. In 1983 the EPA declared the location a superfund site and in 1995 they reached a decision on what remedial action should be taken about the contaminants. In 2008 a company now known as Prologis purchased a section of the site for commercial use as a warehouse and distribution center and in 2010 Jersey City purchased the remainder and planned to redevelop the location into a public park.
An uncontrolled fire is a problem, industrial waste is dangerous, and a fire with so much fuel it’s been burning for fifteen years would certainly qualify as cause for alarm. Put them all together and you have the environmental disaster west Jersey City residents were forced to live with. Which is why in March 1985 approximately 1,500 people gathered in the western edge of Jersey City to protest the failure of authorities to extinguish fires that had been burning in a location known as the PJP Landfill. Standing on a raised platform, New Jersey senator James Florio addressed the crowd. ”There is no site on that list that has a more adverse effect on air pollution than the P.J.P. Landfill,” he said, referring to the list of nationally recognized superfund sites. “What we’ve got to convey is clean up the toxic pollution here. Do it now. No excuses.” These would have been welcome words to a community that regularly had to inhale the smoke of burning toxics for far too long. Perhaps less reassuringly, Florio also had this to say, “The smoke and fumes that rise from the landfill are corroding the steel girders that support the Pulaski Skyway, I shudder to think what those foul fumes are doing to our lungs.”
Approximately 1,500 people taking to the streets was not an everyday occurrence in the west side of Jersey City, but what drove them to protest was. Nearly every day between the years 1970 and 1985 the PJP Landfill along the Hackensack river was host to fires that burned underground, spewing noxious smoke into the air of the predominantly poor and minority community and up onto a major bridge known as the Pulaski Skyway. While the protest was successful in gathering the resources required to put out the fires, what seemed like a major victory for the community was hollow. The fires were extinguished, but the toxics remained in the ground creating a constant risk that the community would be exposed again. The 1985 protest and aftermath is symbolic of how the community around the site was treated throughout the landfill’s history. Lots of talk about how the lives of community members will be improved by this or that, but most of the actions taken tended to not have the existing residents in mind.
This misalignment between the words and actions of Jersey City authorities was a trend that played out over the entire history of the PJP Landfill. For nearly the entire 50 years since the site was first created, the community has been consistent in advocating for themselves and promoting solutions that would work for the benefit of the community. These solutions often involved quality of life improvements for the locals that would have been a drain on the overall monetary resources of the city. Unfortunately for the community, these kinds of improvements were rarely on the mind of the larger powers that surrounded the site. All too often these powers, local and beyond, viewed development of the community as being synonymous with economic improvements to Jersey City as a whole. In essence, although residents of the historically poor and minority western side of Jersey City have been active in advocating for their own interests throughout the PJP Landfill’s history, institutions of power surrounding the landfill have consistently used what I am calling the “shield of economics” to justify ignoring the interests of the local community in order to push their own agenda of economic development.
Looking at how this site was treated through time is helpful in illuminating this pattern of behavior exhibited by Jersey City officials. Events taking place during the early days of the site from 1970 to 1985 are helpful in illustrating why it took so long for the community to get even the most basic protection from the toxics that the city allowed to harm the community. In later years gentrification and the motives behind “redevelopment” demonstrated how Jersey City officials favored economic development above other projects. Then, finally by looking at the tensions between what the site actually became and what the community wanted the site to become can illustrate how economic advantages, not the will of the community, was the driving force behind the decisions made by the Jersey City government in recent times as well.
Jersey City’s Burning Landfill
Before a proper discussion of how the economic incentives surrounding this site over time have driven the decision making of authorities regarding the PJP Landfill, it is important to have a firm grasp on what exactly was wrong with the landfill in the first place, who the major players were, and what exactly I mean by the “shield of economics.” For a brief description of this history, click on the video story below.
Video story outlining a brief history of the PJP Landfill
There were many problems surrounding the PJP Landfill, but the most important to this story are the toxic nature of the waste and the prolonged underground fires. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents indicate the PJP Landfill was first used as a dump site for chemical and industrial waste in 1970 and such use continued there until it was officially shut down in 1974. Other sources claim that dumping carried on for years afterwards, with Jersey City police making allegations of illegal dumping being “common knowledge” in 1982. Regardless of which claim is true, this case of toxic waste was made worse for the community by the fact that the burning was bringing many of the toxics that were stored underground up into the air of the community. However, it’s worth remembering that even after the fires were extinguished this was still a toxic waste site with all the negatives associated, since the waste itself wasn’t fully dealt with until the 2000s.
Equally important to the history of the PJP Landfill are the major players that were involved. There are three that are the most relevant to this story. The first are the officials and institutions of Jersey City itself. Historically the mayor has been a powerful figure in determining the future of economic change and development in Jersey City. However, power to write the city’s zoning laws lies with the city council, meaning they have the power to determine what type of development is done in which locations. The second major player that’s integral to understanding this story is the company that came to own the majority of the site, Prologis, a subsidiary of a company known as AMB. Prologis purchased their portion of the landfill in 2008 with the intent to build a warehouse and distribution center and had finished construction by 2014. The final player was the Jersey City residents who lived around the site. Although the community has changed over time it played an integral, if unfortunate, role in this story and will be the focus of a large part of our attention throughout the paper.
The final piece of context for this paper is a clarification of what exactly I mean by “shield of economics.” I’ve noticed a consistent pattern of defense, used by public officials, when the will of the community is ignored in favor of some other project. It comes in two forms, positive and negative. In the simplest sense, the negative invocation is used when there aren’t enough economic resources to undertake a project. The positive invocation, on the other hand, is used when the project being engaged in is meant to produce more economic resources. Money is the resource most often considered but other factors, such as time or manpower, could also be considered economic resources. Those who invoke the shield of economics typically hold the assumption that endeavors meant to protect or acquire economic resources are more important than other projects. Of course the shield of economics can be used in more complicated ways. For example, when a governing body defends their inaction by stating they were waiting on funding from an outside power they are invoking the shield of economics. In essence what they are saying is they are unwilling to drain their own resources for this project, so they are blaming another entity for not supplying the funding.
The Community and Early Activism, 1970-1985
The demographic makeup of the community surrounding the PJP Landfill helps explain why the Jersey City government was reluctant to help them. United States census data from 1970, when the landfill first began operation, indicates that the two closest census tracts to the location of the landfill had substantial African American populations, comprising 30.9% and 20.8% of the population in those tracts. In addition, this census data indicates that both the area around the landfill and African Americans residents in general experienced a higher degree of poverty than other areas and demographics in Jersey City. The poverty level for the entirety of Jersey City was 10.3%, 13.7%, and 16.4% for families, individuals, and households respectively. For African Americans the poverty level for families, individuals, and households was 19.5%, 24.3%, and 24.5%. The tracts around the landfill had familial poverty rates of 18.9% and 15.2%, individual poverty rates of 21.7% and 18.3%, and household poverty rates of 26.8% and 25.4%. To put it simply, the people that lived around the landfill had a high concentration of both poor and minority residents. What this meant in practice, was that the city did not perceive this community as an economic asset on their own.
Map of Census Tracts in 1970 Jersey City, the relevant tracts in this case are 27 and 17 in the northwest of Jersey City
Over time, these economic and racial inequalities grew worse. The 1980 census indicates that while the Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations of Jersey City increased from 1970 to 1980, the White population declined. A 1989 survey conducted by the state of New Jersey noted how the median income of Jersey City residents rose over this time period. However, other studies suggest that economic developments in the city did not affect all residents equally, with minority residents receiving less benefits than their White counterparts. To the Jersey City government this was bad news since it meant many of the city’s wealthier residents were moving out of the city, significantly affecting the available tax base. All in all, these demographic changes indicate that, from the perspective of the Jersey City government, there would have been ample incentive to spend as little money as possible. In the case of the PJP Landfill it meant ignoring the problem for as long as possible.
In addition to having little financial incentive to deal with the problems of the landfill, the designation of the landfill as a superfund site by the federal government gave the city the perfect excuse to avoid dealing with the problems. Such excuses were all too evident in a New York Times article written by Leo H. Carney titled “Smoldering Landfill Jersey City Liability,” which included interviews with prominent figures from many of the organizations that had influence over the site at the time of writing. These organizations included the Jersey City Fire Department, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, the mayor’s office of Jersey City, the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and a reference to local residents. Almost all of these agencies held different, often contradictory, views of the site. While the EPA maintained in 1979 that the underground fires did not present a large enough risk to start an emergency cleanup, Lt. McCarthy of the Jersey City Fire Department claimed there were, “many instances of midnight dumping” at the site, including hazardous waste. In addition, George Klenk representing the NJDEP said, “The Department of Environmental Protection had not taken further action because the E.P.A. was now the ‘lead’ agency in the case”. All of these voices created confusion around the site, even official organizations seemed to be unable to agree on the severity of the problem.
What became evident from this article was how there was no attempt on the part of Jersey City officials to cut through this confusion. According to Carney, “Agencies representing the three governmental levels have not been able to agree on who should address the air-pollution and other problems associated with the fire” and the officials representing Jersey City seemed content to leave it that way. Interestingly, while all of these other organizations gave interviews to the press, Earl Aldrige who oversaw problems regarding toxic waste in Jersey City claimed that he was, “restrained from speaking to the press by the office of Mayor Gerald McCann.” Perhaps the mayor didn’t want to reveal that the city government knew little about what was really happening at the site, perhaps they didn’t want to speak about their prolonged inaction, or maybe the mayor’s office was hesitant to rock the boat while they were under consideration to receive superfund money from the federal government. Regardless, what this variety of organizations involved at the site did was allow each of them to escape accountability by claiming that someone else was responsible for providing a solution.
New Jersey Senator James Florio addresses a crowd protesting the fires at the PJP Landfill in a 1985 protest.
Jersey City officials were aware of the problems of the landfill, the community made sure of that through direct action. This image of the 1985 protest is a good illustration of that. It demonstrates several things about the community at this moment. The first being that the community was well aware of the problems of the landfill. The size of the crowd shows how many people were concerned about the contamination and fires taking place at the landfill. They were also clearly prepared for this event. Many signs are visible in the crowd along with certain members wearing surgical masks, one even wearing a gas mask, to signify the problem with air pollution.
The protestors also seemed to have an understanding of why the fires had yet to be extinguished – political inaction. Some of their signs challenged politicians directly with messages like “Disinfection before re-election” and “Gov Kean make haste, get rid of toxic waste”. Other tactics involved placing children at the front of the protest with signs that read, “We speak for the children”, a play on the emotions of the observer by showing innocent children being hurt by the contamination. They knew that the politicians they helped elect were not doing everything they could to protect the community. The community was trying to hold the authorities to account and from this community action we can be certain that the officials of Jersey City knew about the problem and how it affected the local community.
While it may seem like the community was the catalyst for change at this site, at every turn the decisions of Jersey City officials were motivated by what was expedient, rather than what was in the best interest of the community. The Jersey City Fire Department had been fighting fires at the site for years, according to The New York Times, but they had never been given the resources required to actually put an end to the fires. City officials would have clearly known this wasn’t enough to fix the problems, but they likely did it anyway as a gesture to appease the community. When the fires finally were extinguished it wasn’t action taken by Jersey City, it was action taken by the State of New Jersey. The fires were only put out because the NJDEP, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, eventually funded a plan that would put the fires out for good. Perhaps what really drives this home is that for the entire fifteen years that the community was exposed to the smoke and toxics, Jersey City had no idea what the actual dangers of the site were. A study put together by the State Department of Health was written to study the health effects of the fires only after they were extinguished in response to requests from the community. Even more telling when you consider how this document wasn’t requested or sponsored by Jersey City officials in any capacity.
Firefighters combating one of the many blazes that occurred at the PJP Landfill
During this whole process, Jersey City officials were always quick to praise others for their actions in protecting the community, but rarely engaged in large scale projects of their own. Jersey City mayor in 1985 Anthony Cucci praised the action of the NJDEP in putting out the fires and further cleanup plans by saying, “we’re satisfied that the state has moved very rapidly.” Not mentioned by the mayor was how the state of New Jersey, not Jersey City was footing the bill for these projects. The Jersey City government did occasionally take action, but they did it to stimulate action on part of larger agencies, not to protect the community themselves. When the city dumped 300,000 gallons of water on the landfill in March 1985, it wasn’t an attempt to put out the fires, it was a publicity stunt. City officials hoped this highly public action would drive state or federal officials to take action themselves. Ultimately it did garner state attention, but the community had to deal with the extra smoke the dumping caused in the meantime.
For fifteen years Jersey City officials hid behind the shield of economics, never being willing to invest the necessary time or money involved in properly protecting the community from the PJP Landfill. Instead they were content to rely on stopgap measures to appease the populace while praising outside powers for taking care of the problem for them. The demographics of the area being largely poor and minority gave the city ample incentive to avoid investing in the area given how, from their perspective, any investment would have been unlikely to produce economic returns. Combined with how Jersey City took advantage of the opportunity to avoid responsibility granted to them by the myriad other organizations with a hand in the site, shows how for fifteen years Jersey City officials prioritized conservering their own economic capital over the protection of the community.
Gentrification and its Justification from the 90s onwards
Jersey City has a long history with gentrification, sometimes termed the more friendly sounding “redevelopment,” that played an important role in the PJP Landfill cleanup process. The process of gentrification relies on which people are allowed to occupy space and how, and an analysis of the demographic changes around the landfill help illustrate this process in Jersey City. The population of Jersey City had been steadily declining from 1930 to 1980, only turning around and climbing again from 1990 to the present. As the population began to rise again in the 90s, the White population of Jersey City increased. Contrasted with the 70s and 80s where the White population of Jersey City declined and it shows how the perception of Jersey City was changing. Instead of being a place to move out of given the opportunity, it became a place where people would want to move in given the opportunity.
Economic census data indicates how the total amount of wealth in Jersey City was increasing, but it wasn’t being spread evenly. The percentage of Jersey City residents living in poverty has remained largely stable at around 15-20% since the 70s to the present. This is contrasted with the median income of Jersey City consistently rising over this same time period of the 70s to the present. This increase more than kept up with inflation meaning it was a real increase in the amount of spending power available to some of the residents. If the wealth increase had been spread evenly, we would expect to see a decrease in the general poverty rates, but we don’t. This suggests that instead of economic developments benefitting all residents of Jersey City equally accounting for the rising median income, it was only certain residents becoming more wealthy that drove the median up for the entire city. This economic data together with the demographic data suggests that in more recent times instead of wealthy, White people using their resources to move out of Jersey City like they did in the 70s and 80s, they were instead using them to move back into Jersey City.
There are several key trends that played out during the gentrification of Jersey City that are worth highlighting. First, gentrification began largely in the eastern side of Jersey City along the Hudson River waterfront and slowly moved west. Stuart Callinan, author of “Gentrification of Two New Jersey Cities: An Analysis of Population Changes in Jersey City, NJ and Hoboken, NJ”, makes use of maps displaying various measures of gentrification using census data from 2000 compared to data from 2018. Several of the measures of gentrification they use are median income, percent college educated, median house value, and median rent in their maps. These maps tell the story of east to west gentrification. Taking median rent as an example, according to the 2000 data the Hudson waterfront had the highest rent prices in Jersey City and the 2018 map shows similarly high prices extending out over much of the rest of the city, including many tracts along the Hackensack waterfront. All of the other maps tell much the same story.
Map of the median rent in different census tracts in 2000
Map of the median rent in different census tracts in 2018
Much of this development was good for outsiders looking for a place to live in Jersey City, but many of the developments worked to the detriment of existing residents. For example, in 2007 there were plans to construct a 5-story apartment building and an 8-story apartment building near the center of the city. These projects were opposed by local residents for reasons including lack of parking, increased traffic, and tall buildings blocking their views. It was eventually approved by the city council and justified as bringing more revenue for the city through development increasing taxpayers. Jersey City mayor Jerramiah Healy claimed, contrary to the opinions of the locals, that this project would be good for the residents saying, “These projects involve the quality of life for all of our residents, who benefit by increased ratables, new jobs, and new businesses in our City.”
Another example was the Honeywell site along the Hackensack river. Much like the PJP Landfill, the Honeywell site was formerly contaminated and set to be redeveloped into upscale housing and commercial space in the cleanup settlement. It was also justified by bringing tax revenue into the city. Jersey City officials claimed that, “$160 million in revenues from property sales and $45 million in annual property taxes” would be generated through this settlement. The common thread running through both of these stories, and many others throughout Jersey City, is how the government focused on development for economic growth rather than what local residents wanted.
Jersey City politicians, who consistently promoted gentrification as a means of improving the city economically, were less concerned with less affluent members of the public and often gave their blessing to gentrification. The city council has made explicit their reasons to “redevelop” the Hackensack waterfront, going so far as to say that “The improved environmental quality of the Hackensack River and the return of water-related recreation to the river have helped to reinforce its value” and identifying the Hackensack waterfront as one of the “Key districts and development areas with Jersey City.” The use of the plural “areas” here is important to emphasize, the Hackensack is only one among many “development areas” Jersey City officials are promoting.
In addition, the city council passed an ordinance in June 2019 about so-called “inclusionary housing” stating that when building new housing, “i) No less than 5% shall be low-income units ii) No less than 5% shall be moderate-income units.” For the purposes of this law the city council defined low-income as households making less than 50% of median Jersey City income and moderate-income as households making between 50% and 80% of median Jersey City income. This leaves 90% of the remaining development to be of any price the developer wants, leaving them free to construct the vast majority of new development as inaccessible to residents making less than 80% of the median income of the city as a whole. This regulation also wasn’t in place for the vast majority of gentrification in Jersey City, only being passed in 2019.
These two examples together exemplify the attitudes of Jersey City officials favoring further gentrification as their preferred future of the Hackensack waterfront, both by allowing developers to continue constructing the majority of housing in price ranges unobtainable to low income residents and by putting explicit focus on improving the environmental quality of the waterfront as a means of improving its monetary value.
In the era of gentrification we can again see how Jersey City politicians used the shield of economics to defend their words and actions that favored economic developments over the will of existing communities. Speaking about the then recently approved plans for major development projects in Jersey City Mayor Healy said in 2007, “[July] was a sign of things to come for Jersey City.” Not only were these developments a sign of things to come, but a reinforcement of trends that Jersey City officials had supported for years. At every turn their justification for allowing development was increasing tax revenue or property values. The city allowed housing developments to be built that negatively affected existing residents, even when the citizens made their feelings directly known through complaints. This wasn’t tacit encouragement for developers or simply a lack of action, these developments were explicitly encouraged and allowed to happen through favorable legislation passed by the city. The demographic changes of the city indicate that the city was successful in attracting the wealthy residents they sought, with the changes being exactly what would be expected following policies focused around economic development being of paramount importance.
Tensions Between Government and Community for the Future of the PJP Landfill
After sitting unused for about 20 years Jersey City officials once again took notice of the PJP Landfill, this time as a property in their plans of redeveloping the Hackensack riverfront. In the early 2000s discussion opened up about what the potential future of this location would be, given how it occupied what was increasingly being viewed as valuable real-estate. Throughout the early 2000s there were many ideas floated regarding what the future of the landfill could be, but the longest lasting came to be a debate between the mayor and local residents over whether the site should be used as a warehouse or a public park. The mayor, focused on economics, wanted a company known as AMB to build a warehouse on the site to increase tax revenue for the city and to create jobs. The community opposed this idea on the grounds that a warehouse would create an increase in traffic and pollution as trucks came and went from this warehouse. Focusing on their lack of green open spaces, the community wanted the landfill transformed into a park.
In their attempts to justify the warehouse, the mayor and other Jersey City officials relied almost exclusively on economic arguments to support their case. Mayor Healy, being the most vocal supporter of the warehouse, often spoke about the economic benefits of the warehouse. His most common talking points were how the warehouse was expected to generate $1 million per year in tax revenue and bring between 300-350 new jobs to Jersey City. Clearly Healy was very invested in this idea, as he even had city employees approaching people on the street in an attempt to get signatures in support of the warehouse. Far from being the only voice in support of the warehouse, other officials had previously been in favor of, “developing the ‘other gold coast.’” The gold coast they were referring to was the long-since gentrified Hudson waterfront, with this “other gold coast” being the Hackensack waterfront. Tom O’Connor, an attorney for AMB, using this same language said the warehouse is, “an effort to bring some of the large scale development occurring on the Gold Coast and the eastern part of the city to the west side.”
In contrast to Jersey City officials, members of the community provided a myriad of reasons why they didn’t support the warehouse, with most of them revolving around quality of life. Daniel Sicardi, a resident of Jersey City’s west side noted how, “there are too many questions that relate to it and giving AMB an opportunity to build their warehouse.” Jeannette Rotondo, another resident, spoke out against the warehouse saying, “they don’t realize the impact this warehouse will have, this will affect our quality of life since this is 24/7 operation.” Paul Catsandonis, speaking both as a representative of the Lincoln Park Advisory Committee in Jersey City and as a local resident, called the plan to build a warehouse a “trojan horse” to subvert the initiative of the committee in advocating for more green open space. At a meeting between local residents, mayor Healy, and AMB representatives the residents questioned the plan on grounds ranging from impacts on traffic to how many of the jobs produced will actually be available to Jersey City residents.
Ultimately it was the business interests that were favored by the government, not the community. Despite the protestations of the locals, in 2006 AMB got approval from the city to build their warehouse on 52 acres of former landfill. In fact, the city council seemed rather set on allowing the warehouse to be built given how they specifically changed the zoning of the landfill to allow for industrial uses. Prior to 2006, the land on which the PJP Landfill sat was zoned as part of the Waterfront Planned Development District, meaning developers could only build retail, residential, and office buildings. In March of 2006, the city council agreed to change the zoning of the landfill to allow AMB to build there. In 2008 the deal had been made official and the ownership of the land was transferred to AMB.
Before building anything, though, AMB needed to clean their portion of the landfill, which they did in partnership with a company known as Waste Management Corporation, the EPA, NJDEP, and local officials. By 2014 AMB, now turned Prologis, had completed the warehouse and was fully operational. In 2009, Jersey City acquired the remaining 32 acres of the site under the promise that it would be turned into the park locals were asking for; this promise has yet to be fulfilled.
The demographic makeup of the area helps explain why this warehouse was pushed so strongly by the city. The racial makeup of the community around the landfill is highly mixed, with nearly equal numbers of Black, White, Asian, and Hispanic residents. The economic situation of this community didn’t improve with time, with about 50% of the population being defined as “low-income”. Similar to the situation in the 70s and 80s, this region of the city would still be perceived as not very economically active by the Jersey City government without some kind of outside intervention.
Despite going against the wishes of the locals, Jersey City officials still claimed the warehouse was built for the benefit of the community and would bring positive impacts to the city. Job creation was one of the main talking points used by the mayor to get local people on board with his plan for the warehouse. Initial estimates of the number of jobs that would be created by the warehouse were around 350, although when the warehouse eventually began operations the number turned out to be around 1,000 jobs. While this is a large number, on the scale of Jersey City it isn’t as large of a number as city officials would like to make it out to be. After the warehouse initially got approved the mayor Healy “called the new zoning change for the warehouse ‘a victory for Jersey City residents and taxpayers alike’”. Particularly interesting about this quote is how the mayor put his focus on the city as a whole, rather than the specific neighborhood that would be dealing with the warehouse. In addition, he claimed the warehouse would be good for taxpayers, centering his arguments for why the warehouse would bring positive impacts firmly around the economics of Jersey City as a whole.
While the warehouse has long since begun operations, the park that Jersey City officials promised to residents in 2009 has yet to be built, resulting in a number of negative impacts on the local community. Perhaps one of the most important, if least tangible, negative impacts was that this simply wasn’t what the community wanted. The community wanted the site to be turned into a park and to this day that hasn’t happened. This continued inaction contributes to a lack of open spaces that is well known about by the community and their elected representatives. Many people in the community were wary of the increased traffic, noise, and pollution that the warehouse might bring with it. Ironically one of the main arguments for the warehouse, job creation, was only achieved by making the warehouse operate on a 24/7 schedule, easily fulfilling all of the communities fears about traffic, noise, and pollution.
As if to rub salt in the wound, the plans for the promised park were released by Jersey City planning officials and it shows a park that is wedged between two warehouses, with trucks coming and going all the time. Far from providing the fresh air and open space that was promised, this plan for a “park” is nothing more than an attempt at greenwashing the industrial space that occupies what was supposed to be environmentally friendly riverfront development.
Plans for the Skyway Park, so much for fresh air and open spaces
Once again we can see how the decision making process of the Jersey City government was informed through the lens of economics and defended through the shield of economics. From the perspective of the city, Prologis moving in was too good of an opportunity to pass up. By accepting them, Jersey City was killing two birds with one stone. The city was handing the expense of cleaning the landfill over to Prologis and the city was getting the increased tax revenue from the warehouse and distribution center. Perhaps officials felt it would be dishonest to give arguments for the warehouse that didn’t center around economics. Perhaps they simply couldn’t conceive of any arguments holding more weight than economic ones. Whatever the case, in siting and building this warehouse on the old location of the PJP Landfill, Jersey City was once again invoking the shield of economics to justify why the community got a trucking warehouse instead of a park.
Looking once again at the protests of 1985, it now becomes clear exactly what the broader implications of this event were. Although the event appeared to be a victory for the community, it was ultimately ephemeral and hollow compared to the longstanding detrimental policies on either side of the protest. Far from drawing the era of environmental discrimination to a close with the extinguishing of the fires that burned for fifteen years, this was merely the first chapter in a much longer story by paving the way for a new type of smoke, truck exhaust.
While the protest helped gather the attention that eventually extinguished the fires, it didn’t remove the toxics. Similarly, when the toxics finally were removed, the community was promised a public park along with a warehouse that would improve the local economy. What the locals got, however, was trucks, traffic, and noise that polluted their community in an all new way, along with unfulfilled promises of open space.
In the 70s and 80s Jersey City officials ignored the problem of the fires until an outside entity stepped in with funding. In the 90s to 2010s officials both encouraged and codified the gentrification of the city to the detriment of pre-existing residents. When dealing with the redevelopment of the PJP Landfill in the 2000s and 2010s, they ignored the desires of the local community and pushed ahead with their agenda of economic redevelopment. At every step of the way the officials of Jersey City claimed what they were doing was in the best interest of the local community, when really their arguments weren’t centered around what the community wanted at all. However, they were all centered around a common axis, economics. By consistently invoking the shield of economics to defend their actions Jersey City officials have been able to justify ignoring the local community in the eyes of the broader public.
Perhaps you can consider this paper a case study in how communities living around toxic sites shouldn’t be treated. Perhaps you can interpret what has been gathered here to argue that economics should not be considered the top priority when dealing with environmental hazards. What I would recommend moving forward is to be wary of anyone who’s sole defense for a position is to invoke the shield of economics. When the fate of the community around the PJP Landfill was decided solely by what was economically expedient they suffered for it. The first step in preventing situations like this from arising in the future is to be aware of the reasoning that legitimizes them.
1. Elise S. Yousoufian, “Jersey City Landfill Still Burning Issue,” New York Times, April 28, 1985, https://www.nytimes.com/1985/04/28/nyregion/jersey-city-landfill-still-burning-issue.html.
2. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “PJP Landfill Jersey City, NJ Cleanup Activities,” epa.gov, Accessed April 24, 2021, https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.cleanup&id=0200569.
3. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “PJP Landfill Jersey City, NJ Cleanup Activities,” epa.gov, Accessed April 24, 2021, https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.cleanup&id=0200569.
4. Leo H. Carney, “Smoldering Landfill Jersey City Liability,” New York Times, Nov. 28, 1982, https://www.nytimes.com/1982/11/28/nyregion/smoldering-landfill-jersey-city-liability.html.
5. New Jersey State Department of Health, “Community Respiratory Status Relative to a Burning Landfill,” (Health report, New Jersey), https://www.state.nj.us/health/ceohs/documents/eohap/haz_sites/hudson/jersey_city/pjp_landfill/rpt_resp_lf_3_87.pdf.
6. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “PJP Landfill Jersey City, NJ Cleanup Activities,” epa.gov, Accessed April 24, 2021, https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.cleanup&id=0200569.
7. Lawless, Paul. 2002. “Power and Conflict in Pro-Growth Regimes: Tensions in Economic Development in Jersey City and Detroit.” Urban Studies (Routledge) 39 (8): 1329–46. doi:10.1080/00420980220142664.
8. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Warehouse, golf course, or parks? City, county, and public debating what to build on PJP landfill,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), August 21, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/08/21/warehouse-golf-course-or-parks-city-county-and-public-debating-what-to-build-on-pjp-landfill/.
9. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “EPA Recognizes Jersey City, N.J., Superfund Site for Excellence in Reuse,” epa.gov, Accessed April 24, 2021, https://archive.epa.gov/epa/newsreleases/epa-recognizes-jersey-city-nj-superfund-site-excellence-reuse.html.
10. U.S Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, “Census Tracts Jersey City, N.J. Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area 1970 Census of Population and Housing,” (Census data, Washington D.C., 1972), Page 4-5 for racial makeup, Page 34-37 for general and specific tract poverty levels, Page 48 for African American Poverty rates, https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1970/phc-1/39204513p9ch11.pdf.
11. New Jersey State Data Center, “Population by Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin New Jersey, Counties and Selected Municipalities 1980, 1990 and 2000,” (NJSDC 2000 Census Publication, New Jersey, June 2001), https://www.state.nj.us/labor/lpa/census/2kpub/njsdcp2.pdf.
12. New Jersey State Data Center, “Money Income (1989 and 1999) and Poverty (1999) New Jersey, Counties and Municipalities,” (NJSDC 2000 Census Publication, New Jersey, April 2003), https://www.state.nj.us/labor/lpa/census/2kpub/njsdcp4.pdf.
13. Lawless, Paul. 2002. “Power and Conflict in Pro-Growth Regimes: Tensions in Economic Development in Jersey City and Detroit.” Urban Studies (Routledge) 39 (8): 1329–46. doi:10.1080/00420980220142664.
14. Leo H. Carney, “Smoldering Landfill Jersey City Liability,” New York Times, Nov. 28, 1982, https://www.nytimes.com/1982/11/28/nyregion/smoldering-landfill-jersey-city-liability.html. All claims from this and the previous paragraph were from this article.
15. Terrence T. McDonald, “Almost three decades later, a once-simmering Jersey City landfill site is posed to become city’s largest park,” The Jersey Journal (Jersey City, NJ), Sep. 24, 2012, https://www.nj.com/jjournal-news/2012/09/almost_three_decades_later_a_o.html. The image can be found through the gallery displayed with this news article. If the gallery doesn’t load the images can be found by following this link that is embedded in the website: https://blog.nj.com/photogallery/4505/11597289.json.
16. Leo H. Carney, “Smoldering Landfill Jersey City Liability,” New York Times, Nov. 28, 1982, https://www.nytimes.com/1982/11/28/nyregion/smoldering-landfill-jersey-city-liability.html.
17. Terrence T. McDonald, “Almost three decades later, a once-simmering Jersey City landfill site is posed to become city’s largest park,” The Jersey Journal (Jersey City, NJ), Sep. 24, 2012, https://www.nj.com/jjournal-news/2012/09/almost_three_decades_later_a_o.html.
18. New Jersey State Department of Health, “Community Respiratory Status Relative to a Burning Landfill,” (Health report, New Jersey), https://www.state.nj.us/health/ceohs/documents/eohap/haz_sites/hudson/jersey_city/pjp_landfill/rpt_resp_lf_3_87.pdf. I couldn’t find an exact date anywhere for this document but given how in the background section on page 2 it mentions how the 1985 effort to extinguish the fires was successful, we can be sure that it was produced after 1985 which is the relevant time period for my claim.
19. Alfonso A. Narvaez, “Are Fires at Dump Extinct?,” New York Times, Dec. 8, 1985, https://search-proquest-com.proxy.libraries.rutgers.edu/docview/111250155?accountid=13626&pq-origsite=primo.
20. Terrence T. McDonald, “Almost three decades later, a once-simmering Jersey City landfill site is posed to become city’s largest park,” The Jersey Journal (Jersey City, NJ), Sep. 24, 2012, https://www.nj.com/jjournal-news/2012/09/almost_three_decades_later_a_o.html.
21. New Jersey State Data Center, “New Jersey Population Trends 1790 to 2000,” (NJSDC 2000 Census Publication, New Jersey, August 2001), table 6, https://www.state.nj.us/labor/lpa/census/2kpub/njsdcp3.pdf.
22. United States Census Bureau, “QuickFacts, Jersey City, New Jersey,” (Census data, July 2019), https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/jerseycitycitynewjersey/PST045219.
23. New Jersey State Data Center, “Money Income (1989 and 1999) and Poverty (1999) New Jersey, Counties and Municipalities,” (NJSDC 2000 Census Publication, New Jersey, April 2003), https://www.state.nj.us/labor/lpa/census/2kpub/njsdcp4.pdf. Compared to – United States Census Bureau, “QuickFacts, Jersey City, New Jersey,” (Census data, July 2019), https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/jerseycitycitynewjersey/PST045219.
24. Stuart Callinan, “Gentrification of Two New Jersey Cities: An Analysis of Population Changes in Jersey City, NJ and Hoboken, NJ,” last modified January 16, 2020, https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/e38e09f5c5a045abae1571e9b7cb769d.
25. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Something to chew on Planning Board approves 60-unit development next to popular Italian restaurant,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), September 9, 2007, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2007/09/09/something-to-chew-on-planning-board-approves-60-unit-development-next-to-popular-italian-restaurant/.
26. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Settlement will spur development on west side City Council approves deal with Honeywell to clean up 100 acres,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), February 4, 2008, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2008/02/04/settlement-will-spur-development-on-west-side-city-council-approves-deal-with-honeywell-to-clean-up-100-acres/.
27. Sean J. Gallagher, City Clerk, “Minutes of the Regular Meeting of the Municipal Council Wednesday, July 15, 2020, at 6:00 p.m.,” (Meeting Minutes, Jersey City, 2020), starting page 1682 https://cityofjerseycity.civicweb.net/document/31665.
28. Robert Byrne, City Clerk, “Regular Meeting of the Municipal Council Wednesday, June 12, 2019 at 6:00 p.m.,” (Meeting Minutes, Jersey City, 2019), https://cityofjerseycity.civicweb.net/document/6891.
29. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Something to chew on Planning Board approves 60-unit development next to popular Italian restaurant,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), September 9, 2007, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2007/09/09/something-to-chew-on-planning-board-approves-60-unit-development-next-to-popular-italian-restaurant/.
30. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Hackensack River redevelopment plan approved Plan allows for AMB Warehouse and open space to possibly co-exist,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), October 22, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/10/22/hackensack-river-redevelopment-plan-approved-plan-allows-for-amb-warehouse-and-open-space-to-possibly-co-exist/.
31. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Council approved warehouse Healy says project will boost city’s economy,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), October 8, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/10/08/council-approves-warehouse-healy-says-project-will-boost-citys-economy/.
32. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Warehouse, golf course, or parks? City, county, and public debating what to build on PJP landfill,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), August 21, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/08/21/warehouse-golf-course-or-parks-city-county-and-public-debating-what-to-build-on-pjp-landfill/.
33. Hudson Reporter Archive, “City wants to acquire 32.5 acresOld PJP landfill property sought for soccer fields, park,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), April 5, 2009, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2009/04/05/city-wants-to-acquire-32-5-acresold-pjp-landfill-property-sought-for-soccer-fields-park/.
34. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Planning Board OKs warehouse Contaminants from old landfill must be removed first,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), August 7, 2007, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2007/08/07/planning-board-oks-warehouse-contaminants-from-old-landfill-must-be-removed-first/.
35. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Council approved warehouse Healy says project will boost city’s economy,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), October 8, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/10/08/council-approves-warehouse-healy-says-project-will-boost-citys-economy/.
36. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Hackensack River redevelopment plan approved Plan allows for AMB Warehouse and open space to possibly co-exist,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), October 22, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/10/22/hackensack-river-redevelopment-plan-approved-plan-allows-for-amb-warehouse-and-open-space-to-possibly-co-exist/.
37. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Warehouse, golf course, or parks? City, county, and public debating what to build on PJP landfill,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), August 21, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/08/21/warehouse-golf-course-or-parks-city-county-and-public-debating-what-to-build-on-pjp-landfill/.
38. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Council approved warehouse Healy says project will boost city’s economy,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), October 8, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/10/08/council-approves-warehouse-healy-says-project-will-boost-citys-economy/.
39. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Warehouse, golf course, or parks? City, county, and public debating what to build on PJP landfill,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), August 21, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/08/21/warehouse-golf-course-or-parks-city-county-and-public-debating-what-to-build-on-pjp-landfill/.
40. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Planning Board OKs warehouse Contaminants from old landfill must be removed first,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), August 7, 2007, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2007/08/07/planning-board-oks-warehouse-contaminants-from-old-landfill-must-be-removed-first/.
41. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “PJP Landfill Jersey City, NJ Cleanup Activities,” epa.gov, Accessed April 24, 2021, https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.cleanup&id=0200569.
42. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “EPA Recognizes Jersey City, N.J., Superfund Site for Excellence in Reuse,” epa.gov, Accessed April 24, 2021, https://archive.epa.gov/epa/newsreleases/epa-recognizes-jersey-city-nj-superfund-site-excellence-reuse.html.
43. Hudson Reporter Archive, “City wants to acquire 32.5 acresOld PJP landfill property sought for soccer fields, park,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), April 5, 2009, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2009/04/05/city-wants-to-acquire-32-5-acresold-pjp-landfill-property-sought-for-soccer-fields-park/.
44. “EJSCREEN ACS Summary Report,” ejscreen.epa.gov, United States Environmental Protection Agency, accessed May 3, 2021, https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/demogreportpdf.aspx?report=acs2018. Using the region defined in https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/ejscreen_SOE.aspx.
45. “EJSCREEN Report (Version 2020),” ejscreen.epa.gov, United States Environmental Protection Agency, accessed May 3, 2021, https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/ejscreen_SOE.aspx.
46. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Tenants to move into once-controversial West Side warehouse,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), September 22, 2013, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2013/09/22/tenants-to-move-into-once-controversial-west-side-warehouse/.
47. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Council approved warehouse Healy says project will boost city’s economy,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), October 8, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/10/08/council-approves-warehouse-healy-says-project-will-boost-citys-economy/.
48. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Hackensack River redevelopment plan approved Plan allows for AMB Warehouse and open space to possibly co-exist,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), October 22, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/10/22/hackensack-river-redevelopment-plan-approved-plan-allows-for-amb-warehouse-and-open-space-to-possibly-co-exist/.
49. Kevin Armstrong & Tracey Tully, “Park With Covid Memorial Is Rising on Site of Former Toxic Dump,” New York Times, Dec. 4, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/nyregion/skyway-park-jersey-city-landfill.html.
50. Hudson Reporter Archive, “Council approved warehouse Healy says project will boost city’s economy,” Hudson Reporter (Hudson County, NJ), October 8, 2006, https://archive.hudsonreporter.com/2006/10/08/council-approves-warehouse-healy-says-project-will-boost-citys-economy/.51. Chris Fry, “Jersey City Reveals Plans to Convert Former Landfill into $10 Million Skyway Park,” Jersey Digs, December 4, 2020, https://jerseydigs.com/jersey-city-reveals-plans-to-convert-former-landfill-into-10-million-skyway-park/.
51. Chris Fry, “Jersey City Reveals Plans to Convert Former Landfill into $10 Million Skyway Park,” Jersey Digs, December 4, 2020, https://jerseydigs.com/jersey-city-reveals-plans-to-convert-former-landfill-into-10-million-skyway-park/.
Source 1: SMOLDERING LANDFILL JERSEY CITY LIABILITY
Author: Leo H. Carney
Date of Publication: Nov 28, 1982
This source is a news article from 1982, 12 years after the landfill originally opened, and it expresses discontent from the locals about how the cleanup efforts are taking so long. Important to remember that during this period there were frequent underground fires, making a dramatic example of the problems that were underground at the site. This is useful to my project because it shows how residents of the city reacted and it also shows how many different organizations were involved with this site.
Source 2: Gallery: PJP Landfill Throughout the Years
Author: Terrence T. McDonald
Date of Publication: Sep 24, 2012
This source is a news article from 2019 about the history of the landfill, but I’m more interested in the images that are featured with the article. Some of the images show fresh growth and abundant plant life in the area of the former landfill and other images show fields with fires burning all around and plumes of smoke rising in the air. Other images show members of the community confronting politicians about the landfill. These images are useful because they demonstrate both the transformation of the site and some of the methods the community used to advocate for themselves.
Source 3: Welcome to Jersey City Politics. (cover story)
Author: Doug Daniels
Date of Publication: May, 2008
This source is a magazine article written about the politics of Jersey City. It includes interviews and quotes from major figures in Jersey City politics. This source is useful for my project because it gives me a different perspective on the politics of Jersey City than I have been able to find in my secondary sources. This gives a view from the ground level of how people living in Jersey City viewed their own political system.
Source 4: Are Fires At Dump Extinct?
Author: Alfonso A. Narvaez
Date of Publication: Dec 8, 1985
This source is a newspaper article from 1985, around the time that the underground fires were finally extinguished, about the different agencies involved in the effort to put out the fires. This source is useful for my project because it gives an example of how the different agencies involved in toxic sites aren’t always capable of working seamlessly together and how animosity can grow between members of different organizations.
Source 5: Various Collections of Jersey City Census Data
Date: July 1, 2019
Date: August, 2001
Date: June, 2001
Date: April, 2003
I decided to present these sources together because they are all collections of different types of census data. The dates presented range from the 70s to 2019. Taken together these sources are helpful for my project because they concretely show how the community has changed over time and can be used as evidence to show gentrification in Jersey City.
Primary Source Analysis
Source: SMOLDERING LANDFILL JERSEY CITY LIABILITY
This source is a newspaper article from the New York Times that was published in 1982 and was written by Leo H. Carney. It includes interviews with prominent figures from many of the organizations that have or had influence over the site at the time of writing. Carney attempts to get the perspective of all the people that had a hand in creating, perpetuating, or remediating the site and through this seeks to explain why the landfill has yet to be cleaned. Looking at all these different quotes from people explaining why themselves or others didn’t take more action to protect the community seems to indicate a lack of commitment to actually making a change. Ultimately, I think this source helps demonstrate both the confused nature of the site during the late 70s and early 80s and how that confusion delayed a proper response from the authorities.
Looking first at all of the different players that had influence over the site we can see how this increased the complexity of the location. Throughout the article we see such organizations as the Jersey City Fire Department, the NJDEP, the EPA, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, the mayor’s office of Jersey City, the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and a reference to local residents. Along with these organizations we see several prominent individuals including Edwin Seigel who owned part of the land on which the landfill was built, Frederick Rubel who represented the EPA’s Emergency Response and Hazardous Materials Inspection Branch in Edison, and Earl Aldridge who was the toxic waste official for Jersey City. What should have been a simple explanation of where the site stood in 1982 and how it got there branched off and touched a multitude of competing interests for the future of the site.
All of these competing voices and interests made forming a plan forward difficult for the site. According to Carney, “Agencies representing the three governmental levels have not been able to agree on who should address the air-pollution and other problems associated with the fire”. While the EPA maintained in 1979 that the underground fires did not present a large enough risk to start an emergency cleanup, Lt. McCarthy of the Jersey City Fire Department claimed there were, “many instances of midnight dumping” at the site, including hazardous waste. In addition, George Klenk representing the NJDEP said, “the Department of Environmental Protection had not taken further action because the E.P.A. was now the ‘lead’ agency in the case”. What all of this shows is that there was contradictory information at the time about how severe the problems were and disagreement about how to move forward. These factors combined to create an atmosphere of confusion.
This confusion, in turn, led to a delayed response by the various authorities who were supposed to be handling the situation. So delayed in fact that, “state and local environmental authorities have acknowledged that, for 10 years now, they have not fully assessed the public-health dangers of a smoldering, continually erupting fire in an abandoned landfill here, nor determined the extent of the underground pollution that has fueled the fire.” All of this despite complaints from both residents of Jersey City and New Jersey’s Department of Transportation. During this time period there turned out to be very little action on the part of governmental officials either to slow the pollution of the site or remediate the situation with Carney stating, “What emerged last week from nearly a dozen interviews was that, since 1977, no enforcement action has been taken against the owners or operators of the dump by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection or the Federal Environmental Protection Agency”. What we can draw from this is that, in all likelihood, this variety of organizations involved had a hindering effect on the speed with which the actual problems of the landfill were addressed.
Source 1: Paul Lawless, Power and Conflict in Pro-growth Regimes: Tensions in Economic Development in Jersey City and Detroit, Urban Studies (Routledge), 2002
This source is an examination of the cities of Detroit and Jersey City, comparing how the politics and economics of both cities contributed to their development.
This source will be useful for my project because it examines the political and economic development of Jersey City in its post-industrial context. The time period extends from 2002 when the article was written, to about 1970. This source helps me understand the political forces at play in Jersey City that contributed to how my site was treated over time. It also helps me understand how the different social groups of Jersey City perceived various changes and what many of them did about it.
Source 2: David B. Cole, Artists and Urban Redevelopment, Geographical Review, 1987
This source looks at how artists moving out of Manhattan affected local communties in the cities of Newark, Hoboken, and Jersey City.
This source is useful for my project because it gives concrete examples of how outside influences were able to change the landscape of Jersey City. The source gives examples of how artists contributed to the gentrification of Jersey City throughout the 70s and 80s, and how these plans were supported by local politicians and real estate organizations. This helps me understand the changing nature of the economy of Jersey City and the different communities that inhabit the area.
Source 3: United States Environmental Protection Agency, PJP LANDFILL JERSEY CITY, NJ Cleanup Activities, 2019
This source is a written report on the history of the PJP Landfill and the various actions that have been taken to clean up the location.
This source is useful for my project because it helps me understand the timeline of events that happened at my site and what official action has been taken over the years. It helps me understand the types of dangers the community was exposed to, including information about what contaminants were present and how long they were in the site for. It also gives me information about the various parties that were involved at the site over time and in what ways they contributed to either the pollution or the cleanup.
US senator James Florio stands before a crowd of people in Jersey City, NJ in the year 1985. The weather may be nice but the faces of the people in the crowd betray how they feel about whatever promises they may be receiving at the moment. This crowd was out here to demonstrate about the problems at the PJP landfill. This landfill, located by the Pulaski Skyway, had been the site of toxic dumping in the previous decade and had since been the location of prolonged underground fires that regularly spewed smoke into the surrounding community and upwards onto the bridge. This image shows three main things about the community surrounding the PJP landfill. It demonstrates that the community was aware of the seriousness of the problems, they were active in trying to fix the problems, and their opinions of those public officials who hadn’t been able to fix the problems was low.
The crowd Florio was speaking to in this image gathered in April 1985, presumably for a rally the senator was holding to gather support from voters in Jersey City. A month prior there was a rally held by the residents of Jersey City in the nearby Lincoln Park about the dangers faced by the community and calling for more official action to be taken to protect the community. Sen Florio was among the speakers at this event and is quoted as saying, “There is no site on that list that has a more adverse effect on air pollution than the P.J.P. Landfill. What we’ve got to convey is clean up the toxic pollution here. Do it now. No excuses.” As we will see later these promises didn’t placate the community. While there isn’t much official information about why this image was produced, some inferences can be made by its composition. While the senator is the largest individual in the image he is placed off to the side, with the crowd forming the majority of the image. The photographer was also on stage with Florio and took the image from this perspective, when he could have been standing anywhere. These details were no accident, and were likely done to produce both an image of the sen Florio being visible at a public rally and of the crowd doing everything they can to make themselves heard by officials.
In this moment the community was well aware of the problems they faced, the very nature of the crowd attests to that. The size of the crowd shows how many people were concerned about the contamination and fires taking place at the landfill. The fact that an out of towner was able to draw an impressive crowd in a local rally also speaks to the concerns of the community, how they were willing to go after anyone who might be able to improve their situation. The community had also clearly prepared for this event. Many signs are visible in the crowd along with certain members wearing surgical masks, one even wearing a gas mask, to signify the problem with air pollution. This wasn’t an impromptu gathering, this demonstration was deliberate and pre-planned on the part of the community.
The tactics used by the community seem to have been carefully crafted to leave the most impact on Florio and whoever else might have been watching the rally take place. Judging from the sign that reads, “Disinfection before re-election” it can be inferred that Florio has an election coming up, meaning this would be the perfect moment for members of the public to apply pressure. Politicians are typically most susceptible to public pressure when they are on campaign, because that is when the reality of them being replaced if they displease the voters is most prevalent in their minds. Along with the political pressure, the community is using emotion to influence politicians. Placed in the front of the crowd, directly before the speaking platform, is a group of children. Some of these children are holding a sign that reads, “We speak for the children” to really drive the point home. Others are holding balloons or wearing small toy hats, other clear indicators of youth. The community is communicating that these children are being directly negatively impacted by the pollution at the landfill and in the air because of the fires in an attempt to influence the senator.
The crowd was very clearly displeased at the moment the picture was taken. If the community was happy with the promises Florio was making in this moment we would expect to see something along the lines of clapping, cheering, or maybe even a smile. Looking at the crowd, however, shows that none of this was happening. The faces of the people in the crowd show a group of people that was not happy. The body language of the crowd shows people standing stiff, many with their arms crossed or with hands on hips. What we see in the image is exactly the type of behavior we would expect to see from people that are displeased. People that are skeptical of promises made by politicians, of people that don’t exactly trust that this senator is capable of helping them, even if his promises are sincere.
The size and preparation of the crowd demonstrates how the community was aware of the problems they faced. The political pressure of targeting politicians specifically by saying they won’t get reelected if they don’t help them along with the emotional tactic of using children to gather sympathy demonstrate how the community was active in trying to fix these problems. The behavior of the crowd demonstrates that their opinion of this senator, and likely other officials who failed them, was low. All of this is important to the larger context surrounding the site because it shows how the community was active in advocating for themselves during the 80s and how that activity led to some progress for the community. The underground fires were finally extinguished the same year these rallies happened but they were only successfully in dealing with the surface level problems, with the cleanup of the actual toxic materials not coming until the 2000s and 2010s.
This video is meant to serve both as an overview of some of the most dramatic events that took place at the PJP landfill through the years and as a brief introduction to the history of the site, introducing some of the ideas that will be discussed in more depth throughout the paper. It shows events that took place all throughout the site’s existence, from 1970 to the present.