The impacts from the NJ Turnpike are several and the people who live near this major highway face continuous effects to their lives and health. The city of Elizabeth was cut through to build the NJ Turnpike. In the process several homes were destroyed displacing approximately four hundred and fifty families. Properties were bought around the city to rent out the spaces to those who were displaced. Currently, there is public housing near the highway. In this analysis I will examine the current impacts of the highway on the residents living near it in Elizabeth, NJ.
The population of Elizabeth, NJ is 64.5% Hispanic or Latino according to the most recent Census data shown in figure 1 above. The second largest group is White, alone at 45%, but that is categorized as “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as “White” or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Arab, Moroccan, or Caucasian.” This definition does not give an accurate breakdown of the population. However, the data also shows that the foreign-born population between 2014-2018 is 46.2%. This points to a larger immigrant population than the percentage of White may suggest. Census data also shows that of the total population, 129,216, 18.6% of them are in poverty and the median household income (in 2018 dollars) 2014-2018 was $46,975. According to data from 2017, the average income to afford a two bedroom was $56,810 and a one bedroom was about $46,619. However, according to the census data there are about 3.12 persons per household, 2014-2018. This means that most people have others living with them and can barely afford a one bedroom. The data shows that “minimum-wager earners in New Jersey would have to work a whopping 106 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment at the fair market rent of $1,165 per month.” The struggles of the residents in Elizabeth are also highlighted by the statistic that persons without health insurance, under age 65 years, is 23.9%. Without health insurance, people are more reluctant to receive medical attention and when they need to it can result in enormous debts. Overall, the demographic points to a large minority group in the lower economic bracket.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides an environmental justice mapping and screening tool with data that exhibits information using an EJ index which is a combination of demographic data and environmental data. This information reveals that Elizabeth’s traffic proximity and volume is in the 94th percentile in both the state and country. The city’s index for Hazardous Waste Proximity is in the 90th percentile for New Jersey and the 95th percentile in the U.S. Additionally, Elizabeth ranks very high in the index for “Wastewater Discharge Indicator” at 97th percentile for the state and 95th percentile in the country. The data points to different sources for air and water pollution in the area. These findings are not surprising considering how developed the city is compared to others surrounding it. Figure 2 below shows a map of Elizabeth as one of the most developed areas of land in the state. The high intensity of development also places it in proximity to risk management plan (RMP) facilities. These facilities use extremely hazardous substances and are thus required to have a risk management plan. Elizabeth ranked in the 95th percentile in both the state and country for RMP Proximity.
People are seeing the differences between their community versus the wealthier communities. In Elizabeth there are strong organizations that are working to protest and change the environmental dangers residents face. Daniella Rivera described the stark contrast in quality of life within Union County: “The truth is that there are two completely different realities going on within Union County. I grew up in Elizabeth, where I thought it was normal to see factories producing smoke into our air 24 hours a day, or that it was okay to not be able to drink from our school’s water fountains due to the ongoing water crisis in Newark. I was fortunate enough to get accepted into a school like the Academy for Performing Arts, however the vast difference of the quality of life between myself and my peers shocked me.” Environmental issues impact basic daily necessary activity like drinking water. Areas that are not as developed as Elizabeth do not have to deal with the congestion and constant fumes from cars and factories.
Highways are a major Environmental injustice that thousands of people travel and pass through everyday not giving it much thought. Areas that are more secluded benefit from not even having to hear the noise that comes from highways. But the reality for those who do live beside a highway are there are many risks to the population’s health and ones that may not be evident yet.