This section of the project will go through a data analysis of environmental and demographic indicators in the Meadowlands to understand whether an environmental injustice is occurring in this site. The tools used for this analysis were provided by the EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool. The pinpointed location in the figure above is American Dream with a three mile buffer around it. The buffer was chosen to cover three miles to capture data of the areas in the Meadowland that will surround the mall. Included within this buffer is an estimated population of 104,832 people. The environmental indicators chosen for this analysis were National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) Diesel Particulate Matter (PM), NATA Cancer Risk, NATA Respiratory Hazard Index (HI), and Traffic Proximity. The demographic indicators chosen are Minority Population, Low Income Population, Linguistically Isolated, and less than High School education. Each category will be compared by state and national outcomes and described in percentiles. Percentiles describe what percent of the state or national population “has an equal or lower value, meaning less potential for exposure/ risk/ proximity” to each category.39 This data will be analyzed with the understanding of how environmental justice can affect communities by class or race to see if a conclusion can be made on whether an environmental justice issue is occurring here.
Upon examining the environmental indicators in this map it is clear that there is an air pollution issue that is affecting the health of the people that live here. In the NATA Diesel PM category, which calculates how much diesel particulate matter there is in the air, this area ranks 89th percentile in the state and 95-100th percentile in the country.40 A possible explanation for such a high ranking can be found when observing the traffic proximity on the chart, which shows that this area on the map is 86th percentile in the state and 88th percentile in the country. Clearly, air pollution is an issue here and is caused by this traffic, making it land on one of the highest percentiles for both of these categories. This does not take into account any additional traffic that may be caused now or in the future by American Dream, this is already a burden that is affecting this area that will be worsened by adding 100,000 more cars onto the road.
In this same chart, health effects that can be attributed to NATA Diesel PM and traffic proximity can be seen. Specifically, in NATA Cancer Risk and NATA Respiratory Hazard Index. The NATA cancer risk shows the “lifetime cancer risk from inhalation of air toxics” and the population in the map fell in the 91st percentile in the state and 70-80th percentile in the country.41 Similarly, for the NATA Respiratory Hazard Index which is the “ratio of exposure concentration to health-based reference concentration” this population came out to be 89th percentile and 70-80th percentile.42 This finding shows how there is a correlation between the traffic, the PM released by the cars in that traffic, and the deteriorating health of the people on this map. Now let’s get to see some information about the people in the Meadowlands.
The demographic indicators in this map are able to tell us about the people that reside here and whether they may have any characteristics or challenges that may make them susceptible to environmental injustice. The first indicator is understanding the percentage of the minority population, here 56% of the population is minority and it ranks 65th percentile and 71st percentile in the country. The population isn’t overwhelmingly minority, but the percentage is relatively high when compared to areas of the rest of the state. The next indicator is the low- income population, which makes up 27% of the population on this map ranking 64th in the state and 45th percentile in the country. This means that almost 1 in 5 people included in this map are low income, and much like the minority category compared to the state it is a high number. The fact that the communities surrounding American Dream are composed of working class, ethnic minorities go in line with the environmental justice theory of race and class being indicators for toxic waste sites.43 These two pieces of data are incredibly important through the lens of environmental justice because they coincide with the theory that class and race are the two most working class, people of color.44 This is also true for the last two indicators observed for this site.
The two final indicators observed in the environmental justice analysis of the American Dream site are linguistically isolated and education level indicators. According to EJScreen, the linguistically isolated population in this area, which either don’t speak English or don’t speak it very well, makes up 11% of the total population.45 This high percentage means that this indicator ranks in the 77th percentile in the state and 85th percentile in the country and is the highest overall when compared to the state and country percentiles. This is an important factor when discussing environmental justice because a linguistically isolated population may not be able to advocate for themselves or keep themselves informed in the same way english speakers can.46 The last indicator is the population that has less than a high school education, and roughly 14% of the total population falls in this category making it 71st percentile in the state and 64th in the country. This is another high percentage and high percentile result that is valuable in the environmental justice discourse of this site because the lower education level also tends to point to a working class background. Both of these factors tend to correlate with a toxic site in the area.47
Both the environmental and demographic data is alarming in nature, because of all of the health risks and environmental hazards are currently present without even taking into account the pollution that will be brought on by American Dream. Moreover, understanding it is still important because it showcases the ways in which this community is affected by environmental hazards, and it begins to tell a story as to why these issues are occurring. Each environmental indicator came out in an extremely high percentile and it shows that the pollutants in this area have a hand in or are causing the health hazards. This is important to emphasize because the current environmental and health issues have not even been exacerbated yet by the traffic and pollution that American Dream will cause.
This is important when looking at the demographic indicators under the lens of environmental justice, because there is a link between minority, working class communities “with weak social, economic, and political capital” and the amount of environmental hazards in their communities.48 This can be considered to be true in the case of this site where a large portion of the population is minority and low income, but more telling is that 10% of the population is linguistically isolated. All of the results from these demographic and environmental indicators of this site go hand in hand with the theory of the path of least resistance. This theory argues that industries would purposely go to communities of color, that were low income, or even had low educational levels because they would not be able to fight back like other communities that were white, wealthy, and well-connected.49 This specific indicator is a good example of that, because this large portion of the population may not be able to advocate for themselves or does not have the same sort of social or political capital to enact change as easily as everyone else.