Scientific Data Analysis
The Diamond Alkali Superfund site includes the lower 17 mile stretch of the Passaic River, from Dundee Dam all the way to Newark Bay. Within a 1 mile buffer of the site, 274, 233 people live in the area. The Diamond Alkali Superfund site earned it’s notorious title due to its release of the harmful chemicals called dioxin, poly chlorinated-Biphenyls (PCBs), poly cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides and metal. Dioxin is one of the by-products of the manufacture of agricultural chemicals. These include herbicides, such as the defoliant “Agent Orange”. Demarcation of the site as a Superfund Site occurred 30 years ago, but the subsequent clean up has been stalled due to the legal arbitration. An analysis of this scientific data will show a correlation between a congested pollution epicenter and the presence of a politically disadvantaged population. These factors have put an unique burden on the EPA to not only investigate but extrapolate the source of environmental injustice.
The metropolitan area New Jersey and New York is not the cleanest. The Passaic River is not an exception, but a prime example of this. It is important to note that the Diamond Alkali Superfund site in name refers to the specific plant at the edge of Ironbound that released harmful chemicals into the river. However, out of respect to the sheer scale of possible damage, it was extended to encompass 17 Miles, little over a fifth of the whole river. Three environmental indicators hint at the extent of the pollution. These are the Superfund proximity, wastewater discharge and hazardous waste proximity. Nationally, the Superfund Site is over the 80 percentile in all three categories. The Superfund Proximity is understandable. The Diamond Alkali Superfund site resides in the 99 percentile of this indicator. We see this high percentile again with the wastewater discharge, with the Diamond Alkali Site placing in the 85 percentile. This statistic is the most useful in deducing the current state of the River. It suggests that industrial facilities in North Jersey still rely on the river as a means of managing its waste. The last indicator confirms what is still sitting at the bottom of the Passaic River. The Superfund site sits at the 95 percentile of hazardous waste proximity. The high percentage of each indicator on a national scale suggests that not only are all of these indicators closely related, but that the Diamond Alkali is unique among other Superfund sites in that it is in the center of a lot of waste. One of the difficulties the EPA faces in the remediation is who is responsible for what damage. Being in the center of the hive trying to find a couple of bees can be difficult. Statewide, the percentiles across the board are the same. Each is above the 80 percentile. This suggests that this area in North Jersey is the one of the most polluted areas in the state (hand Newark a medal). Diamond Alkali is within the 85 percentile of wastewater discharge, along the same lines as the national percentile. However, there is a decrease in percentile in both Superfund proximity (94%) and hazardous waste proximity (89%). This specific statistical line was perplexing. The fact that the Superfund indicator dropped from the national to the state level could be explained by the presence of multiple Superfund sites around the river. The same logic applies to the hazardous waste indicator, implying that Diamond Alkali sits at a congested point of pollution within the state. The next stat line, dealing with just the region, broke rank. The Superfund proximity indicator hovered close to the state and national percentile at 97%, as did the regional percentile of wastewater discharge (87). The hazardous waste proximity index dropped significantly, by about 19%, rounding out at the 68 percentile. This line does alleviate the Passaic River of being one of the dirtiest rivers in the nation, but it supports the possibility that rivers close by could be worse.
Demographic Indicators allow us to gauge the human element. Within the 1 square mile buffer of the Diamond Alkali Superfund, 274, 233 live on the edges of the lower Passaic River. This population is special in the language its members speak. According to the linguistically isolated indicator, this population regionally resides within the 86 percentile, 88 percentile state-wide and the 93 percentile nationally. This data suggests that the majority of this population speaks one language. If the dominating language was English, it would explain the high percentiles. However, the minority population indicator hints at the diversity this area exhibits. Nationally the area is within the 76 percentile, statewide within the 72 percentile, and regionally within the 69 percentile. All of the minority indicators point to a heterogeneous population. The most interesting characteristic of this population is that it does not speak the language. 59% of this population are non-English speaking people, with knowledge of only that language. The last demographic indicator worth noting is the low income population indicator. The statistics were very similar to the minority indicator. Nationally the area ranks within the 76 percentile, statewide within the 72 percentile and regionally within the 69 percentile. The majority of this population is considered unique in that this is the demographic opposite of the dominant one. The national average for the low income population is 33%, for the minority population 39% and for the linguistically isolated indicator just 4%. This is indeed a unique population, that do not regularly speak English and do not earn a significant amount of money.
We can deduce from all of these indicators that the Passaic River, specifically the Diamond Alkali Superfund site, checks off all the boxes of traditional environmental justice areas of conflict. The Site itself is dirty by both national and state standards. It is not just dirty, it is also congested. There seems to be multiple sources contributing to the destitute state of the river, with multiple separate Superfund sites sharing property on the riverside. The state of the river matches the population that surrounds it. The Minority Population is the closest to the toxic river. 59% of this population are non-English, which hinders their ability to speak up, especially within the political arena, against the injustice of the surrounding factories. The fact that this same population is also a low income population hurts them as a whole, for they don’t have the easiest of means to affect the environment in front of them. There is also evidence to suggest that this is not in their best interest either. 63% of all the properties surrounding the river are rented out. The property owners of these houses and developments may be insulated from the injustice of the area because they may simply not live there. With all the data taken together, two alarming conclusions can be formed. The Diamond Alkali Superfund site overlaps with so many other sources of pollution that the EPA is uniquely burdened with finding all the correct parties to adjudicate. Second, the surrounding local population is significantly disadvantaged in representing itself in a meaningful way due to economic and linguistic barriers. The population, without a means of expediting remediation, is at the mercy of the pace of the EPAs’ administrative ability.