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Experts: Newark’s Minority Children Are Most At-Risk Victims of Pollution

First Posted: Dec 09, 2014 03:25 PM EST
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Experts: Newark’s Minority Children Are Most At-Risk Victims of Pollution

Photo : Getty

The Ironbound district of Newark is "bounded on three sides" by rail lines.

And the area is no stranger to the toxic intrusion of manufacturing plants or the dangerous presence of extensive industrial dumping.

The large, working-class Portuguese neighborhood of Ironbound stands as a glowing example of the disproportionate amount of environmental issues facing execrated groups in America's urban settings, impacting their health.

For 20 years (1950s through the 1970s), East Newark experienced ongoing disposal of waste into their waterways due predominately to a company called Diamond Alkali -- a company which produced approximately 700,000 gallons of Agent Orange, one of the so-called "Rainbow Herbicides" used to deforest land in Vietnam during the war as part of Operation Ranch Hand.

Over that 20-year period, Diamond Alkali, who merged with Shamrock Oil and Gas in 1967 to become Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Corp, deposited enough toxins to make the Passaic River the "largest site of dioxin (one of the byproducts of Agent Orange) concentration in the world." The river became a Superfund site in 1983 after being declared a "disaster zone."

While companies have changed practices and merged, restoration and improving the "industrial legacy of Newark" will be a long process. Newark's residents are predominately Hispanic, African American and "new immigrants." Low-income citizens and those who live in public housing are situated in some of the zones most affected by pollution.

Newark has the largest incinerator in New Jersey, drawing in unsorted trash from multiple locations. Batteries, electronics, construction debris and curbside garbage release 200 pounds of mercury emissions annually, affecting the community. Also, there's a coal-fired plant located in densely populated Jersey City, creating problems for the downwind minority population, as well as communities living in New Jersey and Manhattan. Superstorm Sandy only increased damages to those communities, as flood water from the contaminated Passaic River flooded family home homes with toxins.

Additionally, the "natural gas production plant" currently under construction in Newark poses a threat. Opposition has made great efforts to halt the development of the Hess facility, which likely won't even bring jobs to the community.

Ana Baptista, an environmentalist with a Masters from Brown University in Environmental Studies, a PhD in Urban Planning and Public Policy and a teaching post at the New School for Public Engagement, is from Ironbound, and she recently spoke with Marcia G. Yerman of Moms Clean Air Force about statistics and facts.

Baptista shared that 25 percent of young people in Newark suffer from asthma. That percentage is several times the county and state average. In addition, Bapstita told Yerman, the vulnerable children of Newark lack access to health care.

According to Yerman, Baptista was instrumental in mobilizing parents to react "against the idling of diesel trucks, specifically in front of a K-8 school." Between 200 to 300 engine-running trucks were observed moving through school zones in a given hour, which provoked mom groups to contact the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance (NJEJA), which managed to pass a 3-minute idling law.

Enforcement and aggressive regulations are still painfully essential. Mortality rates linked to pollution are particularly high in the Hispanic and African American communities, while the American Lung Association's 2009 State of the Air report found that "Latinos and non-Hispanic Blacks were more likely to live incounties that have higher levels of particle pollution.  . 

The vocal environmental activist Baptista suggests getting off of fossil fuels and turning to the power of solar, wind and hydro. With Germany now using solar energy more widely, success there proves that renewables have the benefits of clean air and jobs. 

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