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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 23, 2005

Contact: Karen Hershey
(609) 984-1795

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE TASK FORCE ADVANCES PETITIONS TO ADDRESS COMMUNITY ENVIRONMENTAL AND PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

TRENTON (05/83) -- New Jersey's Environmental Justice Task Force (Task Force) today released its responses to environmental justice petitions submitted by community residents and workers throughout the state, and announced that actions will be taken to address environmental and public health concerns raised by residents in Ringwood, Newark and Linden.

The Task Force is led by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell and New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Dr. Fred Jacobs.

In February 2004, an Executive Order was signed requiring state agencies to consider the health and environmental impacts of their decision-making on communities of color and low-income communities. The Executive Order directed the Commissioners of DEP and DHSS to establish a task force comprised of senior officials from various state agencies to investigate environmental and public health issues, and make recommendations to agency heads for the development of action plans to address environmental justice concerns.

Under the Order, groups of residents and workers can file petitions for review by the Task Force when they believe they are subject to disproportionate, adverse exposure to environmental health risks or other forms of environmental injustices. The Task Force then meets directly with representatives from the affected communities to understand their concerns, and may, if desired by members of the community, hold meetings to evaluate the petitioners' claims.

"The Task Force gives underserved communities a voice and forum to request action on issues relating to the environment and public health," said DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell, co-chair of the Task Force. "This is the first time that state agencies are using a coordinated approach to address the complex issues of environmental justice. By partnering with other agencies, we can improve the quality of life for those living in communities that have been disproportionately and unfairly affected by pollution."

"This new process provides a forum for residents to share with state officials their concerns regarding the impact of local environmental conditions on their health," said DHSS Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, co-chair of the Task Force. "With this information we can examine both environmental quality and specific health issues of the community and, as necessary, devise an action plan for improvement."

Additionally, the Order directed DEP to reconstitute the existing Environmental Justice Advisory Council (Council) to advise the Task Force. The Council is comprised of 15 representatives from community organizations, business and industry, organized labor and faith-based groups around New Jersey.

"The Task Force findings demonstrate the unmet environmental and health concerns facing our communities, and the communities' willingness to be part of the problem-solving process," said Valorie Caffee, Chairperson of the Environmental Justice Advisory Council. "The Task Force has made some sound recommendations in its findings that will hopefully help avoid some of the issues that gave rise to the current petitions."

Over the next two months, the Task Force will work with communities and the Council to develop action plans to address concerns raised in each of the following three petitions:

  • The petition submitted by the Ringwood Neighborhood Action Association (RNAA) expressed concerns regarding health effects from an incomplete assessment and cleanup of contamination by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the former Ringwood Mines Superfund Site. The petition was filed by 85 residents and workers from the Ringwood community. Many RNAA members are Ramapough Mountain Indians, an officially recognized tribe by the state of New Jersey.

  • The petition submitted on behalf of residents of the West Ward of Newark by the New Jersey Environmental Federation, the Newark North Jersey Committee of Black Churchmen/Clergy, the Neighborhood Square Block Association and the North Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance raised concerns about potential exposure to airborne asbestos and lead from demolition activities at the former Pabst Brewery site in Newark, New Jersey. More than 90 residents and workers in Newark signed the petition.

  • The petition submitted by residents of Linden on behalf of the Tremley Point Alliance expressed concerns about protection and preservation of area wetlands, the lack of public participation and rising asthma rates in the city of Linden. One survey conducted by a Linden based community group found that there was a large number of school age children in Linden who suffer from asthma. The petition was submitted by workers and residents from Tremley Point, a highly industrialized section of Linden. The petition was filed by 170 residents and workers from Linden.

The Task Force received additional petitions from community groups in Jersey City and Roselle. Both petitions raised concerns regarding proposed and current freight railway projects. The Task Force found that states are preempted by federal law from regulating environmental matters relating to railroads; however, the Task Force expressed a willingness to continue to investigate the concerns raised in the petitions, including those relating to health and safety, pesticide use, and maintenance.

Last year, the Task Force accepted a petition from Long Branch, which expressed concerns about the environmental and health impacts of a site remediation project and a petition from Camden, which raised concerns about the impacts of industry and its proximity to residential communities.

The full text of the statements of findings and information about the Environmental Justice Task Force can be found online at: http://www.nj.gov/dep/ej/.

 

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