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
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/.