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July 30, 2003

Contact: Amy Cradic
(609) 984-1795

DEP Releases Study that Ranks Top Risks to New Jersey's Environment and Human Health:

Land Use Change Poses a Major Environmental Threat to State

(03/106) TRENTON –Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today released the final report of the New Jersey Comparative Risk Project that ranks land use change, indoor and outdoor pollution, and invasive species as major threats to New Jersey’s environment and people.

“A comprehensive review of current science has validated Governor McGreevey’s core priorities for strengthening public health standards and natural resource protection,” said Commissioner Campbell. “From the battle for smart growth to the enforcement of tough new rules to protect families as well as forests from emerging threats, this report shows that the Administration’s priorities are the right ones.”

The final report of the New Jersey Comparative Risk Project, funded by the DEP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was overseen by a 19-member independent panel. Seventy-three experts analyzed and ranked 88 chemical, physical and biological factors (“stressors”) according to their relative impacts on human health, ecological quality and socioeconomic conditions. The report provides 178 detailed analyses of stressors from acid precipitation and benzene to West Nile Virus and zinc. Its findings indicate that the conversion of undeveloped land poses the top ecological and socioeconomic risk to New Jersey’s environment and people. Indoor pollution and outdoor air pollution pose major health and socioeconomic risks, and invasive species pose serious ecological threats to several New Jersey ecosystems.

In addition to ranking land use change and habitat alteration as the greatest ecological threat, the report findings indicate that the greatest human health risks resulted from various forms of indoor pollution, such as secondhand tobacco smoke, lead, radon, indoor asthma inducers, indoor pesticide use and carbon monoxide. For many of these stressors, report findings indicate that children are among the most “at risk” populations in the state because they are more susceptible to statewide exposure levels.

The four major findings of the report are:

  • Land use change produced by a wide margin the largest negative ecological and socioeconomic impacts, including habitat and species loss, congestion, air pollution, and increased flooding and stormwater flows due to greater impervious cover.

  • Indoor pollution, which includes exposure to chemicals and pesticides and ingestion of lead, ranked among the highest human health and socioeconomic threats.

  • Invasive species, including certain plants, insects and organisms, pose a serious ecological threat to the state’s forests, waterways, wetlands and other natural ecosystems. Invasive insect species accidentally or deliberately brought from foreign countries have the potential to destroy native forests while exotic plant species threaten biodiversity and affect the native food source for wildlife.

  • Outdoor air pollutants, including ground-level ozone, sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, continue to pose significant ecological and health risks despite progress in reducing outdoor air pollution, removing lead from gasoline and remediating brownfields sites.

Overall findings of the report indicate that physical alteration of habitat, a consequence of land use change, is one of the most compelling ecological problems in New Jersey. Statewide, habitat loss and fragmentation are leading to species loss and permanent destruction within several of the state’s ecosystems. Greater exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun due to ozone depletion is highlighted as an ecological, socioeconomic and human health risk. The historic use of chemicals and their persistence in soils and sediments is also highlighted as a significant ecological threat.

Invasive species are a significant ecological threat in New Jersey. Insects such as the Asian long-horned beetle and the hemlock woolly adelgid have the potential to destroy entire forest ecosystems. More than 90 percent of the state’s hemlock stands have suffered various degrees of defoliation. The report also indicates that the zebra mussel, a thumbnail-sized mollusk that has destroyed ecological communities in waterways in dozens of states, poses a significant ecological threat to the state’s freshwater ecosystems.

Based on the New Jersey Comparative Risk Project findings, the Steering Committee recommended 19 actions, including:

  • The DEP should collaborate with state and local planning officials to design and implement strengthened efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of land use change;

  • DEP and other environmental managers should join the Department of Health and Senior Services to examine systematically indoor pollution’s impacts and management options, and to take action against these problems; and

  • Continued vigilance should be employed to combat threats posed by invasive species and hazardous air pollutants.

Officials of DEP and the state Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) have already begun coordinating to prepare an action plan for indoor pollution. A representative of DHSS participated on the project’s steering committee.

Daniel Rubenstein, professor and chair of Princeton University’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Sheryl Telford, business team manager for E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., served as co-chairs of the 19-member steering committee.

A complete copy of the New Jersey Comparative Risk Project report is available on the DEP web page at



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