White towns slated for cleanup funding but Black & Hispanic cities still wait

Senator Bob Menendez and Senator Cory Booker have very different ideas than Lisa McCormick about what constitutes environmental justice.

Three Superfund sites in predominantly White New Jersey communities are included in the second wave of funding from President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, which promised to tackle legacy pollution and advance environmental justice, but towns are seemingly being left behind where residents tend to have a darker complexion.

The Cornell-Dubilier Electronics Inc. Superfund site in South Plainfield, the Mansfield Trail Dump Superfund site in Byram Township, and the Matteo & Sons, Inc. Superfund site in West Deptford, are the New Jersey locations slated for remedial action using some of the approximately $1 billion being invested to clean up Superfund sites according to a recent announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Thousands of polluted sites exist nationally due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed, particularly in manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills, and mining sites.

The most highly contaminated are designated as Superfund sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and undergo longer-term investigation and remedial action.

Congressman Frank Pallone, center, appeared at the Cornell-Dubilier Superfund site in South Plainfield to announce the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding of a toxic site cleanup in the predominantly White New Jersey community where the soil is contaminated with PCBs.

Superfund cleanups help transform contaminated properties and create jobs in overburdened communities, while repurposing the sites for a wide range of productive safe uses, including public parks, retail businesses, office space, residences, warehouses, and solar power generation.

Biden promised to advance racial equity with investments in clean-up at contaminated sites that ensure fair treatment in minority communities that have suffered the worst toxic assaults because racism has worked to increase the damage and discrimination.

“Whether by conscious design or institutional neglect, communities of color in urban ghettos, in rural ‘poverty pockets’, or on economically impoverished Native-American reservations face some of the worst environmental devastation in the nation,” said Dr. Robert Bullard, the foremost scholar of the Environmental Justice Movement.

“Thanks to President Biden’s historic investments in America, we are moving faster than ever before to progress clean up at contaminated sites – from manufacturing facilities to landfills – in communities across the country,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan “But our work is not yet finished – we’re continuing to build on this momentum to ensure that communities living near many of the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination finally get the investments and protections they deserve.”

Senator Bob Menendez said the “announcement means even more New Jersey communities will benefit from groundwater and soil remediation and improved public health, which will lead to cleaner and healthier communities and enhanced economic opportunity for residents, particularly here in South Plainfield, Byram and West Deptford.”

“This is an important step in the ongoing effort to clean up contaminated sites but New Jersey still has the most Superfund sites in the country even after four decades. Obviously the EPA is not moving fast enough to clean up pollution that harms public health,” said environmentalist Lisa McCormick, who mounted a surprisingly strong challenge to Menendez in the 2018 Democratic primary election for US Senate.

“These projects will create good-paying union jobs but there will not advance long-overdue environmental justice in communities of color, where it has been found that 26% of Black Americans and 29% of Hispanic Americans live within three miles of a Superfund site,” said McCormick. “That is why I was surprised to see listed only predominantly White communities, where the White racial makeup is 67 percent (South Plainfield), 81 percent (West Deptford Township), and 88 percent (Byram Township).”

“There is still mercury-contaminated soil and groundwater at the LCP Chemicals, Inc. Superfund site where several buildings are being demolished in Linden, where Black and Hispanic residents comprise a majority of the population and Mayor Derek Armstead is African-American,” said McCormick. “As recently as December 2022, EPA was requesting comments on a plan to remove mercury-contaminated soil from land at the Pierson’s Creek Superfund site in Newark, and the Riverside Industrial Park Superfund site there still requires a lot of cleanup work.”

“New Jersey has the most Superfund sites of any state in America,” said Senator Cory Booker. “These sites, disproportionately located in Black, Brown, and low-income communities, contain toxic substances that expose nearby residents to elevated risks of cancers, birth defects, and other serious health problems.”

Booker did not explain why “Black, Brown, and low-income communities” that contain sites contaminated by toxic substances are apparently being excluded from Biden’s infrastructure funding.

“With these new funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are excited to continue our cleanup efforts by removing contaminated waste and soil, ensuring access to clean drinking water, and bringing more sites closer to finishing cleanup,” said Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia.

“People who live, work and play in America’s most polluted environments are commonly people of color and the poor,” said McCormick. “Environmental justice advocates have shown that this is no accident because communities routinely targeted to host facilities that have negative environmental impacts provide clear evidence of racism.”

“Senator Bob Menendez and Senator Cory Booker seem suddenly colorblind considering the fact that all the money announced by the EPA is going to predominantly White communities,” said McCormick. “Environmental justice means remediating all toxic contamination in White, Black, Brown, and other communities. Leaving victims of the worst ecological crimes to languish in toxic misery is entirely un-American but I suppose they hoped nobody would notice.”

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