The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

New Jersey Downplays Disturbing Air Toxics Study

DEP Mounts Messaging Campaign to Minimize Risk Findings in Paterson


A groundbreaking but long-delayed study of toxic air pollution in
Paterson, New Jersey is finally being released this week with an
elaborate state public relations roll-out designed to convince people
that it contains nothing new, according to documents released today by
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Yet the draft
of the study indicates that there are significantly increased health
risks to residents from breathing ambient levels of numerous hazardous
air pollutants.

The $736,266.00 study, titled "Urban Community
Air Toxics Monitoring Project, Paterson City, NJ" was initiated in
October 2004 and is three years behind schedule. The study finds the
"combined cancer risk" from exposure to toxic chemicals at the high end
of what the U.S. EPA considers acceptable risk, and over 700 times
higher than New Jersey's cancer risk standard of one in a million.
However, the DEP-prepared "Citizens Guide" for the study does not even
mention combined cancer risks even though they are a central focus of
the study and at the forefront of environmental justice concerns.

than highlight the meaning and significance of monitoring data, a
four-page "Communication Strategy" by the state Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP) appears crafted to deflect questions
with misleading conclusions not found in the study itself, such as:

  • "There is no immediate public health concern" - a conclusion that
    ignores evidence of significant long-term and cumulative effects;
  • "The
    air quality in Paterson is consistent with that of the entire state" -
    a vague statement that ignores many specific findings such as chlorine
    levels in Paterson more than 100 times higher than EPA national model
    estimates; and
  • "The cancer risk [for p-dichlorobenzene, one
    of 132 toxics measured] calculated at the one site in Paterson where
    the elevated concentrations occurred would be 205 in a million" while
    neglecting to mention that this is more than 200 times the one in a
    million cancer risk guideline used by DEP and that even higher cancer
    risks were found at other monitoring sites.

"DEP seems to
be spending more time and money on political science than environmental
science," stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP
analyst, noting that the agency is withholding more than 100 documents
concerning why the final report was delayed and how it was edited. "The
study's peer-reviewed data and conclusions were being presented months
ago at technical conferences but not shared with the Paterson community
until now."

The DEP Communication Strategy spells out
"messages" to assuage "concerned stakeholder groups" (public officials,
environmentalists and community organizations). The memo also declares
that Paterson was chosen for the study "NOT because of observed or
suspected air quality problems." In fact, the study author states that
Paterson was selected because it has a hospitalization rate for asthma
three times the state average and more than one in five 3rd graders
have asthma or a related health problem. Previous studies associate
toxic air pollution with asthma. In addition, Paterson is a racially
mixed, relatively poor city meeting the DEP criteria for an
"environmental justice community" that suffers from disproportionate

"The reason for this study was to find out where
the pollution is coming from and to reduce it through tougher
permitting or enforcement actions to promote environmental justice and
public health. But instead of vigorous enforcement, DEP is treating
like it is some unimportant academic exercise," Wolfe added. "Did
taxpayers get their money's worth for this study or will it just take
up space on a shelf?"

Read DEP Communications Strategy memo

Look at the summary draft Paterson toxics study (text available upon request)

See the draft DEP Citizens Guide (with staff edits)

Review the DEP penchant for suppressing and altering scientific studies

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.