The Diamond Alkali site is marked by the chemical Dioxin which was used to produce Agent Orange in Newark during the Vietnam War. In 1984, the site was listed on the Superfund National Priorities List as Dioxin, pesticides and other chemicals were found in the soil and water. In addition, metals and pesticides were found in the sediment in the Lower Passaic River. While there are still numerous environmental problems at the site, the three most relevant to the site are the National Air Toxic Assessment (NATA) cancer risk, the NATA respiratory hazard index, and the hazardous waste proximity. It is important to understand the overall health effects of the area in conjunction with current demographic data. Understanding the information in context will help to show the extent to which there continues to be environmental racism in the Iron bound. This data was obtained through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice (EJ) Screen software. The software is able to calculate the environmental risks and demographic statistics of a specific area and contextualize the data in comparison to state percentiles, regional percentiles, and country-wide percentiles. By inputting the location of the Diamond Alkali factory, and creating a .25 mile buffer around the area, we can conclude that this area continues to expose Newark residents to toxic waste and materials.
The first factor that will be analyzed is the NATA respiratory hazard index. The hazard index is the calculation of each hazard index’s “ratio of the exposure concentration in the air to the health-based reference concentration set by the EPA.”1 In this quarter-mile zone, inhaled air that has more toxins in it than allowed by the EPA. Statistically, this area is in the 92nd percentile state wise, 88th percentile region-wise and in the 94th percentile in comparison to the rest of the United States. The data compiled by EJscreen works in the following way. In analyzing the statistics for NATA Respiratory Hazard index, the national percentile tells you what percent the US population has an equal or lower value, meaning less potential exposure/risk/proximity to certain facilities.2 In other words, when considering the NATA respiratory hazard index, only 6% of other locations in the United States have even higher amounts of these environmental issues. I chose to create a relatively small buffer zone for this area rather than a larger one as Newark is home to many environmental issues that are not connected to the Diamond Alkali factory. Even with this small buffer zone, there are only 8% of other locations in the region, and 12% of other locations in the state that have higher amounts of environmental problems as related to the NATA respiratory index.
The second and third environmental factors that are going to be analyzed are the NATA cancer risk and the Hazardous Waste Proximity. When it comes to the NATA cancer risk, the environmental site is in the 91st state percentile, 70-80th regional percentile and in the 90-95th United States percentile. When it comes to the Hazardous Waste Proximity, this site is in the 97th United States percentile, 71st regional percentile, and 94th state percentile. The EPA defines the NATA cancer risk as “lifetime cancer risk from the inhalation of air toxics.” 3 As we already know that this area of Newark suffers from extremely high NATA respiratory hazard levels, it is unsurprising that the inhalation of toxins and chemicals is leading to diseases like cancer. Both the NATA cancer risk and NATA respiratory hazard are better understood in context with the hazardous waste proximity of the site as only 3% of other locations in the United States have a higher hazardous proximity to a waste site.
While the environmental indicators by the Diamond Alkali site are concerning on their own, they can be further explained when considering the demographic information of that area. The site is a majority-minority site with a minority population in the 89th country-wide percentile, 82nd regional percentile, and 87th state percentile. In addition to having a majority-minority population, the site is home to a low-income population, residents who have less than a high school education and are linguistically isolated. According to the data, people in this area are in the 97th country-wide percentile, 98th regional percentile, and 99th state percentile for low-income populations. In addition, they are in the 83rd country-wide percentile, 71st regional percentile, and 74th state percentile when it comes to linguistic isolation and are in the 94th regional and country-wide (96th state) percentile having less than a high school education.
The data supports the conclusion that people in this site are minorities, who often lack a high school education and suffer from the disadvantage of not speaking English. Understanding the population demographics of the area helps to explain why such the Diamond Alkali site continues to be a problem. The people who live closest to it, and are therefore impact the most, are people who cannot fight for themselves as well as other groups of people. A lack of education and the language barrier would be significant hurdles to overcome in their own right- add the fact that these people are minority groups, and it’s a surprise anything has been done to try and rectify the problems brought about by Agent Orange.
Considering that the Diamond Alkali location was added to the Superfund Priorities List in 1984, there is no justifiable reason that can be used to explain why, 35 years later, the site’s toxicity is still affecting the lives of Newark residents. When it comes to environmental injustice, the data clearly supports the idea that environmental injustice takes place in poor, minority areas. The site is no different. What is important to understand when it comes to this site, is that Newark residents are not the only people who continue to suffer from the environmental effects of Agent Orange: Vietnamese people continue to suffer from the toxicity of Agent Orange as well. While the data supports the idea of a transnational history between Newark residents of the Vietnamese people, it also shows that the story of Agent Orange has still not ended.
1 “Glossary of EJSCREEN Terms.” EPA. November 3, 2019.
3 “Glossary of EJSCREEN Terms.” EPA. November 3, 2019.
Keywords: race, class, toxics, water, factories, global,