Industry Running Much Cleaner in New Jersey

Published August 1, 2004

Industrial pollution in New Jersey dropped 58 percent between 1994 and 2001, even as businesses used 8 percent more hazardous substances, according to a state report released on June 10.

Business advocates said the data showed new pollution controls are working, while environmentalists cautioned industrial toxins still pose a severe threat to certain communities and to workers.

The report, released periodically by the state Department of Environmental Protection, contains a wealth of data on the use and release of hazardous substances for the eight years covered. A similar report was last released in 1996.

Hal Bozarth of the New Jersey Chemistry Council, an industry group, said the report proved that more production no longer means more pollution.

“In the old days, your production went up, your pollution went up,” Bozarth said. “Because of the millions of dollars manufacturers in New Jersey have put into air pollution and water pollution control, when your production goes up, pollution goes down. That’s tremendous.”

Rick Engler of the Work-Environment Council, a group that promotes organized labor and environmental regulation, said he worried about the 8 percent increase in the use of hazardous substances.

“We better take a close look at that in terms of worker health,” Engler said. “I think the significance of this report is that in this period of emphasis on Highlands preservation and sprawl, we should remember that we’re in a very highly industrial state and problems related to exposure to toxic chemicals are often hidden behind plant walls.”

The report showed that 10 facilities are responsible for close to 68 percent of the toxic releases in the state, which include smokestack emissions, water discharges, and accidental spills.

The Jersey City and Hamilton Township coal-fired power plants of PSEG Power are, respectively, numbers one and three on the list, together accounting for close to a third of the state’s annual toxic releases. PSEG spokesman Neil Brown said the company had voluntarily committed to major emissions reductions over the next several years and was pushing for regulations that would require similar controls on coal-fired plants across the nation.

Other companies in the top 10 were ConocoPhillips in Linden, Dupont in Salem, Ford in Edison, Roche Vitamins in White Township, Mallinckrodt Baker Inc. in Phillipsburg, Coastal Eagle Point Oil Co. in West Deptford, and three other power plants.

“Today’s report will focus DEP’s efforts to stop potential health and environmental threats,” said DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell. “We are also examining the data to determine if there are areas where hazardous-substance discharges may result from permit violations or unlawful activities.”

Facilities are not required to report how much hazardous material they use, and most states do not compile that data. DEP calculated it by adding up three numbers facilities are required to report: the amount of hazardous materials they consume, the amount they ship in products, and the amount they treat, recycle, or release.

Hazardous-substance use is dominated by petroleum refineries, metal manufacturers, and a few large plastics and chemical manufacturers, the report revealed. Were it not for increased use of hazardous materials by the top 10 facilities, the overall use of such substances would have dropped, the report noted.

This article is reprinted with permission from the June 11 edition of the Newark, New Jersey, Star-Ledger. Alexander Lane is a member of the Star-Ledger staff.