New Bill Circulating in New Jersey General Assembly Could Offer Much Need Relief for Communities Battling Polluters

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A new bill circulating in New Jersey’s General Assembly is drawing controversy for its tough stance against industrial pollution in low-income neighborhoods.

Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D) introduced  Assembly Bill 3836 in February. The bill would bar industrial plants from being built in any neighborhood deemed to be a “burdened community.”  If passed, it could offer a much-needed reprieve for low-income residents of neighborhoods such as Ironbound in Newark. Ironbound has long struggled with pollution from local chemical plants, incinerators and Newark Liberty International Airport.  In this year’s State of the Air report card by the American Lung Association gave Essex County – where Newark is located — an “F” for poor air quality.

Ironbound is under constant siege of industrial expansion. This year its residents face a proposal calling for the construction of the Bayonne Bridge, which would carry legions of commercial trucks that pass through Newark’s East Ward. “Parents, community leaders and medical researchers say asthma is a particularly serious problem in the Ironbound, a hot spot for the chronic respiratory disease within a city whose asthma-related hospitalization rate is already more than double Essex County’s,” wrote reporter Steve Strunsky in the Star-Ledger.

In addition, construction has begun on a 655-megawatt natural gas plant, operated by Hess Corp, approved last year by the Newark Planning Board. Despite claims by Hess engineers of the plant’s low impact, many community activists remain outraged over the plant’s use of natural gas derived from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The use of such gas warrants concern for Ironbound residents, as it contains considerable amounts of methane (CH4), found in a study by the Air and Waste Management Association to “include organic compounds that contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (smog), as well as hazardous air pollutants like benzene.”

Long-stressed Ironbound is just one of the many communities in New Jersey locked in a perpetual battle with industrial polluters. If passed, Assembly Bill 3836 would mark a major turning point in the struggle against industrial polluters and hopefully serve as a model for other similar struggles being waged across the nation.

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