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Something Is Rotten in the City of Paterson, NJ

Paterson City Hall

Paterson City Hall – statue of Garret Augustus Hobart dominates entrance

Mayor blocks community knowledge of toxic air risks

[Updates below]

To paraphrase the Bard, something stinks in Paterson, NJ – and the fish rots from the head down.

Paterson Mayor "Joey" Torres

Paterson Mayor “Joey” Torres

Maybe he’s dreaming of having his own statute in front of City Hall someday, but someone apparently forgot to tell Mayor “Joey” Torres that the age of industrial robber barons, political bosses, and urban machines is long over.

How can it be that AFTER the press reports critically on a DEP study that documents serious environmental justice, air toxics, and respiratory health problems in a predominately black and latino city (see: City’s air may raise cancer risk and followup story Paterson air study raises questions) that when the public hearing is held – look at those empty City Council Chairs – NOT ONE COUNCILMAN SHOWS UP – and DEP bureaucrats feel emboldened to even laugh (during Black History Month, no less).

Last night, DEP led a public meeting to brief the community on the findings of the recently released controversial air toxics study that found elevated levels of cancer causing chemicals  (see this and this and this for background on the DEP Study).

In addition to no City Council members showing up, there were no residents there either (at least any willing to introduce themselves or speak). To their credit, US Senators Launteberg and Menendez and Congressman Pascrell sent representatives to the hearing and expressed their support, as did US EPA. (Could failure to organize and turnout the disproportionately adversely impacted Paterson community have anything to do with this?)

But, the whole affair reminded me of the classic line: Forget it Jake, its Chinatown“.

What would Sojourner Truth say?


The empty City Council and audience chairs were surrounded by posters of a very different historical tradition:

IMG_7346Some of those heroes gracing the perimeter of the empty Council chambers literally took the law into their own hands and fought for justice:


While others wrote eloquently of the struggle:


Did they fight and dream for empty chairs?


Right off the bat, I knew this meeting was going to be a disaster.

The Mayor’s aid distributed 5×7 file cards. All questions had to be written down on those cards. The Mayor – not the citizen questioner – would then read the question to DEP.

After taking control of the meeting and shutting down any dissent from those who objected to the inappropriate 5×7 card format – including making rude remarks to a woman and her 9 year old son who were trying to ask well informed questions – the Mayor then proceeded to read a lengthy (DEP prepared?) statement.

Paterson Mayor "Joey" Torres reads a detailed statment at ouytset of hearings. A prior private meeting with DEP allowed them to get their stories straight.

Paterson Mayor “Joey” Torres reads a detailed statement at outset of hearings. A prior private meeting with DEP allowed them to get their stories straight.


DEP then spoke for 45 minutes to present the study and defend it from criticism voiced in news coverage. DEP’s presentation focused on mobile sources (cars and trucks) as the major cause of the problem, a problem for which DEP conveniently had no responsibility or legal authority to regulate.

DEP brushed off my criticism that they gutted the Report by deleting the high “combined cancer risk” findings in the draft report. While not retracting them, DEP claimed that those findings were deleted because “DEP does not do risk assessment that way” Duh! DEP risk assessment is flawed because it ignores known cumulative and synergistic effects of multiple pollutants people are exposed to!

DEP even defended manipulative and dishonest PR practices, including the deletion of draft study findings and recommendations, including:

1) elevated rates of respiratory disease, especially in children.

The following draft Report findings were deleted in their entirely from the final Report:

Paterson has more than three times the state average for hospitalization rates due to asthma (Wallace, 2003). A study in Paterson (Freeman et al, 2002) found that 21% of third graders had been diagnosed with asthma or a related health problem. Paterson has the fifth highest hospitalization rate for asthma in NJ (NJDHSS, 2003). Twenty eight air toxics (Leikauf, 2002) have been associated with exacerbations of asthma and the 1996 [EPA] National Air Toxics Assessment identified fourteen air toxics which are causing elevated cancer and non-cancer risks (NJDEP, 2003) in Passaic County

2) local industrial emission “hot spots”, located close to homes and schools:

The following draft Report findings were deleted in the Final report:

[Paterson] was selected because it qualifies as an air toxics “hot spot” due to the industrial (e.g. textiles; dyes; chemicals; metal fabrication, refinishing and recovery; plastics; printing; electronics; paper and food products, etc) commercial (e.g. dry cleaning; photo labs; commercial heaters/boilers; print shops, etc) and mobile sources (US I-80, Rt. 19) dominated sectors. Schools have been chosen as monitoring site locations allow UCAMPP the unique opportunity to monitor air toxics where children, a susceptible subpopulation, spend a portion of their time.

Worse, the community was provided a false rationale as to why Paterson was selected for the study.

3) Why Paterson was selected for the study – because of race, ethnicity, and income statistical profile (plus “toxic hot spots”).

The following draft report findings were deleted in the Final report:

Paterson was chosen for this project because it is a mixed-use urban community with high population density and many of the characteristics of an environmental justice community.

Paterson has all the characteristics of an environmental justice community with a disproportionately large percentage of families living at or below the poverty level. Nineteen percent of the families in Paterson live at or under the poverty level compared to 6.3% for the state. There are 149,000 residents, of which 1/3 are white, 1/3 black and the balance are some other race. Fifty percent of the population considers themselves to bee Hispanic or Latino. The population density is over 17,210 people per square mile.

4) relationship to prior Camden Pilot study and Environmental Justice concerns

The Paterson study was the next phase in north jersey, of a pilot community environmental justice initiative begun in Camden, NJ. The Camden case is highly significant, as a DEP air permit issued there to St. Lawrence Cement was stuck down by a US District Court judge on environmental justice grounds. US District Court judge Olofsky found:

Much of what this case is about is what the NJDEP failed to consider. It did not consider the pre-existing poor health of the residents of Waterfront South, nor did it consider the cumulative environmental burden already borne by this impoverished community. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the NJDEP failed to consider the racial and ethnic composition of the population of Waterfront South. ( emphasis mine  South Camden Citizens in Action v. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, 145 F. Supp. 2d 505 (D.N.J. 2001). )

The final Report sanitizes and contains no reference to this historical, policy, and scientific context (see this and this)

b) DEP suppressed consideration of cumulative impact risks presented in the draft report

Significantly, the Paterson study was the first DEP attempt to calculate “cumulative risk” by estimating “combined cancer risks of multiple pollutants”. This is a cutting edge EJ public health issue, see: EJAC 2009 Report: Strategies for Addressing Cumulative Impacts in Environmental Justice Communities-March 2009  yet  all this is ignored.

The draft Report calculated “combined cancer risks” (inhalation) from multiple chemical pollutants detected in the air. Combined risks were estimated from 210 to 710 TIMES NJ’s cancer risk policy standard of one in a million lifetime excess cancer risk.  (see page 61 of draft Report here)

In addition to suppressing the draft Report’s unacceptably high “combined risk” findings, the final report also failed to even mention the basic public health science concepts of cumulative and synergistic risks of multiple pollutant (or multiple pathway) exposures. The Final report failed to include any discussion of the pressing issue of cumulative risk that was presented to DEP in a March 2009 Report to DEP by DEP’s own Environmental Justice Advisory Council. According to the Council’s report: (see: EJAC 2009 Report: Strategies for Addressing Cumulative Impacts in Environmental Justice Communities-March 2009

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents define the term “aggregate risk” as the risk from all routes of exposure to a single substance, and the termcumulative risk” as the risk from all routes of exposure to a group of substances. They are silent on the issue of multiple sources.  In order to have a clear and intelligible discussion about cumulative impacts, it is important for the NJDEP to agree on the definition of terms that are used. Appendix A provides some examples from various sources that might be useful. The choice of definition is not as important as assuring that everyone involved in a single conversation are all using a term with the same definition in mind.

In the mid-1990s, the EPA also developed a “Cumulative Exposure Project” that incorporated multiple pollutants, multiple sources, and multiple pathways (air, food and drinking water), but did not directly address duration. However, the EPA has not been able to extend this effort beyond the inhalation pathway which continues to be addressed by the National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment Project. (see: EJAC 2009 Report: Strategies for Addressing Cumulative Impacts in Environmental Justice Communities-March 2009

In another effort to conceal important information and mislead the public, the final Report deleted findings that the cancer risks exceeded EPA risk range policy. EPA funded the study and EPA has legal oversight over NJDEP’s air program. When EPA’s own risk range is exceeded, they are required to act to reduce those risks under EPA policy and regulations. So the deletion of this”unacceptable risk” finding is highly significant. The draft Report found:

The combined cancer risk at all four sites were at the high end of that the USEPA considers”acceptable risk”, i.e. 1—10(-4) to 1—10(-6). The combined cancer risk was greater at the Paterson sites than at the background site. The greatest risk was observed at the C site 7.1—10(-4).   [My Note: that is 710 in a million, from 7 – 710 TIMES HIGHER THAN EPA acceptable risk].

c) DEP downplayed the risks to minimize public health concerns –  DEP spun the health risks to the community

DEP systematically downplays public health risks of the pollution levels they found by omitting key scientific findings from the study, the high air pollution related health problems cited above, while inserting claims not found in the original study. For example, DEP claims:

  • “There is no immediate public health concern” this is a conclusion that ignores evidence of significant long-term and cumulative effects. The term “immediate concern” is a totally inappropriate standard to apply in this case, where health effects are the outcome of chronic exposures;
  • “The air quality in Paterson is consistent with that of the entire state” this is a vague statement that ignores that the study was designed with a background monitoring station in Chester, NJ and many other 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”. This statement neglects 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 completely fails to mention that the study found the “combined cancer risks” 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

c) DEP failed to release industrial emissions inventory

One original objective of the study was to inventory all industrial emissions sources within a 1 mile radius of each monitoring station. Yet that facility specific inventory is not included in the final report,. Rather, DEP claims that from 153 to 227 facilities were considered. This failure makes it impossible for the community to know where all the toxic pollution emissions are coming from and the status of DEP permits and enforcement actions at each polluting facility.

Such withholding of vital information only benefits and protects the polluter. It totally frustrates citizen efforts to hold DEP and polluters accountable to clean air laws.

To obtain this information, on December 9, 2009, I filed an OPRA public records request to DEP. That emissions inventory  information has been denied.

d) DEP sanitized Report findings of flaws in DEP air permit database and permit program.

Significantly, this information is required in order to determine the status of Clean Air Act MACT compliance requirements and enforcement issues. Without the information, compliance and DEP permit performance can not be assessed by the community.

The draft Report (@page 19)  under a headline “Needed Improvements to NJDEP Emissions Databases” made highly significant negative findings and specific regulatory improvement recommendations that were deleted from the final Report. The draft Report found:

Based on the UCAMPP and other projects done by the Department, it has been recognized that NJDEP needs to improve emissions databases. This can be accomplished by expanding current permit requirements so that facilities would have to submit stack specific speciated VOC’s and HAP’s. This would greatly reduce the resources needed to generate a detailed emissions inventory. The current requirements that major facilities report 36 HAPs at a facility-wide level in their emissions statements needs to be expanded to include additional air toxics (possibly all those with risk based health numbers), be stack specific adn be a requirement for all sources of air emissions not just major sources and reporting thresholds need to be revised to reflect risk. The goal of any model is to try to accurately represent  what is really happening in the given area of study. This can only be achieved through the input of accurate and complete data into the emissions inventory.

e) DEP failed to mandate risk reduction measures on known emission sources- DEP limited the scope of the Report and followup risk reduction measures to voluntary measures, i.e outreach and education.

This arbitrary restriction is scope again only benefits polluters because it fails to educate citizens about the full suite of regulatory and enforcement tools available to DEP to reduce pollution and public health risks in Paterson neighborhoods.

f) DEP has conducted limited to no followup source track-down investigations and air permit and enforcement to mandate emissions reductions and reduce risks.

Conclusions and going forward plan

1. Based on concerns with elevated levels of EPA regulated hazardous air pollutants, EPA provided an additional $157,000 in funding to continue monitoring and pollution source track down. That money was committed by EPA is less than 1 month, which is rapid action and shows that this is a high priority to EPA. The EPA funds were received by DEP last week. The additional monitoring study will begin this spring, will last 12 months, followed by 6 more months of DEP analysis before a final report is issued. (But if DEP can analyze the new data in 6 months, why did it take 3 YEARS in UCAMPP?)

2. DEP pledged to do additional pollution source track-down and enforcement.

3. I submitted a preliminary report criticizing the study along the above lines to City Council. I provided a copy of this report to EPA and representatives of Senators Lautenberg and Menendez, and Congressman Pascrell.  DEP pledged to reply in writing to my Report to the Mayor and asked that the Mayor share their reply with the Paterson community.

We’ll keep you posted as events develop.

[Update #3 – 11/15/17 – looks like we called it 7 years early. Politico’s quote of the day:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m sorry. I embarrassed my family and friends. I’m sorry, so sorry.” – Former Paterson mayor Joey Torres as he was sentenced to five years in prison. (read the news coverage)

Update #2: May 12, 2010 – guess the voters felt the same way: Jeffery Jones wins mayor’s seat in Paterson upset ]

[Update #1: 3/4/10 – DEP has revised the Paterson study and posted a new Final Report version dated 2/24 – disregard criticism of the deletions described below. More to follow on exactly how the changes to the Report happened. – end updates]

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