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Expendable New Jerseyans

Roxbury Landfill Odor Contrasts With Paulsboro Chemical Exposures

What explains this disparate treatment?

It’s absolutely imperative that we begin to understand what unfettered, unregulated capitalism does, the violence of that system, which is portrayed in all of the places that we visited.

These are sacrifice zones, areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. And we’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed. And because there are no impediments left, these sacrifice zones are just going to spread outward. ~~~ Chris Hedges

Reading today’s press clips on the continuing saga of Roxbury’s Fenimore landfill odor problem, I’m reminded of a disturbing book I read in college “Expendable Americans” (1974) by Paul Brodeur:

The incredible story of how tens of thousands of American men and women die each year of preventable industrial disease.

Brodeur basically demonstrated that workers’ lives were expendable – industrial poisoning was merely a cost of doing business and generating profits.

Since that book was written, the “expendable” concept has expanded beyond poisoning the workforce of individual plants or industrial sectors.

Under finance capitalism, “free trade”, attacks on unions, and globalization, that worker poisoning Brodeur documented back in 1974 now includes additional practices such as disinvestment,  abandonment, exploitation, and neglect, so that not just workers, but entire communities and regions become “expendable”.

Chris Hedges has called these places “capitalism’s sacrifice zones”:

These are sacrifice zones, areas that have been destroyed for quarterly profit. And we’re talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed. And because there are no impediments left, these sacrifice zones are just going to spread outward.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean, there are no impediments left?

CHRIS HEDGES: There’s no way to control corporate power. The system has broken down, whether it’s Democrat or Republican. And because of that, we’ve all become commodities. Just as the natural world has become a commodity that is being exploited until it is exhausted, or it collapses.

BILL MOYERS: You call them sacrifice zones.


BILL MOYERS: Explain what you mean by that.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, they have the individuals who live within those areas have no power. The political system is bought off, the judicial system is bought off, the law enforcement system services the interests of power, they have been rendered powerless. You see that in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia.

Now here, in terms of national resources is one of the richest areas of the United States. And yet these harbor the poorest pockets of community, the poorest communities in the United States. Because those resources are extracted. And that money is not funneled back into the communities that are sitting on top of, or next to those resources.

Not only that, but they’re extracted in such a way that the communities themselves are destroyed quite literally because you have not only terrible problems with erosion, as they cause when they do the mountaintop removal, they’ll use these gigantic bulldozers to push off all the trees and then burn them.

And when we flew over the Appalachians, and it’s a terrifying experience, because you realize only then do you realize how vast the devastation is. Just as when we were both in the war in Bosnia, you couldn’t grasp the destruction of ethnic cleansing until you actually flew over Bosnia, and village after village after village had been razed and destroyed.

And the same was true in the Appalachian Mountains. And these people are poisoned. The water is poisoned, it smells, the soil is poisoned. And the people who are making tremendous profits from this don’t even live in West Virginia–

(I strongly urge you to watch the whole interview)

I am not suggesting that Roxbury is a sacrifice zone – no, just the opposite.

What is so disturbing about the Roxbury story is not the fact that

  • the residents successfully organized because the landfill’s odors are totally unacceptable, or
  • that those odors pose health risks to the residents of the town, or
  • that DEP basically created the problem in two ways: first by a decades long failure to enforce environmental laws to assure that the landfill was properly closed, and  second, by allowing additional new disposal there to generate revenues to redevelop the site as a solar facility (both statewide problems that have gotten zero media attention).

No, the troubling part is the extraordinary media attention, resources, and government responsiveness that the Roxbury community has received, when compared to similar and even far worse cases where entire communities are ignored by media and government.

Roxbury received dozens of news stories, got legislation passed, and benefitted from aggressive DEP regulatory enforcement – all in a matter of weeks.

In contrast, the people of Pompton Lakes – exposed to far greater health risks –  have been poisoned by Dupont’s toxic gases seeping into their own homes for YEARS, while government is neutered by corporate lawyers and lobbyists.

The people of Paulsboro were left unprotected by negligent railroads, non-existent regulatory oversight, and even poorly trained emergency responders whose batteries didn’t work.

They were lied to about health risks and told to suck it up and “shelter in place”.

The people of Camden (and many other places) have simply been abandoned.

What explains this disparate treatment – between places like Roxbury and Paulsboro?

  • It could be that the Fenimore landfill is les than 10 miles – as the crow flies – from Governor Christie’s house.

No one asked the people of Roxbury to “shelter in place”.

No, Roxbury gets 24/7 continuous air monitoring, evacuation warnings, safe shelters, and emergency email notifications.

In contrast, the racial makeup of Paulsboro is 54.49% (3,322) White, 36.72% (2,239)Black or African American, with a median household income of $43,846 and the median family income was $61,147

But the “expendable” problem is not limited to places like Paulsboro.

DEP has analyzed the data on a statewide level and found statistically significant relationships between race and income, see: DEP Discovers Discrimination – Dumps Environmental Justice Issue in Christie’s Lap

  • And it could be that the chemical industry and the railroads that destroy places like Paulsboro and Pompton Lakes are powerful corporations with legions of lawyers and lobbyists, while the Fenimore landfill doesn’t have that kind of power.

It’s way past time that media attention and government oversight are based on risks – not politics, money and corporate power.

If not, we all become “expendable”, as the inability to challenge corporate power leads to accelerating global warming and catastrophic climate collapse.

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