A Toxic Wasteland…also known as Camden City

By:  Patrick Gigliotti

Pollution.  It is a word that is used to describe a myriad of undesirable processes caused by several different sources and the effects that accompany these actions.  Pollution’s definition ranges from fumes escaping into the air, to chemicals seeping into the soil or waste being dumped into large bodies of water.  Furthermore, the commonality between them is the potential that pollution has to cause harm to the humans, animals and the environment, alike.  According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, pollution is defined as, the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects.  Consequences from pollution can be grouped into two categories, health and environmental and can be broken down into more specific subcategories.  For example, a subcategory of the environmental consequences is decreased air quality and a health consequence is increased cancer rates.  The pollution in Camden is atrocious and according to many, the worst in all of New Jersey.  Subsequently, the high levels of pollution are destroying the Camden ecosystem as well as its resident’s health.  Therefore, if the pollution levels do not improve, the city and its residents will continue to deteriorate.

Camden City is located on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and is directly across the water from Philadelphia.  It is New Jersey’s 12th largest city and South Jersey’s largest city with a population of approximately 77,000 citizens.  Camden became an immense industrial hub on the east coast during the early 1900s and stayed that way until 1969-1970.  Some of the large factories and companies included Campbell’s soup, RCA, Philco and New York Shipbuilding Corporation, all of which contributed to Camden’s industrial importance in the 1900s (Garcia, 2010).  More factories meant more workers, which led to more factories and more people moving into the city and kept expanding, until one day the city could not longer sustain itself.   The fact that Camden established itself as an industrial hub early in the 1900s contributes to the pollution problems that the community is facing today because it has been polluting the environment and its citizens’ health for over 100 years.

The Department of Environmental Protection has identified over 350 operating facilities in Camden which discharge contaminants to soil or water, use hazardous substances and/or emit air pollutants.  Camden is also a waste disposal and recycling center and contains at least 30 businesses that recycle scrap metal, hazardous waste barrels, construction debris and other contaminating materials. The regional incinerator and the county sewage treatment plant are in Camden as well, and undoubtedly increase the pollution.  Camden also suffers from an increased amount of diesel emissions due to ships, trucks, and diesel-operated loading equipment each year.  It is estimated that approximately 400 ships pass through the port at Camden each year and as many as 328, 500 trucks travel trough Camden neighborhoods (Belton, 2008).  These characteristics contribute to Camden being New Jersey’s most polluted city and because of this, the ecosystem is more susceptible to the accompanying environmental problems.

Camden city is home to 2 federal superfund sites as well as 114 known contaminated sites, which possess varying degrees of pollutants (Jones, 2006).  Many polluting sites that nobody wants in their “backyard” are decidedly put in Camden.  These polluting sites then cause a number of problems for the environment such as smog, acid rain, and infertile soil.  Smog occurs when vehicular emissions and industrial fumes react with sunlight in the atmosphere to create secondary pollutants.  This is detrimental when inhaled by humans but also other living organism as well.  Smog prevents plants from performing photosynthesis, which is an essential part of the plant life cycle.  Smog prevents sunlight from reaching plants’ leaves thereby hindering their transformation of solar energy into chemical energy and can cause death.  Smog is very common in Camden, especially in the heavily industrial areas such as Waterfront South (Pomar, 2005).  Acid rain is caused by increased nitrogen and sulfur deposition in the atmosphere and occurs less frequently than smog.  However, acid rain causes ocean/river acidification, decreased visibility, weakened plant/animal life, and paint damage.  As with smog, acid rain can also negatively impact one’s health from inhaling gaseous fumes.  Soil infertility is the only environmental concern that does not affect human health.  However, soil infertility is detrimental because plants are necessary to sustain the ecosystem.  If plants are not able to grow then animals that require certain vegetation will be adversely affected and could possibly die.  This is an example of removing an item from a food web; many times it adversely affects the entire ecosystem not just the immediate consumer.  Not only can these environmental consequences affect the city, they can begin to affect the surrounding areas as well.

For example, another environmental consequence from pollution is something called an urban heat island (UHI).  Heat islands develop when a large fraction of the natural land cover is replaced by built surfaces that trap incoming solar radiation during the day and then re-radiate it at night.  Due to this, cooling is slowed thereby keeping nighttime air temperatures much higher than suburban or rural areas.  Overall, the temperatures are higher no matter what time of day and reach their pinnacle during the summer months.  Higher temperatures are negative because they cause increased health risk to city dwellers.  This increased risk is associated with heightened levels of secondary pollutants such as ozone.  The climate in Camden overall has been increasing 0.2°C per decade with more urbanized areas having a 0.33°C change (Solecki, 2004).  Due to the UHI present in Camden, the environment and residents will continue to suffer until the problem is rectified.

Pollution is very detrimental to human health, especially in cases of chronic exposure.  Pollution contains a copious number of chemicals, most of which are extremely harmful to the body and are not easily removed.  Some of these found in Camden include:  lead, mercury, PCB’s (coolants), arsenic, petroleum, copper, and many other VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds).  These toxins can spread through groundwater or air which means that residents and workers are extremely vulnerable to exposure, especially outside (Pomar, 2005).  Chronic exposure to these chemicals leaves residents with elevated risks of many forms of cancer, such as lungs, stomach, esophagus, kidney, liver, and pancreas.  The pollution also puts residents at elevated risk for asthma, nervous system damage, birth defects/miscarriages, learning/behavioral disabilities, and skin rashes.  Direct exposure to these polluting, chemicals can happen via skin absorption, ingestion, or inhalation; putting almost everyone at risk.  Children are perhaps the most vulnerable because their immune systems are not completely developed, especially to handle harsh chemicals.  Many houses in Camden were built before 1970 when lead paint was banned, which puts children at an elevated risk of ingesting a paint chip, fragment or dust (“Childhood,” 2011).  Children who become lead poisoned suffer from learning disabilities, delayed growth, brain damage, and behavior problems. Severe lead poisoning can even cause a coma or death.  The DEP did a study pertaining to fine particulate levels in South Camden that stated it most likely had levels above the recommended standard.  Two of these, PM 10 and 2.5, can lodge into the lungs and disrupt asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis as well as disrupt the heart and lead to premature death (Jones, 2006).  Incontestably, the residents of Camden are suffering from numerous health complications caused by hazardous chemicals found in pollution throughout the city.

Another study of PCB deposition discovered Camden had the highest levels in the state (Belton, 2008).  A DEP study found diesel emissions to be extremely hazardous because they contain many toxic substances, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  The ozone levels in NJ exceed air quality standards according to most sources.  All of these hazardous chemicals have been shown to increase risks of cancer as well as other health-associated problems.  Until 1998, residents of Camden were drinking water potentially from wells at Puchack Well Field Superfund site in Pennsauken, that were severely contaminated with VOCs, hexavalent chromium, and other toxins.  These toxins are specifically linked to an increased risk of kidney and liver disease/cancer (Jones, 2006).  The residents of Camden are being neglected with their city and health paying the ultimate price; unless a solution is determined the city and its residents will continue to deteriorate.

Hopefully, it has become evident that the pollution in Camden, NJ is atrocious and the city is on a downward spiral.  The cause of this horrific pollution is the industrialization over the last 100 years that has transformed the city into what it is today.  Unfortunately, with any good comes bad and this situation is no different.  The establishment of Camden as an industrial hub in the early 1900s was very important for trading and sustainability, however, this caused an exorbitant amount of pollution that still plagues the city today.  The increased level of pollution introduces toxic chemicals that deleteriously affect citizens’ health and the environment.  Exposure to these toxic chemicals puts Camden residents at an elevated risk for numerous diseases and cancers.  Additionally, pollution destroys the ecosystem by elevating the risk of unfavorable weather conditions such as smog or acid rain and permanently increasing the climate of Camden.  Pollution will never disappear, therefore, it is increasingly important for the community and its leaders to develop methods to severely reduce the overall pollution level and protect the residents from further health consequences.  The future of Camden is in the hands of the community but if action is not taken soon to lower pollution and clean up they city, it will become an uninhabitable, toxic wasteland.

Works Cited

Belton, Thomas, John Botts, Lee Lippincott, and Edward Stevenson. “PCB TMDLs, Pollution Minimization Plans and Source Trackdown in Camden City.” State of NJ, Department of Environmental Protection. Division of Science, Research and Technology, Aug. 2008. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.

“Childhood Lead Poisoning in NJ Annual Report- Fiscal Year 2011.” State of NJ, Family

Health Services. Department of Health and Senior Services, July 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.

Garcia, Wanda. “Industrialization.” City of Camden New Jersey.  Camden Division of

Information Technology (DIT), 2010. Web. 08 Nov. 2012.

Jones, Roy. “Environmental Issues in Camden.” South Jersey Environmental Justice

Alliance. New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, Sept. 2006. Web. 28 Oct. 2012.

Pomar, Olga. “Toxic Racism on a New Jersey Waterfront.” The Quest for Environmental

Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution. By Robert D. Bullard. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 2005. N. pag. Print.

Solecki, William D., Cynthia Rosenzweig, Gregory Pope, Mark Chopping, Richard

Goldberg, and Alex Polissar. “Urban Heat Island and Climate Change: An Assessment of Interacting and Possible Adaptations in the Camden, New Jersey Region.” State of NJ, Department of Environmental Protection. Division of Science, Research and Technology, Apr. 2004. Web. 15 Nov. 2012.

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