On April 20, health professionals from across the region gathered in Newark to call attention to the environmental injustice and health implications of building a new gas power plant in Newark’s Ironbound community.
If approved, a proposal from the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) would result in construction of a fourth methane gas-fired power plant in the Ironbound, a community which already faces a massive pollution burden from fossil fuel plants, the state’s largest trash incinerator, ports, thousands of diesel truck trips daily, and other major polluting facilities.
At the press conference, health professionals released a letter to Governor Murphy outlining these concerns, signed by over 130 health care professionals from dozens of medical fields urging him to stop PVSC’s proposal.
“If PVSC is serious about their environmental and public health commitments, they should sit down with the residents of Newark and figure out how to make their waste treatment plant more resilient without further increasing the already unsafe levels of air pollution in the community and region,” said Dr. Nicky Sheats, Esq., the director of the Center for the Urban Environment of the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research at Kean University.”
“There’s no substitute for the air we breathe. Over 19 million people in the Newark-Jersey city area already suffer from bad air days because of ozone and particulate matter,” said Dr. Catherine Chen, MD, FACP. “Over 42 days of this already. We can’t have this power plant add even more days of the year to this toll. People and the communities need to breathe clean air.”
The Ironbound already faces dangerous levels of harmful air pollution. A gas fired power plant will increase air pollutants including CO2, NOx, particulate matter, SO2, and VOCs in the Ironbound, a community that already experiences some of the worst air pollution in the country. These air pollutants have been linked to a host of health problems including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, autism, learning disabilities, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease.
“As a reproductive health specialist, doula and student midwife, I am tired of seeing the health issues and near death experiences of my clients due to systemic racism. Environmental racism being one of the biggest endocrine distributors effecting our overall health and contributing to our infant and maternal mortality rates in Newark,” said Erica Castillo, Newark resident, birth doula, and student midwife. “There is much work to be done but stopping PVSC from adding another power plant in Newark is something we can easily do now to protect our residents of further health damage.”
Despite Governor Murphy directing the commission to delay a vote this past January, PVSC is moving ahead with this project by seeking an air pollution permit before New Jersey’s environmental justice law is implemented. NJDEP’s interim Administrative Order 2021- 25 does not require PVSC to conduct a cumulative public health impacts assessment, the main requirement of NJ’s environmental justice law.
“The science rings true: Another dirty fossil fuel powerplant near the Ironbound is bad for the health of the community, the state of New Jersey, and the planet,” said Dr. Robert Laumbach MD, MPH, CIH, DABT, Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health and Justice, Rutgers School of Public Health.
PVSC will hold a public hearing on the power plant on April 26, as required by the NJDEP AO-25. Approving the project would undermine Governor Murphy’s professed commitment to phase out fossil fuels and protect clean air, clean water and a healthy environment for all residents regardless of zip code.