Accessibility Tools

Skip to main content

Touring the Ironbound: Environmental Justice Made Real

December 1, 2011

By Yaira Robinson From State of Formation I was on a chartered bus with about 40 other people—Christians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists, one Buddhist, and one Wiccan priest. We were united in being people of faith, in being mostly white and middle class, and in touring part of Newark, New Jersey as part of the Environmental Justice retreat of GreenFaith’s Fellowship Program. I already knew that low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation; if there are toxic emissions or pollution to be found in a community, it’s most likely on the “other side of the tracks,” where poverty and the legacy of racism and discrimination combine to form communities that have little leverage in the fight against larger corporate interests. And so it is in the Ironbound, a historically immigrant community in Newark, so-named because it is bounded on three sides by railroad tracks—and on the fourth side, by Newark Airport. Today, the Ironbound is home to more than 50,000 people, mostly Portuguese and Spanish speakers, a majority of them foreign-born. The community struggles with chronic poverty and unemployment, and residents’ average income is a meager $16,000 per year. Our tour guide, Dr. Ana Baptista of the Ironbound Community Corporation, pointed out the great irony of the situation: here we were, right next to the third largest seaport in the U.S., a port that brings goods from around the globe to the largest consumer market in the world… and local residents are left out, saddled instead with an excess of pollution—a good portion of it diesel exhaust from trucks transporting those goods, and bunker fuel exhaust from the ships in port. We drove by the port and then made our way through the “Chemical Corridor,” a narrow strip of land lined with dozens of chemical manufacturing plants. There was a fat-rendering plant, some metal plants, a sewage treatment plant, one that made “natural flavors” (what is that, anyway?), and more. And then, in the midst of all this, the Essex County Correctional Facility. And a proposed immigration detention facility to be used to house families. I started to feel sick to my stomach. Click here to read the full article