Interactive Map: NJ’s Potential Pollution Risks over the Coming Decades

Sea-level rise and storm surges are inevitable. Does that mean toxic spills and contaminated waterways are equally unavoidable?

Scientists predict that as a result of global warming sea levels along New Jersey’s coast could rise 17 inches by 2050 and three-and-a-half feet by the end of the century — an eventuality compounded by the fact that the Jersey Shore is slowly sinking. That will greatly increase the likelihood of flooding along the coast and tidal rivers, even without more severe storms like Hurricane Sandy. Once storm surge from potential hurricanes and nor’easters is added to the mix, thousands of additional polluted and industrial sites near the water’s edge could be at risk of spreading contamination.

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Using data from Surging Seas, a project of Climate Central, we’ve mapped nearly 1,700 New Jersey sites listed in the EPA’s Facility Registry Service that are within five feet of sea level and thus potentially vulnerable over the coming decades.

Hazardous Waste Sites make up the largest grouping by far, which includes the following categories:

  • 1,119 RCRA sites that generate, transport, treat, store, and/or dispose of hazardous waste and whose actions are governed by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
  • 27 BR sites that generate large quantities of hazardous waste and are required to submit biennial reports to the EPA.
  • We’ve also mapped Hazardous Waste Sites of Particular Concern, including:

  • 15 CERCLIS sites in the EPA’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System database, a program to locate, investigate, and clean up the worst hazardous waste sites throughout the nation.
  • 4 NPL CERCLIS sites deemed to present a serious risk to human health and/or the environment are added to the National Priorities List Priorities List (NPL). These are considered the most serious, uncontrolled, or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country. Also known as the Superfund.
  • Our map also indicates the following types of Hazardous Materials Sites:

  • 37 TRI facilities involved in manufacturing, metal mining, electric power generation, chemical manufacturing, and hazardous waste treatment that deal with certain toxic chemicals that may pose a threat to human health and the environment and are required to file annual reports under the Toxics Release Inventory.
  • 13 RMP facilities that handle, manufacture, use, or store extremely hazardous materials that are flammable or toxic, and are required to file risk management plans under the Clean Air Act.
  • 7 TSCA chemical facilities regulated by the Toxic Substances Control Act. TSCA addresses the production, importing, use, and disposal of specific chemicals including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, radon, and lead-based paint. Certain substances are generally excluded from TSCA, including food, drugs, cosmetics, and pesticides.
  • Rounding out the list are the following types of sites:

  • 379 Wastewater facilities including sewage-treatment plants and other facilities that discharge wastewater or other pollutants and are required to have National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits.
  • 41 Oil facilities that store gas and diesel, as well as manufacturing sites subject to the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC), Facility Response Plan (FRP), and Office of Transportation and Air Quality Fuels Registration system.
  • 25 Brownfield sites including contaminated, former industrial sites that have been assessed or cleaned up with grant funding as part of the Assessment Cleanup and Redevelopment Exchange System; in some cases, contamination may still be present, but is capped
  • 8 Pesticide facilities that contain pesticides, based on records in the EPA’s STSS program
  • You can use the + and – buttons to zoom in and out on various sections of the map or search for a particular municipality by entering it in the box with the magnifying glass. Hover your mouse over individual sites on the map for additional information. You can also click the “visible layers” box above the map to view just those sites that are within particular elevations above sea level.

    Disclaimer: Mapping results are based on the elevation of the land that the structures sit on, relative to local high tide (MHHW). Results do not factor in structure elevation or potential protection from levees, sea walls, or other engineering or natural features. This analysis does not account for erosion, marsh migration, future construction, or other dynamic factors that may affect exposure. Land elevation values are based on high-accuracy laser (“lidar”) measurements, but may still include errors. Available data represents most sites using simple point or line coordinates. Most exposure assessments thus cannot account for full structure or site footprints. Results for individual facilities or location, as listed here, are subject to error, and are less reliable than results summarizing exposure for large numbers of facilities. Original data sources and methods detailed at Surging Seas, including linked reports and scientific papers. Data retrieved from Jersey&category=EPA&geo=State

    This story is part of Dirty Little Secrets, a series investigating New Jersey’s toxic legacy. Participating news partners include New Jersey Public Radio/WNYC, WHYY, NJTV, NJ Spotlight, Jersey Shore Hurricane News, WBGO, New Brunswick Today, and the Rutgers Department of Journalism and Media Studies. The collaboration is facilitated by The Center for Investigative Reporting, with help from the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State.