Which states have the worst hazardous waste problems? In general, a
state's problem has three components: amount of hazardous waste
produced, number of peop-le who might be impacted by it, and area of
land. With this information for each state, you can calculate a single
number that can serve as an index of the states' problems: you multiply
the amount of waste by the number of people and divide the result by
the land area. We believe this is an adequate index because either a
large population or a large amount of waste could create problems for a
state's people; furthermore, the less land a state has, the greater the
risk that people and waste existing together on that land will come
into contact with each other.
According to our index, New Jersey has (by far) the biggest problem. In
NJ, many people produce large amounts of wastes and, together, the
wastes and the people inhabit a small area. State-wide, Alaska has a
much smaller problem: few people produce small amounts of waste, and
they inhabit a large land area.
This index must NOT be used to minimize or play down the importance of
problems within any state. In Alaska, for example, there are numerous
examples of people being harmed by hazardous wastes: inhabitants of the
Pribilof Islands are contaminated with mercury, and people dependent
upon caribou are at serious risk of being contaminated with radioactive
materials. In rural New Mexico the coal, copper, oil and uranium
industries have put large numbers of people at risk. Thus even a state
with a low index may face many serious and worsening waste-related
problems. The index is only a crude indicator of the overall severity
of the problem in each state.
Here are the states, ranked from worst to best (note how the Southern
The losers: New Jersey; Ohio; Pennsylvania; New York; Massachusetts;
Illinois; Connecticut; California; Michigan; Texas; Rhode Island;
Indiana; Tennessee; Louisiana; Maryland; Virginia; Florida; Alabama;
North Carolina; West Virginia; Missouri; Kentucky; South Carolina.
The winners: Washington; Georgia; Wisconsin; Delaware; Arkansas;
Oklahoma; Minnesota; Mississippi; Iowa; Kansas; Colorado; New
Hampshire; Hawaii; Oregon; Utah; Arizona; Nebraska; Idaho; Vermont;
Maine; New Mexico; Montana; Wyoming; Nevada; North Dakota; South
Now here's a different way of looking at the hazardous waste problem.
For each state, we took per-capita income and multiplied it by state
population to get total state income; then we divided that by tons of
waste produced, yielding a number that represents dollar income per ton
of waste. This can be viewed as a rough indicator of whether you've got
"dirty" jobs or "clean" jobs in your state. Obviously, more income per
ton of waste is better; the U.S. average is $10,116.
We present the list from worst to best. Note that, once again, the
south has more than its fair share of losers. Note also that there are
a few notable non-southern losers: Indiana, Ohio, Rhode Island,
Pennsylvania, Idaho, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Washington, and
Illinois, for example.
The losers: Louisiana ($3130); West Virginia (3166); Tennessee (3605);
Texas (4768); Alabama (5496); Arkansas (5498); Indiana (5644); Ohio
(6150); Rhode Island (6334); Kentucky (7401); Pennsylvania (7437);
Idaho (7776); South Carolina (7816); New Jersey (8032); Delaware
(8419); Michigan (8565); Missouri (8920); Washing-ton (9110); Illinois
(9570); Wyoming (9777).
The winners: Connecticut (10921); Mississippi (11240); Kansas (11292);
Utah (11535); Montana (11822); Oklahoma (12407); North Carolina
(14558); Virginia (16043); Wisconsin (16201); Massachusetts (16776);
Georgia (16986); Iowa (17583); California (18153); Maryland (18332);
Colorado (19401); New Mexico (20291); Minnesota (21951); Vermont
(22583); New York (23094); Nebraska (23817); New Hampshire (25676);
Nevada (26297); North Dakota (28307); Oregon (29184); Maine (32872);
Florida (37903); South Dakota (42779); Arizona (45120); Hawaii (57852);
Data on income, population, and geographical area from: INFORMATION
PLEASE ALMANAC, 1985; data on hazardous waste generation from
Congressional Budget Office whose data (for 1983) appear on pg. 10 of
James McCarthy and Mark Reisch, HAZARDOUS WASTE FACT BOOK (Washington,
DC: Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, 1987); the
FACT BOOK is available free from Mr. McCarthy at (202) 287-7225.
DOES 'SUE THE BASTARDS' MAKE SENSE AS A STRATEGY? HERE'S HOW TO TELL
Everyone who has been harmed, or frightened, by toxics in their
neighborhood wants to sue the bastards. Everyone wants their day in
court. But it doesn't usually make sense to bring a lawsuit: the
courts, remember, were devised as a means for the powers-that-be to
maintain law and order. When you sue, you're operating on your
adversary's turf and the deck is heavily stacked against the little
guy. Lawsuits eat up money and time and you'll probably end up losing
Still, there may be times when a lawsuit makes sense. This booklet,
MAKING POLLUTERS PAY: A CITIZENS' GUIDE TO LEGAL ACTION AND ORGANIZING
can help you decide whether a lawsuit will help or hurt your cause.
It's written in plain English and it contains a lot of useful
information even if you decide not to sue.
There's a good chapter on "barriers toxics victims now face," telling
you in realistic terms the hurdles you face if you want to sue a
polluter who has harmed you. A glossary of medical and legal terms will
help you understand the special language that lawyers and judges and
doctors use. There is a good chapter on chemical and medical testing
and how to select a lab.
The book ends with three chapters for organizing your community (and a
bibliography). Even if you enter a lawsuit, you should organize your
community --judges are humans and they read the papers like anyone
else. Despite claims to the contrary, the courtroom is a political
place and it will be influenced by organized citizen action.
MAKING POLLUTERS PAY is $15 from Environmental Action Foundation, 1525
New Hampshire Ave., NW, Wash., DC 20036; phone (202) 745-4871. Worth
Descriptor terms: lawsuits; pollution; citizen groups; hazardous waste;
nj; mercury; nm; coal; copper; oil; uranium; oh; pa; ny; ma; il; ct;
ca; mi; tx; ri; tn; la; md; fl; al; nc; wv; mo; ky; sc; va; in; de; wa;