Which states have the worst hazardous waste problems? In general, a state's problem has three components: amount of hazardous waste produced, number of people 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 states fare):
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 Dakota; Alaska.
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); Alaska (132873).
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
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: hazardous wastes; nj; mercury; nm; coal; copper; oil; uranium; oh; pa; ny; ma; il; ct; ca; mi; tx; rl; tn; la; md; fl; al; nc; wv; mo; ky; sc; va; in; de; wa; mi; pollution;