With the help of the Census Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency and a mind-boggling amount of computer time, a New York-based research organization has produced an unusual volume that may add a new term to the lexicon of real-estate listings: dmp vu.
The book is a Zip code-by-Zip code accounting of the nation's toxic waste, showing the number of toxic-waste sites and the per capita level of hazardous waste generated in each of more than 36,000 residential areas.
The volume, under the unwieldy title "Quality of Life in American Neighborhoods: Levels of Affluence, Toxic Waste and Cancer Mortality in Residential Zip Code Areas," was compiled by the Council on Economic Priorities as part of an investigation into the health effects of toxic waste.
"We hope that citizens in local communities across the country will use this book as a resource to identify areas of high toxic-waste concentrations and then track down the reasons for them," said council Executive Director Alice Tepper Marlin.
The book is also a treasure trove of demographic information on America's neighborhoods as defined by the ubiquitous Zip code. According to Jay Gould, a statistician and economist who directed the effort, the book is the only publicly available compilation of data by Zip code, collected by the Census Bureau for the first time in 1980 but never published by the government because of budgetary constraints.
Thus, John Q. Citizen learns for the first time that Short Hills, N.J., is 97 percent white, 4 percent under the age of 5 and 14 percent over the age of 65, has a mean household income of $91,000 (three times the national average) and has a mean home value of $298,000 of which 91 percent are owner-occupied.
By superimposing data concerning waste-generating businesses and toxic-waste sites, Gould turned up the additional information that the 12,800 residents of Short Hills live within fairly close proximity to 25 abandoned toxic-waste sites and are surrounded by neighborhoods that generate from 3 to 18 times the national average of 883 pounds of toxic waste per person.
"People who live in affluent areas are often assumed to be less exposed to such environmental hazards as toxic wastes," Gould said. "But our study finds that no area is really immune."
Some, however, are more immune than others. Beverly Hills, Calif., Zip code 90210, with a mean household income of $113,000, has virtually no toxic waste. Neither does the nation's richest Zip code, 89413 in Reno, Nev., whose 200 residents have a mean household income of $201,000.
The study found that three-quarters of the toxic waste generated in the United States is concentrated in fewer than one-tenth of the 36,000 residential Zip codes, often in middle-income neighborhoods. The council said that 39 million Americans live in the 3,443 Zip code areas with above-average toxic-waste levels.
Among them are places like Hahnville, La., Zip code 70057, which has 3,200 residents and a slightly above average household income of $29,000. Hahnville has six abandoned toxic-waste sites and per capita waste generation more than 100 times the national average.
Using county health data, Gould has estimated that Hahnville's white male cancer mortality rate is more than 10 times the national average. Gould said the council is investigating mortality rates in other areas, and plans to develop a mathematical formula that "will allow us to calculate the cancer rate in every Zip code in the nation."
"We think several thousand communities have severe cancer problems and want to focus sufficient attention on them to force some activism," he said. The council, however, said the figures only suggest a "potential danger," and do not take into account how waste is handled or disposed of, which governs the extent to which people are exposed to it.
According to the council, the worst place in the nation to live in terms of toxic waste may be Willow Island, W.Va. The area is home to at least one abandoned dump as well as to chemical and petroleum plants that annually generate more than 8 million pounds of hazardous waste for each of the area's 25 residents, about 9,200 times the national average.
For Washington and environs, there is better news. The council found two dumps in the District of Columbia (zip codes 20003 and 20018), and several more in Maryland and Virginia suburbs. But the paper factories and bedroom communities of the nation's capital apparently generate little in the way of toxic waste.
Only one Zip code in the greater metropolitan area had a waste-generating rate significantly higher than the national average. That was Zip code 20006 in Northwest Washington, just west of the White House, with a generation rate 18.5 times the national average.
Just where all that waste may be coming from is a bit of mystery. Zip code 20006, bounded by K Street, Constitution Avenue, 16th Street and 21st Street, is larded with lobbyists and law firms, not paint factories and machine shops.
The information on waste generation came from Trinet, a subsidiary of Control Data Corp. that maintains an extensive listing of waste-generating businesses. According to Trinet official Charles Stryker, the main waste producers in Zip code 20006 are printing and publishing businesses.
Gould said waste-generation levels were calculated by using waste-production figures for businesses using similar technology. The statistic could be misleading if the publishers keep only their business offices in downtown Washington and do their printing elsewhere, he said, and the relatively small residential population (1,200) could also result in an artificially high figure. The Washington Post, which does its printing on site, is several blocks away and has its own commercial Zip code. Commercial Zip codes were not included in the study.