New Jersey Zinc
New Jersey Zinc was a sobering place to visit. On the trip in the scenery abruptly went from the typical lush vegetation of the Pennsylvania mountains to a sort of blasted out desert wasteland more reminiscent of the southwest United States. The grounds of the plant were easily accessible but barren and dead; plants that had clearly not been alive for a long time and yet had not decayed remained and the buildings themselves were obviously chemically blighted. White powder, oozing oil, and unmanaged chemicals abounded, and there was no evidence of either wildlife or natural reclamation as there often is at other abandoned sites. Later I would hear from a local about the frequent fires on the hillside; the factory spewed out embers that often lit the dead trees nearby and the results could be seen for miles. New Jersey Zinc had certainly had a profound effect on the local ecosystem in that it appeared to have essentially obliterated it.
When I returned shortly after the first trip and was walking around, I noticed two police officers wandering the site, looking around. I went up to them and introduced myself and they mentioned that I would have to leave, but were glad that I didn't try to run from them. They turned out to be two of the nicest police officers I've met, and told me about the scrappers and teens they frequently had to chase away. One of the scrappers had hit a live wire once, and if I recall correctly it had killed him. The officer told me that nobody would claim to own the site now "unless someone wants to buy it", and after a friendly chat he offered to drive me back to my car.
Shortly afterwards the site was torn down and while I am sad not to have the opportunity to visit it any longer I can't say I think it's a loss for the area. Efforts have been underway to mitigate the damage done to the area including using fly ash, which is itself industrial pollution, to deal with the cadmium, zinc, and other heavy metals. When I was in the area last the mountains were still barren but hopefully someday the area can recover. Perhaps it is indicative of the era I live in, one where we are attempting to atone from the mistakes we made decades ago even as we perpetuate them elsewhere.
Photographs and unattributed text by Matthew Christopher. For more images click the thumbnails below.