Special Report

America's Most Polluted Housing Markets

4. Essex County, N.J.
> Score: 28.4
> Pct. of days with bad air: 1.52% (170th lowest)
> Hazards per sq. mile: 2.38 (7th highest)
> Median home price: $51,431 (285th highest)

Superfund sites are a major environmental problem in Essex County. The county had more superfund sites per square mile on the national priorities list than any other large housing market. One well-known problem site in the county is the Passaic River, which also serves as a border for Essex County. According to the EPA, “The sediments of the lower Passaic River…are contaminated with a variety of hazardous substances, including dioxin, PCBs, mercury, DDT, pesticides and heavy metals.” Plans to clean the Passaic River via dredging — removing sediment from the bottom of the river — carry a massive tab estimated at $1.7 billion. Essex County is part of the New York City metro area, which has numerous waterways that are categorized as superfund sites.

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3. Hudson County, N.J.
> Score: 30.3
> Pct. of days with bad air: 1.23% (127th lowest)
> Hazards per sq. mile: 3.15 (4th highest)
> Median home price: $58,599 (167th highest)

Hudson County lies across the Hudson River from New York City. It has among the most brownfields, at 0.43 per square mile. According to the EPA, using such sites for purposes such as building new residences “may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” In addition to the concerns residents face from brownfields, Hudson County also has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of superfunds in the U.S. However, this has not served as much of a deterrent to homebuyers, who are willing to pay quite a bit to live in the county. The median price of a home in Hudson County was $358,000 in July, higher than in most markets in America.

2. Baltimore City, Md.
> Score: 31.0
> Pct. of days with bad air: 1.13% (114th lowest)
> Hazards per sq. mile: 3.82 (3rd highest)
> Median home price: $38,947 (35th lowest)

The city of Baltimore is the second worst housing market for man-made pollution. According to clean water advocacy group Blue Water Baltimore, “As an industrial port, Baltimore is plagued with a history of toxic pollution.” Baltimore has nearly 1.5 designated polluters per square mile. The city trails just one other housing market, St. Louis for the number of polluters per square mile, identified through the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory program. Baltimore was also among the worst markets for brownfields, with 0.74 per square mile. In all, the city ranked third-worst for the number of environmental hazards per square mile — which accounts for 60% of a market’s man-made pollution score — behind only Philadelphia County and St. Louis.

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1. St. Louis City, Mo.
> Score: 77.8
> Pct. of days with bad air: 7.89% (117th highest)
> Hazards per sq. mile: 13.30 (the highest)
> Median home price: $31,534 (3rd lowest)

The city of St. Louis is the nation’s worst housing market for man-made pollution. The city has 13.3 environmental hazards per square mile, according to Homefacts, by far the most of any housing market in the U.S. The fact that St. Louis led all large housing markets in both the number of brownfields and the number of designated polluters per square mile was a major contributing factor. Urban decay, deindustrialization, and population have long been problems in the city. As of June, 9.6% of the city’s workforce was unemployed, higher than in most markets. The city’s 2014 estimated median household income was just over $31,500, making St. Louis one of the poorest large markets.

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