Trenton — After a month of balking, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has released the identities and locations of 60 day-care centers whose drinking water wells and indoor air may have high levels of toxic volatile organic chemicals, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The identities of the day-care centers are contained in DEP notices to the corporations, such as Exxon-Mobil, Getty, Hess, Motiva, Shell, and Sunoco, responsible for groundwater contamination in the areas where the day-care centers are located.
In a January 29, 2007 notice to the companies, DEP asked them to “immediately verify that indoor air and drinking water are within acceptable limits…A review of DEP files indicates that your facility has established a classification exception area (CEA) for the groundwater contaminated with volatile organics [which] may, in fact, have the potential to impact the childcare facility…At the time the CEA was established, impacts to this receptor were not fully evaluated… We encourage you to participate in the protection of our children. A response is needed within seven days of receipt.”
According to a DEP official, as of March 1, (one month after the deadline in the DEP notice) the agency had yet to receive any responses let alone requested drinking water or indoor air sampling data.
“In New Jersey, the state protects public health only with the permission of the polluter,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, questioning why the state is relying on voluntary corporate testing. “Why is DEP not also giving warning notices directly to parents, teachers and neighboring residents?”
DEP sent out the notices as part of a larger review in the wake of last year’s infamous “Kiddie Kollege” case, where dozens of children were exposed to mercury vapors at a day-care center inside a thermometer factory that DEP was supposed to be overseeing. PEER contends many more such cases will be found:
- These 60 day-care centers are among the estimated 1,400 day-care centers in New Jersey located on or within 400 feet of a known toxic hazard;
- A 2002 internal DEP audit indicated that of the more than 6,400 groundwater pollution sites only 1,412 have CEA’s – the legal notification for the presence of toxic groundwater. Even where there is a CEA (which triggered this notice), more than 90% are issued for “passive remediation/natural attenuation,” meaning that groundwater is not actively being cleaned up; and
- Other day-care centers, schools and homes already affected by toxic volatile organics from groundwater pollution are not identified in the most recent DEP “precautionary” screening list.
“What is being found at day-care centers is just the tip of a much bigger chemical pollution problem that New Jersey is not ready to acknowledge,” Wolfe added.
DEP had refused to divulge this information to the media and initially tried to block an Open Public Records Act request from PEER by improperly redacting public records. PEER is posting the documents to warn potentially at-risk residents, workers, and parents in hundreds of schools, homes, and businesses within the contaminated zones.
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Atlantic – Hudson Counties (30 sites)
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability