After 20 Years New Jersey Toxic Site Remains Regulatory Swamp
EPA Assurance Adds to Confusion about Fate of DuPont Pompton Lakes Clean-Up
Trenton — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new promise that it will require complete and proper “closure and post-closure care” for one of New Jersey’s most notorious toxic sites, according to a letter posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), but EPA’s assurance raises more questions than it answers. At the same time, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will hold a public hearing in Pompton Lakes on Monday evening, November 15th, on its proposed “oversight streamlining” that has residents up in arms for fear that contaminated groundwater and vapor intrusion from the DuPont plant will not be effectively addressed.
For more than 90 years, the E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Company manufactured blasting caps, copper and aluminum shells and other metal products on the 600-acre site which straddles two parallel valleys of the Wanaque River and Acid Brook which run through the site. Back in 1992, EPA first issued a “corrective action permit” to clean up the DuPont plant which ceased operation in 1994. The subsequent nearly two decades of federal and state remedial involvement, however, have yet to produce a definitive remedy.
Residents and environmental groups have objected to a DEP proposed “permit by rule” that would give permanent approval for the current pollution discharge to groundwater permit associated with the groundwater cleanup. The DEP “permit by rule” would eliminate the ability of the public to seek revisions or revocations in light of new information, or even to comment on the renewal of the current permit. In a September 3, 2010 e-mail to EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe laid out concerns that DEP handling of the site violated federal law, including requirements that public hearings for residents be held.
In an October 14th reply to PEER, Regional Administrator Enck wrote “you have my commitment that DuPont will fulfill its [legal] obligations for this facility [including] a comprehensive compliance schedule for all of the on and off-site areas requiring remediation.” Ms. Enck also indicated that based upon consultation with DEP, the residents “will be afforded opportunity for comment.” Shortly thereafter, DEP noticed a public hearing for this Monday.
“We appreciate EPA’s assurances but after all these years EPA has yet to issue a final corrective action permit or take enforcement action at DuPont,” stated Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “We believe that the DEP is clearly violating federal law at Pompton Lakes but EPA is sidestepping that question.”
Most curiously, Ms. Enck’s letter concedes that after all these years the source of the contamination has not been isolated. In addition, EPA did not disclose that its current Superfund risk scoring methodology does not consider vapor intrusion exposure, an issue central to the community’s demand to list the site under Superfund. Approximately 450 Pompton Lakes homes suffer harmful vapor intrusion.
“At Pompton Lakes, state and federal agencies are engaged in a marathon arm wrestling contest, allowing the polluter to exploit the conflict and leaving the residents on the sidelines without a program,” Wolfe added. “At this rate, the Pompton Lakes clean-up will drag on for another 20 years.”
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