Christie Guts Vapor Intrusion Safeguards
New Jersey Puts Private Consultants in Public Health Driver’s Seat
Trenton — Without public announcement late Friday afternoon, the Christie administration rolled back public health protections against seepage of deadly gases into homes, schools and businesses, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The new state “Guidance” repeals previous protections and instead defers all decisions to the “judgment” of private clean-up consultants.
In an email to industry “stakeholders” at 4 PM on Friday, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) unveiled its new “Vapor Intrusion Guidance” which extends the deregulatory policies of the Christie administration. The new Guidance repeals the prior 2005 Guidance which mandated abatement of vapor intrusion and instead –
- Creates loopholes and “exit ramps” to avoid remediation of vapor intrusion. A key loophole would allow a “phased approach” in which residents could be exposed to vapors for years;
- Allows vapor intrusion risks to be concealed until future development actually occurs; and
- Puts a private consultant, called “Licensed Site Remediation Professionals,” in charge of key remediation decisions, including when to sample, what chemicals to sample for, where to sample, how to interpret screening levels and when to warn people in impacted buildings.
This new DEP Guidance was developed during the last 18 months by a group of chemical industry lobbyists and consultants. As a 70-page “response to industry comments” document makes abundantly clear, the new Guidance followed industry dictates on virtually every critical issue.
“This represents an appalling abdication by the State of New Jersey of its responsibility to protect public health and the environment,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former long-time DEP analyst. “Oversight against vapor intrusion is a core government function that should not be privatized.”
Vapor intrusion is a major public health problem in New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated state, where more than 6,500 sites have groundwater contamination which in hundreds of cases is seeping into nearby homes and buildings. The DuPont Pompton Lakes site has become the poster child for the risks of vapor intrusion. Poison gases from polluted groundwater have been seeping into more than 450 homes. State and federal health officials have documented elevated levels of cancers related to the DuPont site.
“DEP knows the precise locations of hundreds of volatile organic compound groundwater pollution sites where vapor intrusion threatens the health of people who live and work in those buildings,” Wolfe added, calling upon “DEP to publicly disclose its statewide map of all these groundwater sites. “Now is when the state should step up to the plate, not hide in the dugout which is what we are doing by outsourcing responsibility to the industry which caused the problem.”