Corporate Shadow Over Jersey’s Tainted Groundwater Darkens

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Corporate Shadow Over Jersey’s Tainted Groundwater Darkens

Science “Advisors” Push Dramatic Relaxation of Groundwater Cleanup Standards

Trenton — A newly released report recommends abandoning New Jersey’s current standards for protecting groundwater from chemical pollution.  The report is from the state’s Science Advisory Board and was written by four scientists with corporate ties–including one from DuPont, which stands to directly benefit from loosening rules governing toxic waste sites and leaking underground tanks and pipelines, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Approximately half of New Jersey residents depend on groundwater for their drinking water.  The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has identified more than 6,000 polluted groundwater sites, forcing closure of hundreds of wells across the state.   Polluted groundwater can also migrate under buildings, causing “vapor intrusion” from volatile chemicals that poison building inhabitants.

The Science Advisory Board consists of outside scientists picked by DEP.  This report attacks the “impact to groundwater” standard (IGW) and recommends replacing it with a more “flexible” system allowing site-specific exceptions.  While dated October 20, 2011, the report was not posted until last week. If its recommendations are adopted by DEP, more than 30 years of public policy would be reversed by –

  • Repealing the requirement that all groundwater should be considered and regulated as potable public water supply (unless someone submits a petition to reclassify a local aquifer to a less protective designation).   Instead, groundwater would be protected only on an as-needed basis;
  • Stripping the DEP role of defining risk assessment methodologies and allow private consultants to define and regulate risk on a case by case basis; and
  • Jettisoning the precautionary assumption underlying the IGW that legacy soil contamination will mobilize to cause future groundwater impacts.  This move would eliminate the need to clean up soils unless a direct relationship to groundwater is shown, thus relaxing cleanup requirements for many toxic waste sites.

“If you want to safely drink groundwater in New Jersey, you had better have a good lobbyist,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that the Science Advisory Board subcommittee which drafted the report contained no academic or DEP scientists – all are from the private sector, including one who works for DuPont. “High polluting corporations have been trying to weaken groundwater standards and are on the verge of accomplishing this goal by getting permission to rewrite the science from within DEP itself.”

Under industry pressure, the Corzine administration downgraded the IGW from regulations to guidance.  The report recommends that it be removed from guidance and dropped altogether.  In addition to privatizing science, New Jersey has also privatized supervision over toxic waste cleanups.  If the new report is followed, corporate consultants would be free to decide how protective cleanups would be on a site-by-site basis.

“Under this new regime, public health becomes a negotiable commodity.   The only check on corporate irresponsibility would be other corporate consultants,” Wolfe concluded.

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