EPA Badly Fumbles Jersey Pompton Lakes Toxic Cleanup

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EPA Badly Fumbles Jersey Pompton Lakes Toxic Cleanup

Permit Withdrawal Throws Eco-Safeguards into Doubt While Adding Years of Delay

Trenton — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is making one of the nation’s longest toxic removal operations even longer with the announcement that it is withdrawing its permit for the heavily contaminated Pompton Lakes area cleanup plan. By going back to the drawing board, EPA raises serious doubts about both the scope and schedule for the already 25-year old remediation of the former E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Company ammunition plant, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

After decades of ineffective state-overseen cleanup operations, EPA finally took over the cleanup operations last year. EPA’s initial plan, however, was severely criticized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for failing to address the fact that “significant levels of contamination will remain” from “mercury, which in certain forms is highly toxic and biomagnifies via the food web” flowing downstream from the old factory site. In trying to rewrite its initial plan on the fly, EPA appears to have ensnarled itself in both substantive and procedural knots. In yesterday’s press release, EPA stated:

“The EPA had previously finalized a plan, which was contained in a permit requiring cleanup of the Acid Brook delta along with certain other areas in the lake, but additional information including results of recent sampling in Pompton Lake have provided EPA the basis for revising that permit. The new permit requirements are currently being developed by EPA, with a goal of proposing a draft permit by the fall.”

“This is a major setback for the Pompton Lakes community as EPA’s stumble will prolong toxic removal work for at least two years,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe who had pressed for the FWS review. “Behind closed doors, EPA has been negotiating with DuPont to shrink both the size and thoroughness of the required cleanup that DuPont will have to pay for.”

Among the issues EPA will have to re-address are –

  • The size of the cleanup which had grown from an initial 26 acres to embrace 40 acres;
  • How downstream migration of chemicals will be handled; and
  • What form of wildlife and ecological monitoring will occur to track ultra-high concentrations of mercury, lead, copper, selenium, zinc and other chemicals in the food chain and sediments,

“This raises questions far beyond Pompton Lakes about the public health safeguards for more than 3,000 similarly contaminated sites across the country for which EPA is responsible,” added Wolfe, noting that far more sites are covered by the less rigorous Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) than the better known Superfund program even though many RCRA sites, such as Pompton Lakes, are just as or even more contaminated than Superfund sites. “This has all the earmarks of DuPont pulling strings behind the scenes.”


Read the EPA press release

See U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service critique

Look at toxic migration downstream

Visit EPA’s Pompton Lakes web-center

View Pompton lakes and other Jersey toxic sites still in regulatory limbo

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

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