Trenton — Abandoning a standard nearly ten years in the making, the
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has quietly walked away
from proposed reductions in the discharge of mercury, PCBs and DDT into the
state’s waterways, according to documents released today by Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The abandoned standards were designed
to protect the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and other river-dependent species
from the effects of toxic buildup.

Adoption of the standards would have forced hundreds of industrial facilities,
sewage treatment plants, and toxic waste sites to reduce ongoing discharges
of these toxic pollutants into state waters. The standards would have provided
enforceable, science-based criteria to guide permanent cleanup of tons of contaminated
soils and sediments leaching these toxins into waterways, to the detriment of

Due to industry opposition, DEP has dragged its feet in ratcheting down water
pollution discharges, despite repeated entreaties from federal agencies and
strong support from DEP’s own scientists:

  • In a June 26, 1996 Biological Opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    found that New Jersey’s surface water quality standards would not protect
    bald eagle and peregrine falcon populations from bioaccumulation of mercury,
    PCBs and the pesticide DDT. As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection
    Agency directed DEP to develop new wildlife criteria to minimize adverse effects
    on species federally listed as threatened or endangered;
  • DEP itself proposed these standards back on November 18, 2002. The specific
    standards arose out of a joint federal-state scientific workgroup that produced
    a July 2001 study entitled: “A Derivation of New Jersey-specific Wildlife
    Values and Surface Water Criteria for: PCB’s, DDT, Mercury;” and
  • EPA, in an October 15, 2003 letter to DEP, stated “EPA strongly supports
    the adoption of these wildlife criteria as soon as possible, preferably before
    the November 18, 2003 ‘sunset date’” – one year after
    DEP’s initial proposal.

Not only did DEP miss the 2003 target “sunset date” but, in the
ensuing months, it took none of the steps required to revive the standards.
In its place, DEP announced a series of highly touted piecemeal actions to strengthen
voluntary cleanup agreements at a handful of toxic sites along the Delaware
and Raritan Rivers that involved simply capping these sites, so that they can
be more quickly and cheaply developed.

“New Jersey claims to have the nation’s most stringent mercury
standards, aggressive water pollution control permitting and wildlife protections
but Commissioner Campbell’s decision to jettison protective wildlife standards
reveals that a lot of that is just public relations spin,” stated New
Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP official, noting that DEP’s
website is dominated by a photo of a peregrine falcon. “To put this in
perspective, the proposed standards are not nearly as strict as EPA’s
recommended limits for PCB’s in the Delaware River— in other words
this bar has been set pretty low but DEP is still balking.”

Ironically, DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell’s decision ignores repeated
recommendations from federal agencies, such as EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, that under the Bush administration are rarely accused of being overzealous.


the fact sheet listing the chronology of past endorsements and retreats

at he EPA letter urging New Jersey to adopt tougher standards

Earth Day 2005 DEP press release though Acting Governor Codey ballyhooing Delaware

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