New Jersey to Deregulate Toxic Vapor Intrusion
Control of Deadly Seepage Put on “Honor System” in Christie Regulatory Rollback
Trenton — Even as its communities struggle with toxic legacies seeping into homes, New Jersey has put the final touches on a plan removing state oversight from control of deadly vapor intrusion. The plan, in essence, places control over vapor intrusion entirely at the discretion of private consultants hired by responsible parties (i.e., polluters) or developers, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Although New Jersey is one of the most contaminated states in the U.S. it has yet to restrict high-density construction atop hundreds of underground toxic plumes. Proposed rules by the outgoing Corzine administration to accelerate indoor air sampling and provide more rapid response to toxic vapors entering homes, day-care centers and other buildings were nixed in early 2010 by the newly-installed Christie administration. In their place, Governor Christie now proposes to move in the opposite direction by –
- Deleting “the requirement that the Department (of Environmental Protection or DEP) make a determination on a case-by-case basis as to whether contaminant levels in ground water present a vapor risk to any receptors, because the person responsible for conducting the remediation now makes this determination without Department oversight” (emphasis added);
- Declaring “that the investigation of building interiors is to be conducted by the person responsible for conducting the remediation. Additionally, the Department proposes to readopt the amendments deleting the text concerning where the minimum requirements for investigating contaminants inside buildings may be found…” (emphasis added); and
- Declining to “specify sampling requirements when contamination outside buildings has the potential to migrate into buildings,” instead leaving that up to private consultants.
“This is an abominable abdication of the state’s responsibility to protect the health of its people,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, pointing to the ongoing vapor intrusion in places such as Pompton Lakes due to an old DuPont ammunition plant. “Protecting families against noxious vapors creeping into their homes is not red tape – it is the red meat of preserving public health. Quick redevelopment does not do our economy any good if we are salting our cities with toxic time bombs,”
Under the Christie plan, all decisions would be left to the “best professional judgment” of private consultants employed by developers to clean up old toxic sites. Thus far, New Jersey has temporarily licensed more than 430 private Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRPs) who will assume the oversight role formerly assumed by the state. Perhaps not surprisingly, the newly-formed LSRP Association strongly supports the new Christie rules.
Under the LSRP bill enacted two years ago, DEP was supposed to retain direct oversight of high risk cases; vapor intrusion is by definition a high risk case because there is off-site release and direct human exposure. But the Christie administration has gone beyond that and removed all state oversight.
“Now we have the worst of both worlds – privatization with no regulatory standards,” Wolfe added, noting that the LSRPs have financial incentives to keep clean-up costs low if they expect to be rehired. “Toxic clean-ups are the very last enterprise we should place on a corporate honor system.”