Vapor Intrusion Standards Relaxed in New Jersey
No Public Review of New Guidance to Industry Consultants on Toxic Cleanups
Trenton — Without public notice, the Christie administration has rolled back public health protections against seepage of deadly gases into homes, schools and businesses, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Effective immediately, new state “Guidance” relaxes cleanup levels for dozens of hazardous chemicals.
In a January 17 email to private consultants, called “Licensed Site Remediation Professionals,” the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) unveiled new standards governing how much of an array of toxic chemicals may remain in indoor air, soil and groundwater following cleanup of a residential or commercial site. DEP provided no independently derived scientific basis for the changes. As the changes did not go through any rule-making process, the public had no opportunity to review them.
DEP claims that the revisions are based on various federal guidance values, which were then recalculated to reflect New Jersey’s statutory 1 in a million cancer risk standard. Nonetheless, the changes would dramatically weaken previous allowable levels for a number of known toxic chemicals, including —
- The indoor residential limits for tetrachloroethene (PCE) were tripled from 3 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) to 9 µg/m3. At the same time, the groundwater screening level for PCE jumped from 1 part per billion to 31 parts per billion;
- The allowable soil levels for MTBE (commonly due to leaking gas station tanks) was more than tripled from 2 ug/m3 to 9 ug.m3; and
- Ground water allowances were moved upwards across the board to reflect risks in drinking water rather than the tighter limits for vapor intrusion risks.
“This is an objectionable stealth rule-making where public health protection got dealt away in the backroom,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former long-time DEP analyst, noting that the Christie administration has yet to back a single strengthening of environmental regulations. “The maximum limits for toxic chemicals we are inhaling or ingesting in schools, homes, hospitals or any structure within the plume of past industrial pollution should be the product of a transparent process where science independent of the affected industry is brought to bear.”
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. Some communities, such as Pompton Lakes, have been plagued by dangerous vapor intrusion problems for decades.
“The state’s privatized system of toxic cleanup creates dangerous incentives to cut corners and allow hidden hazards to fester,” Wolfe added. “Residents would be well advised not to breathe too deeply around reclaimed industrial sites in New Jersey.”
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