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DEP caves to industry – abandons groundwater protection standards

DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson testifies before the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee – May 1, 2008.

Drinking Water Supplies for Half the State Vulnerable to Toxic Contamination
“The environmental community… submitted comments wanting stricter standards and expressed concerns that we were not protective enough…. The Builders wanted weaker standards…I have elected not to adopt groundwater soil standards (sic), but instead develop guidelines that address comments from both sides.”
In a stunning retreat, DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson announced that she withdrew proposed standards to protect groundwater from chemical pollution dumped at toxic waste sites or leaking from underground tanks and pipelines. The move is a major concession to high-polluting industries which have vigorously opposed these toxic clean-up rules, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In May 1, 2008 testimony before the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Lisa Jackson said she would abandon proposed “impact to groundwater pathway standards” and DEP’s proposed groundwater pollution impact assessment methods for all new clean-ups of toxic soil.
Accordingly to DEP, half of New Jersey residents depend on 900 million gallons of groundwater a day for drinking water. DEP has identified more than 6,000 polluted groundwater sites, forcing closure of hundreds of municipal and residential wells across the state. Polluted groundwater can also migrate under buildings, causing “vapor intrusion” from volatile chemicals that poison building inhabitants.
This reversal represents a substantial rollback of protections because –
1) Impact-to-groundwater standards are typically far more stringent (lower) than surface soil cleanup standards. For example, the soil clean-up standard for the carcinogen benzene is 4 mg/kg (parts per million or ppm) based on inhalation risk, but the impact-to-groundwater standard is 0.0008 mg/kg (ppm), 5,000 times more stringent than what will now be required;
2) At sites where contaminated soils exceed the impact-to-groundwater standards, soils must be removed or treated and may not be simply capped and left in place; and
3) When coupled with the DEP plan to privatize toxic site clean-ups, much more discretion is placed in the hands of industry to decide whether public health and drinking water are safeguarded. This combination also will make it extremely difficult for the state to oversee or audit the performance of private contractor clean-ups.
This is an astonishing abdication of the state’s primary responsibility for protecting drinking water,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, noting that instead of strict absolute standards there are vague, relative guidelines that will be very hard to enforce. “In essence, DEP is ignoring the fact that soil contamination taints groundwater. As a result, we will be seeing many more pave-and-wave clean-ups without regard to public health.”
Listen to Jackson’s May 1, 2008 testimony to Senate Legislative Oversight Committee
Read the DEP impact- to groundwater rule adoption document
View the PEER comments on the abandoned standards
Examine New Jersey’s plan to privatize toxic clean-ups
Look at the toxic waste mess 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

  1. nohesitation
    May 7th, 2008 at 11:52 | #1

    The rumor I got was that the Governor’s Office killed these rules based on industry’s criticism of high compliance costs and adverse economic impacts.
    This kill was reportedly the first deliverable for Adam Zellner, the former DEP Deputy Commisisoner, upon his move to the Governor’s Ofice as environmental policy advisor.
    I am told that there are more to come.

  2. KalNJ
    May 7th, 2008 at 14:05 | #2

    DEP caves to industry, who do the think they are, the BPU?
    If it’s true what nohesitation said, Ms. Jackson should have resigned like every other responsible “public servant”.
    {Pause for hearty laughter}

  3. nohesitation
    May 7th, 2008 at 14:25 | #3

    KalNJ – Almost all DEP and pubic employees (civil servants) are responsible and seek to serve the public based on science and law.
    The bad decisions are imposed on staff by political appointees or incompetent managers (Peter Principle).
    Please recognize the difference.

  4. KalNJ
    May 7th, 2008 at 15:17 | #4

    “The bad decisions are imposed on staff by political appointees or incompetent managers”
    nohesitation you are right

  5. JerseyOpine
    May 7th, 2008 at 16:03 | #5

    So, instead of having enforceable standards, guidelines will be developed. I think only the U.N. would consider that “getting tough”.
    And what is the NJ DEP supposed to be protecting? From the name, one would think it was the environment; but from the actions, it sounds like business interests.

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