Archive for August, 2008

This is just a test of the Photoshop system

August 31st, 2008 2 comments

Remember those dopey interruptions:
“BOOOOPPP – This is just a test of the emergency broadcast system. Had there been a real emergency….”.
Well, this post is just a test of the Photoshop system! Ignore. Just playing with Photoshop to see how various adjustments appear in pictures on the NJ Voices page. Feel free to comment. Shots were take on a cloudy day near sunset. My son is trying to educate me about the histogram, black/white/gray, pixels, and maximizing the dynamic range (via email). Son is very bright and Dad’s a lot slow.

Categories: personal Tags:

DEP Head – firmly back in the sand

August 29th, 2008 7 comments

Erosion of public right to know – DEP reverting to Whitman era

Back in 2004, when DEP scientists assembled the initial round of just 6 months of data on drinking water well contamination submitted under the recently enacted Private Well Testing Act, agency head Bradley M. Campbell made it a priority to inform NJ residents of the health risks posed by polluted wells and educate the public about the need to sample wells.

In a March 2004 press release, Campbell warned:

“The results demonstrate the importance of testing residents’ drinking water sources for a variety of contaminants that may need treatment to ensure a safe supply,” said Commissioner Campbell. “When contamination issues arise, county and local health officials step in to assist residents taking corrective action.”

Bradley M. Campbell, Commissioner NJDEP 2002 – 2006

Families have the right to know whether their drinking water is safe when purchasing homes with private wells. “This program is successful due to support from local and county health officers across the state who provide information to persons involved with the private well testing process.”

(see: DEP Releases Initial Results of Private Well Testing Program
Home Buyers Learn of Water Quality during Property Transactions

Campbell was acting aggressively to reverse an informal “policy” of the Whitman Administration’s DEP, whereby scientific data – particularly with respect to controversial public health risks – was ignored, withheld, supressed and/or spun in a way to to downplay risks and avoid regulation of industry.

Unfortunately, DEP’s recent handling of the latest Private Well Testing Act data strongly suggests that – due to lack of leadership – DEP is reverting back to the Whitman model – don’t ask/don’t tell.

The initial 2004 results (of 5,179 wells sampled during first 6 months of the program) showed that 8% failed to meet drinking water standards. Those disturbing results prompted DEP Commissioner Campbell to accelerate and issue an interim public Report and Statewide press release to warn the public.

Lisa P. Jackson, Commissioner NJDEP
2006 – present

Now, 4 years later, after over 51,000 wells have been sampled, DEP has found that more than 12.5% of wells failed to meet drinking water standards and are unsafe. The failure rate increased by more than 50% (8% – 12.5%) and the number of wells sampled increased tenfold.

Yet this huge 50% increase in the failure rate and growing statewide extent of the problem apparently is of no interest to DEP, at least according to Barker Hamill, who oversees the PWTA program. Hamill cavalierly dismissed concerns and assumed – with no supporting data – that “a lot” of NJ households with polluted wells have treatment systems:

“Barker Hamill, DEP assistant director of water-supply operations, said the agency had not done more outreach because the report was not “particularly new information.
A 2004 report outlined similar results, he said.
However, that report, based on tests of 5,179 wells from September 2002 to March 2003, found that 8 percent failed to meet standards. The new report shows a 50 percent rise in contaminated wells
” (emphasis mine).
Hamill termed New Jersey’s latest report more suited for “internal scientific interest . . . a statistical presentation for the counties. We haven’t had people asking for this type of stuff.”

Hamill mislead the public to downplay the results:

“Barker Hamill, the DEP’s assistant director for water supply operations, said the results were consistent with a previous analysis of water tests and are no cause for alarm.
I don’t think anyone is hugely surprised,” he said. “These are raw water test results. People are not necessarily being exposed to these contaminants. I expect a lot of these wells have treatment on them.

Someone needs to ask Hamill the following tough questions:

1. How can you call the 2008 data “not new information” when the failure rate increased by more than 50% and 5 years of implementation experience has exposed major flaws in the law and regulations?
2. How can you call the Report only for “internal scientific purposes” when DEP prominently issued the 2004 Report publicly with press release warnings?
3. How can you call the 2008 Report “consistent with the previous [2004] Report” when the failure rate increased by more than 50% and DEP’s own “case study” in Byram highlights major flaws in the design of the program?
4. On what basis do you assume that “a lot” of NJ homes with polluted wells have treatment systems? What does “a lot” mean?
If satisfactory answers are not provided and problems immediately corrected (including public apology and clarification of these misleading press remarks), Mr. Hamill should be asked to retire.
(full disclosure: I worked for Campbell at the time in 2004. I was forced out of DEP as a whistleblower in 1994 by Governor Whitman for disclosing memo’s to the Governor that exposed her efforts to falsify and suppress science that showed significant health risks due to mercury contamination in freshwater fish).

[Update: 8/30/08 – just checked the DEP webpage to see if they had gotten around to issuing a press release on the PWTA Report. Not yet, but I did find that DEP made it a priority to issue a “good news” release about lifting the Delaware shellfish ban, but not “bad news” about drinking water wells.

Categories: Policy watch, Politics Tags:

Is 3 + 2 > 100,000?

August 29th, 2008 No comments

[Update: 8/30/08 – I just checked the DEP webpage to see if they had gotten around to issuing a press release on the PWTA Report. Not yet, but I did find that DEP made it a priority to issue a “good news” release about lifting the Delaware shellfish ban, but not “bad news” about drinking water wells. See:
I am continuously amazed at how environmentally related public health risks are reported (or ignored) by media.
The problems have become acute, as media downsizes. It seems as if environmental and science reporters are a luxury newspapers can’t afford.
That is bad news for readers and democracy, because government is becoming more and more secretive and non-transparent. Academics refer to this as “agency capture” – a phenomenon where government officials are literally closer to and pay more attention to regulated industry than the public they are supposed to be protecting.
As I’ve argued, that lack of media scrutiny undermines accountability and allows powerful special interests to have their way behind the scenes with DEP environmental regulators. The public interest is sold out in smoky back rooms and stale bureaucracies.
In the latest example, apparently three (3) plus two (2) is greater than 100,000 – at least to Star Ledger news editors.
Let me explain:
Today, the Ledger reports that 3 people were poisoned by eating wild mushrooms. See:
Three people are poisoned by wild mushrooms
Today, in a followup story, the Star Ledger also reports that DEP lifted the ban on harvesting Delaware Bay shellfish. That ban was imposed one month after 2 people were sickened by eating oysters. See:
DEP lifts ban on shellfish harvesting
Yet, the Star ledger did not report that the drinking water at over 50,000 NJ homes is unsafe. Assuming, conservatively, that there are 2 people per household, that means more than 100,000 NJ residents are being poisoned every day.
That story was prominently reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. See::
N.J. finds many private wells contaminated
The Morris Daily Record. See:
Contaminants found in 300 Morris wells
NJ study finds 1 in 8 private wells contaminated

The Asbury Park Press. See:
State: 1 in 8 private wells contaminated
Officials urge more testing
The story has gained national attention also. See:
Radioactivity, Arsenic Contaminate New Jersey Drinking Water
I can’t understand how that can happen, when I broke the story and released the DEP Report right here at NJ Voices on Wednesday, with this post:
Drink at your own risk
Posted by Bill Wolfe August 27, 2008 1:21PM
I followed that NJ Voices post up with a widely distributed press release yesterday:
WIDESPREAD CONTAMINATION FOUND IN NEW JERSEY DRINKING WATER — Survey of Wells Is Far From Well; State Does Not Follow-Up on Pollutants
Oh well….. better luck next time.

Criteria for Success

August 28th, 2008 3 comments

I can’t agree more with these words from Joe Biden’s acceptance speech last night:
“You know, folks, my dad used to have an expression. He’d say, “A father knows he’s a success when he turns and looks at his son or daughter and know that they turned out better than he did.” I’m a success; I’m a hell of a success.
Beau, I love you. I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of the son you’ve become; I’m so proud of the father you are.
And I’m also so proud of my son, Hunter, and my daughter, Ashley.”
Full transcript:

Categories: Family & kids, personal Tags:

DEP Report finds widespread drinking water contamination

August 28th, 2008 5 comments

Residents of over 50,000 NJ homes drinking polluted water – 12.5% of wells fail to meet standards
[Update: Here is today’s APP story – DEP is merely responding – this is bad news they would have preferred to have stayed under the media radar:
State: 1 in 8 private wells contaminated
Officials urge more testing
According to a DEP report required by the Private Well Testing Act, residents of over 50,000 NJ homes are unknowingly drinking unsafe well water, yet DEP and local health officials are ignoring the problem.
DEP estimates that there are over 400,000 private residential drinking water wells in NJ. Over 51,000 of these wells have been sampled, but 350,000 have not.
DEP data from 2002 – 2007 indicate that 12.5 % of over 51,000 residential wells that were sampled fail to meet drinking water standards and are polluted. This rate does not include more than 18% of sampled wells poisoned by toxic lead. Assuming that this large data set and 12.5% failure rate are representative of all 400,000 wells, means that more than 50,000 NJ households are drinking unsafe water.
According to a Report just released by DEP:
“A total of 55,749 well water samples were analyzed from 51,028 separate wells during the period of September 2002 to April 2007. The samples results are biased using the highest test result value when more than one sample was collected at the same property. The 51,028 wells sampled represents about 13% of the estimated 400,000 private wells used for drinking water in New Jersey. (click on link for full Report:
Here’s how the well contamination – by pollutant and county – is distributed across the State:

Primary Contaminants: Protecting Human Health
Primary Drinking Water Standards are established for contaminants that have either an immediate or long-term effect on human health. Based on the results of the 51,028 wells tested between September 2002 and April 2007, 88 percent (%) of the wells “passed” (did not exceed) all of the required primary standards for drinking water. Of the 12 % (6,369) wells that exceeded a primary drinking water standards (“failed”), the most common exceedances were for gross alpha particle activity2 (2,209 wells), arsenic (1,445 wells), nitrates (1,399 wells), fecal coliform or E. coli (1,136 wells), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (702 wells), and mercury4 (215 wells). A summary of the primary contaminant test results is presented in Figure E1.

There are significant flaws in the DEP private well testing program that cry out for legislative and regulatory reforms. Yet while the DEP Report discloses these problems, DEP does not recommend how to fix them.
1) There is no requirement to fix pollution problems discovered:
“The Act and subsequent regulations do not require water treatment
if any test parameter standard level is exceeded. However, the NJDEP does provide information regarding various treatment alternatives and potential funding sources (see The Act is considered a “notice” of potable water quality for interested parties involved in the real estate transaction.”

2) Neighbors of polluted wells are not required to be warned
“Once the local health authority is notified electronically by NJDEP or directly by the laboratory, the health authorities may (but are not required to) notify property owners within the vicinity of the failing well. However, because these individual tests are considered confidential, the exact location of the well test failure cannot be identified.”
3) Purely Voluntary: DEP can not enforce the Private Well Testing Act
“Since no state agency has the ability to verify that all real estate transactions (sales and leases) subject to testing under the PWTA have been reported to NJDEP, the absence of results, along with errors or mistakes in the reported data, could have a significant impact on the evaluation and interpretation of the data presented.”
4) The data are unreliable
The following identifies some key issues concerning PWTA data:
A) Sample Collection and Transport – Samples collected or transported improperly often yield contaminated or questionable test results. For example, the NJDEP currently suspects that collection of lead samples from unflushed water tanks or spigots may be the primary reason why many elevated lead results are being reported.

B) Analysis and Data Reporting – The PWTA Program testing data are submitted electronically and are automatically entered into the database without any quality control or quality assurance reviews. It is assumed that the certified laboratory properly met all required protocols and the data are accurate. The PWTA Program
relies on the reporting laboratory to catch and correct any data entry errors.

C) Collection of well location information – Without accurate well location information, the analytical results cannot be properly correlated to the well, thereby-hindering evaluations of the data. The new database that went on-line in the Spring of 2007 included additional quality control checks to improve location data.
5) Failure rate does NOT include MAJOR TOXIC LEAD PROBLEMS
“NJDEP considers the lead results to be questionable, and did not include them in the summary charts. The raw lead test results indicate that 5,523 wells (11%) out of the 51,028 tested had lead levels above the old ground water standard of 10 μg/l, and 9,368 (18%) wells had lead levels above the new ground water standard of 5 μg/l. Furthermore, some of the samples contained unrealistically high concentrations of lead with the highest being 20,200 μg/l. “
6) The “case study” reported in Byram Township (Sussex) is a disaster
Private Well Testing Act Case Study #2 – Byram Township, Sussex County
In the summer of 2004, a well at a house being sold in Byram Township, Sussex County was found to be contaminated with trichloroethylene above the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 1 microgram per liter (or part per billion (ppb)). The concentration detected was 29 μg/l. The public notification provisions within the PWTA regulations suggest that the local health authority notify neighboring properties within at least 200 feet whenever a drinking water standard (e.g., MCL) is exceeded. Because of the location of the affected property, no homes were located within 200 ft of the affected property, so neither the local health authority nor the State performed any subsequent sampling.

(reposted 8/27/08 posted late in the day – may have been missed by readers. This is too important a story to fly under media radar.)