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DEP Guts Science on Cumulative Cancer Risks in Paterson NJ

[Update below]

Today’s Bergen Record reports gross scientific misconduct by political officials in the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) see: Paterson Air Study Raises Questions:

But the report fails to include a more alarming assessment of the combined cancer risk of all the airborne chemicals that had been part of an earlier draft of the report, an omission environmentalists sharply criticized.

The cancer risk assessment figures in the early version indicated the combined chemical levels measured in the air were 190 to 710 times above what is considered acceptable by the state.

“When we breathe the air, we breathe all the chemicals present, not each one individually. This combined cancer risk assessment was cutting-edge science. Removing this guts the report,” said Bill Wolfe, New Jersey director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Wolfe obtained a copy of the earlier draft by filing an open records request for access to the study data.

Below is page 61 of the DEP’s draft Report which was eliminated – along with all references to the core issue of cumulative risks – from the final version of the study. Note the combined cancer risks (shown at the bottom of the page) range from 190 per million to over 710 per million – while NJ’s cancer risk standard is 1 in a million.

Jeanne Herb, Director of Policy, Planning & Science speaks at a December 2, 2009 meeting of the DEP's own Environmental Justice Advisory Council

Jeanne Herb, Director of Policy, Planning & Science speaks at a December 2, 2009 meeting of the DEP’s own Environmental Justice Advisory Council

Jeanne Herb, a political appointee with no scientific expertise, who has issued gag orders to DEP scientists in response to public controversies on several other previous DEP scientific reports that documented unacceptable cancer risks, is not concerned by this large and serious violation of DEP’s own cancer risk standards and enforcement response policy. Herb is quoted as saying:

After consulting with other experts, we decided the field was not ripe “there’s no standard method nationally to measure this risk,” said Jeanne Herb, director of policy and planning for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Researchers also felt their combined cancer risk assessment did not produce any result “they felt was alarming,” Herb said.

In terms of an alleged lack of a “national standard method”, Herb knows that is a complete sham argument.

I also challenge Herb to provide written peer review  comments by those “experts” Herb claims she consulted. Thus far, DEP has refused to proide any such comments in response to the OPRA public records request I filed in December 9.

US EPA funded the DEP’s Paterson air toxics research project with $500,000 of federal money. EPA was well aware of and involved in developing its cumulative risk methodology and ranked the project number one in the Country. Furthermore, Herb knows damn well that for more than 15 years – since the mid 1990’s – EPA has set a national scientific priority to develop the science and methodology to address cumulative risks.

Most recently, that EPA policy was referenced in a March 2009 Report to DEP Commissioner Mauriello – a report discussed at length during a December 2, 2009 meeting of the Environmental Justice Advisory Council that Herb herself chaired.We wrote about that meeting here: “DEP Discovers Discrimination – Dumps Environmental Justice Issue in Christie’s Lap”

Here is EPA policy:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents define the term “aggregate risk” as the risk from all routes of exposure to a single substance, and the term “cumulative risk” as the risk from all routes of exposure to a group of substances. They are silent on the issue of multiple sources. 2 In order to have a clear and intelligible discussion about cumulative impacts, it is important for the NJDEP to agree on the definition of terms that are used. Appendix A provides some examples from various sources that might be useful. The choice of definition is not as important as assuring that everyone involved in a single conversation are all using a term with the same definition in mind.

In the mid-1990s, the EPA also developed a “Cumulative Exposure Project” that incorporated multiple pollutants, multiple sources, and multiple pathways (air, food and drinking water), but did not directly address duration.3 However, the EPA has not been able to extend this effort beyond the inhalation pathway which continues to be addressed by the National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment Project. (see: EJAC 2009 Report: Strategies for Addressing Cumulative Impacts in Environmental Justice Communities-March 2009

Not ripe? I’m certainly no Karl Popper or Thomas Kuhn, but even a fool knows you don’t ripen the grape by hacking down the vine. As Bob Marley wrote (Eric Clapton is my favorite version):

Every time I plant a seed, (s)he says “kill it before it grows”. [I shot the Sheriff]

From the chronology and DEP’s own documents I discovered during an OPRA file review and DEP documents that were leaked to me (ie. the  “communications strategy” and “Citizen’s Guide”), it is now clear what went on here.

I would hope that those that believe in scientific integrity and Environmental Justice advocates are seriously concerned with what was done here. DEP deleted factual findings regarding children’s health impacts, the environmental justice characteristics of Paterson, and combined cancer risks from a scientific research study.

Then, AFTER my blog AND the Bergen Record exposed this, DEP still tried to cover this all up. To do so, DEP drafted – in February, more than 5 YEARS after the study was originated – a sham “community outreach”, “communication plan”, “Citizens Guide”, and press release to lie about it and cover it up.

This goes far beyond scientific suppression and political interference in science.

This is completely unacceptable professionally and intolerably irresponsible science and regulatory behavior..

We have covered this issue extensively and will remain engaged (for the full story and complete documents, see this, and this and this).

Page 61 from Draft report shows unacceptably combined cancer risks

[Update: 3/4/10 – We got their attention, but looks like merely damage control. DEP has revised the Paterson study and posted a new Final Report version dated 2/24 – with the exception of deletion of cumulative risks, please disregard criticism of the deletions described below. More to follow on exactly how the changes to the Report happened. ~~~ end update]

Page 61 from Draft report shows unacceptably combined cancer risks

Page 61 from Draft report shows unacceptably high combined cancer risks

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