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DEP calls toxic landfill leachate “natural”

June 28th, 2010 18 comments
Leacahe seep kills all vegetation (at southwestern corner of landfill, between D&R Canal and Delaware River).

Landfill leachate seep kills all vegetation (at southwestern corner of landfill, between D&R Canal Path and Delaware River).

[Update: In response to critical comments: The focus of this post is not the oily sheen. Even though that sheen is located a couple of hundred feet downstream of an oil and gas distribution facility, the toe of slope of an old landfill, and old chemical drums, I do not disagree that it could be natural.  Please focus on the the following questions:

  • is the source of the flow a leachate seep? Or normal runoff, wetlands discharge, or ponding water?
  • what is the source of the iron? Is it the landfill or is it natural? If it’s natural, why is this the only place I see it a along the riverbank?
  • was the vegetation killed by natural ponding water? Or by some toxic condition?

end.]

I came across this DEP whopper while reading the press clips this morning, and it pinned my lie detector meter: DEP: Scary orange goo near the Delaware River is just rust

ALEXANDRIA TWP. – The orange substance leaking from the landfill on the Frenchtown-Milford Road near H.J. Opdyke Lumber is harmless, said a spokesman from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Larry Ragonese said the bright orange rivulet trickling from the corner of the old Riegel Paper landfill into the Delaware River is rusted iron, not a toxic chemical. “Fortunately, it’s nothing bad”, he said. It’s a natural occurrence.”

Since when is landfill leachate a “natural occurrence“? On what basis and monitoring data has DEP claimed that this leachate is “nothing bad“? How does DEP know what was disposed of in that landfill? Has the landfill been properly closed in compliance with DEP regulations? What does the groundwater monitoring data say? Have the Delaware River and adjacent streams been sampled (water column and sediments)?

Despite the 95 degree heat and high humidity, I took a little ramble at that landfill today. I walked the perimeter of the landfill, the top of the landfill, the zone between the landfill and the river, a stream corridor just north of the landfill, and the Delaware River frontage. And what I saw was not pretty.

I saw several leachate seeps, that looked to be composed of ferrous metals and oily substances that created sheens on the water. (Landfill leachate is typically composed of a soup of toxic chemicals.) Vegetation adjacent to the seeps was completely dead. Leachate seeps were discharging directly to a stream from stream banks just north of the landfill. Leachate seeps were discharging directly to the Delaware River via overland flow just south of the landfill. Very old sediment control fences were down and totally ineffective. Any landfill cover and/or cap was breached in numerous places by roads, paths, and vegetation. I saw only one groundwater monitoring well, that was located on the eastern edge of the landfill, just off County Route 619, but none between the landfill and the Delaware River on the western landfill perimeter, the likely direction of groundwater flow. The monitoring well had not be sampled for some time (the lock was rusted),  there were no security or public access controls (like a fence), no hazardous cleanup signs posted, and it looked like someone had recently attempted to locate monitoring wells because vegetation had recently been cleared in some areas. There appeared to be numerous violations of DEP regulations.

Based on the above observations and DEP press office “natural” comments, I filed an OPRA request for the groundwater monitoring data, leachate sampling data, the DEP approved landfill closure plan, surface water monitoring data, and recent inspection reports.

We will keep you posted. Below are photos documenting the above observations. See captions for details.

Landfill gate - no access controls or hazard signs. Cap breached. Looks like no one has been there in years.
Landfill gate – no access controls or hazard signs. Cap breached. Looks like no one has been there in years.
Rusting monitoring well. Lock was rusted and loooked like no one had opened it in years. Located on eastern perimeter, not along Delaware River side.

Rusting monitoring well. Lock was rusted and looked like no one had opened it in years. Located on eastern perimeter, not along Delaware River side.

leachate seep kills all nearby vegetation. Old sediment control fence totally useless.

leachate seep kills all nearby vegetation. Old sediment control fence totally useless.

Toxic leachate seep has killed vegetation. There wer dozens of similar sites, covering thousands of square feet.

Toxic leachate seep has killed vegetation. There were dozens of similar sites, covering thousands of square feet.

Leachate runoff kills vegetation and discharges directly to Delaware River in background.

Leachate runoff kills vegetation and discharges directly to Delaware River in background.

Old mileage marker rusts (forground) - DEP leachate "rust" kills nearby vegetation along southern edge of landfill, just 75 feet from Delaware River.

Old railroad mileage marker rusts (foreground) - DEP leachate "rust" kills nearby vegetation along southern edge of landfill, just 75 feet from Delaware River and in floodplain.

Oily rusty leachate seeps into stream just north of landfill approximately 200 feet east of Delaware River.

Oily rusty leachate seeps into stream just north of landfill approximately 200 feet east of Delaware River.

Leachate seeps through stream bank into Delaware tributary just north of landfill.

Leachate seeps through stream bank into Delaware tributary just north of landfill.

rusty stream bank from landfill leachate seeps is not "natural".

rusty stream bank from landfill leachate seeps is not "natural".

oily sheen on water in stream from leachate seep. This is not "natural".

oily sheen on water in stream from leachate seep. This is not "natural".

what's that item (center of picture, 30 feet in background)?

what's that item (center of picture, 30 feet in background)?

Â

Let's get a closer look - looks like a barrel - surely nothing "natural".

Let's get a closer look - looks like a barrel - surely nothing "natural".

Yup, its "Lubriplate" Surely no hike in NJ is compelte without coming across a barrel of toxic waste - it's only "natural"!

Yup, its "Lubriplate" Surely no ramble in NJ is complete without coming across a barrel of toxic waste - it's only "natural"!

drums at south western toe of slope, along D&R Canal path by pedestrian bridge

drums at south western toe of slope, along D&R Canal path by pedestrian bridge

Maybe that's what killed all the natural vegetation in this leachate seep just north of the landfill.

Maybe that's what killed all the natural vegetation in this leachate seep just north of the landfill.

Leacahte runs under D&R Canal.

Leachate runs under D&R Canal Path into Delaware River.

leachater runs under D&R Canal and kills natural vegetation on its way to the Delaware.

leachate runs under D&R Canal Path and kills natural vegetation on its way to the Delaware.

Delaware River, adjacent to landfill. Delaware is important water supply for downriver communities.

Delaware River, adjacent to landfill. Delaware is important water supply for downriver communities.

Crown Vantage landfill Superfund site, about 1 mile north of Riegal Paper Co. landfill, looking from the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River:

Crown Vantage Superfund site on Delaware River

Crown Vantage Superfund site on Delaware River

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You Were Warned – But TOO Late – You’re Dead!

June 25th, 2010 No comments

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On April Fool’s Day 2008,  I posted the above photo in my Star Ledger “NJ Voices” column under a Headline:

“Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned

Well, it’s no joke.

Today’s Star Ledger reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)  just rebuked the NJ State Police for their slow response in a nuclear drill. (see: N.J. State Police reaction to nuclear disaster emergency drill too slow, FEMA says

TRENTON — In a rare rebuke, federal officials criticized the New Jersey State Police for mistakes they made last month during an emergency drill at the Salem Hope Creek nuclear plant in southern New Jersey.

During a simulated nuclear disaster, it took the State Police 62 minutes to inform the public within 60 miles of the reactors whether to evacuate or seek nearby shelter, about 17 minutes too long for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which said the response was seriously deficient.

So the people living near the nuke plant wouldn’t be notified until over an hour after an accident?

They’d probably be glowing by then.

This poor performance is consistent wth the lousy response to the Gulf, but obviously nuke response must be a lot faster and more aggressive than an oil spill response.

But now that the Gulf disaster has exposed corporate malfeasance and gross government oversight failures, maybe someone will start asking questions about NJ DEP’s chemical and oil spill prevention and emergency response capabilities.

In addition to nuclear plants risks, according to US EPA, NJ has more than 15 chemical plants where an accident would KILL over 100,000 people living nearby. 

DEP Commissioner Martin recently issued a press release touting his new Gulf Spilll Team - maybe someone might call him on the content of those plans to see if DEP can do a little better than the NJ State Police.

In 2005, DEP conducted an emergency response drill testing their oil spill response plans in 13 coastal inlets.

What were the results of that exercise? Has DEP revised plans in light of what they learned in the 2005 exercise?

Has DEP examined the weaknesses in the BP/Coast Guard response to the Gulf disaster? 

Does DEP have adeqaute staff resources and equipment to respond effectively?

Inquiring minds want to know!

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Christie Slashes DEP Enforcement and Shifts Burden From Polluters To Taxpayers

June 25th, 2010 No comments

It is well known that Governor Christie took over $400 million of Clean Energy Funds paid by ratepayers (you and me) to subsidize renewable energy to cover his tax cuts for the wealthy (see excellent NJSpotlight coverage:

Compromise Budget Fails to Restore Some $400 Million in Clean Energy Cuts –  Administration and Democratic legislators agree not to reinstate funds originally slated for solar and wind power programs

But little known is the fact that Christie’s budget cuts polluter fees and fines and shifts those costs to the taxpayer backed General Fund.

That is the antithesis of NJ’s longstanding “polluter pays” policy.

DEP’s budget amounts to an over $40 million business tax cut for Christie’s business cronies, while shifting these costs to the taxpayers.

The enforcement fine cuts also destroy any credible deterrent effect, and make small DEP fines a cost of doing business. This leads to disaster, as we saw in the Gulf.

As reported by PEER:

(plus the $5 million grant to private commercial dry cleaners and the $7 million diverted from the Recycling Fund.  Forgot to mention those.

Wonder what the Environmental Federation, who endorsed Christie and continue to support him, has to say about all this?)

 
News Releases

For Immediate Release: June 24, 2010
Contact: Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

NEW JERSEY SLASHES POLLUTION ENFORCEMENT — Plummeting Fines and Fees Will Shortchange Future Enforcement Budgets

 

Trenton — The Christie administration is moving away from tough anti-pollution enforcement, with anticipated fine revenue falling by more than half, according to state records posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The precipitous drop in fine revenue will further reduce an already shrinking enforcement presence by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which depends on those funds to pay for inspections and monitoring of polluting industries.

The Christie budget numbers project a steep drop in DEP enforcement fine revenue from more than $14 million in FY 2009 (the last year in the books) to an anticipated $6,840,000. This trend is magnified when looking at total DEP revenues from fees and fines combined. The figures show an estimated $40 million reduction:

FY 09 (actual collected) $158,757,000

Christie FY 11 (anticipated) $118,754,000

“These reductions amount to under-the-table givebacks to corporations at the expense of the public,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP Analyst. “In a time of billion dollar deficits and draconian budget cuts, Governor Christie is cutting polluter fines.”

While the impact will be felt across all programs at DEP, it will fall especially hard on some high impact areas. For example, a recent report identified the Kuehne Chemical in South Kearny (between Newark and Jersey City) as the most dangerous chemical plant in the United State. Yet under the Christie budget oil and chemical plant safety fines are only expected to be $50,000, not enough to support a credible deterrent to violations of critical chemical safety requirements and shifting the burden to pay for the compliance monitoring program to taxpayers, instead of the chemical industry.

Other changes also indicate a deliberately softer approach to polluters. For example, DEP just revived the Whitman-era Office of Dispute Resolution. Under Whitman, that office served as industry’s back door to override enforcement staff and negotiate voluntary agreements in lieu of formal enforcement action. Significantly, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin is housing this Office of Dispute Resolution under the new Assistant Commissioner for Economic Development, a former auto industry and Chamber of Commerce lawyer.

“What is going on is about as subtle as changing the DEP motto to ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’” added Wolfe. “Commissioner Martin repeatedly talks about metrics as means to measure his record but, by any yardstick, cutting enforcement fines by half is a bad indicator.”

###

See pages C5-6 – Schedule 1 State Revenues for DEP programs:

Meet the new Assistant Commissioner for Economic Development

Look at the massive eco-rollbacks under Christie

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

 

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Deep Confusion About DEP Science Board

June 24th, 2010 No comments

[Update: 7/25/10 – I missed this AC Press editotrial when it ran on June 28: DEP’s new science advisory board / Noble goal. While I like the fact that it bluntly calls out Jeff Tittel for his spin,  it repeats the same errors and misunderstandings from the news story, concluding with this over the top error:

A scientific advisory board made up solely of members of the environmental community would speak with little authority”

Where on earth did editors get that false understanding? For the record, the SAB has no, none, zero, nada “members of the envrionmental community” – there is one on a Subcommittee. But the SAB is packed with 6 industry reps or industry consultants.

Basing an editorial on misinformation surely missed the key issues, one of which is this inconvenient truth:

3.  The Dupont’s representative on the SAB is identified as a “microbiologist”. But Dr. Gannon does not practice microbiology at Dupont – he is a high level manger and head of Dupont’s global corporate strategy on environmental compliance.

I assure you, Gannon was not appointed to the SAB for his microbiological work and he will not do any microbiology on the SAB.

He is on the SAB to represent Dupont’s strategic corporate interests. Period. And Dupont’s interests in DEP science involve BILLIONS of dollars in NJ liability, as well as BILLIONS more globally as NJ’s scientific work on Dupont toxic pollutants (like PFOA) is used in regulatory work by other states, EPA, and internationally.

Like I said – garbage in – garbage out – in this case, bad sources.]

I’ve been closely following and writing about the new DEP Science Advisory Board (SAB) – including filing a successful lawsuit against DEP - so I was rather surprised by the basic misunderstandings and deep confusion revealed in a story by Mike Miller of the Atlantic City Press:  State DEP advisory panel a mix of science, industry experts

Miller is a good reporter, so the source of the problem is in his sources, not his reporting.  So let’s take a closer look at  just some of the more egregious falsehoods and spin in that story.

On a positive note, it was refereshing to see a scientist honestly acknowledge a major problem, which is the irresponsible reluctance of scientists to enter the public debate on scientific issues, even when those issues are being distorted. Most scientists have hidden behind the protective facade of so called detached science, and that abdication has allowed industry and political hacks to fill the void and manipulate public debate (see “Doubt is Their Product“). Miller writes:

[Rutgers professor and Chair Judith] Weis said people have become more distrustful about science, sometimes because nonscientists have a louder voice when it comes to factious issues such as climate change.

“I suppose the public has. People like Rush Limbaugh have better PR skills than the scientific community. Most scientists would prefer just to do their own research and not get involved in the public arena,” she said.

Thank you professor Weiss – and I hope you continue to have the same integrity in calling out industry scientists on the SAB as you do with Rush Limbaugh.

But from that high note, the story goes steeply downhill and reveals remarkable ignorance and/or deceit. I’ll take them in order.

1. The Business and Industry Association lobbyist quote is set up by a question of whether DEP is “cherry picking data”. NJBIA is portrayed as a “critic” who “often questions the scientific rationale behind regulations”.

“The DEP has had the ability to cherry-pick scientific data and use the most conservative standards as they see fit,” said David Brogan, vice president for environmental policy at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “Having more people with scientific backgrounds gathering data and using other resources will only help to get a fair and balanced approach to rulemaking.”

Personally, I like Dave Brogan, but he’s no scientist. Brogan is a lobbyist who is well paid to spin and represent the economic interests of his members. For him to call for “fair and balanced” DEP rulemaking is no different than the Fox News and Rush Limbaugh version.  As such, Brogan is a perfect example of exactly the PR problem Weiss correctly targeted.

Substantively, Brogan has managed to conflate and confuse a host of distinct issues. He blends issues of credible quality assured data, to data interpretation, to necessary assumptions that always are required in the absence of data and knowledge, to regulatory policy (which is a blend of science and law), to the legal and institutional issue of regulatory standards.

As Brogan is well aware, there is a huge controversy now raging in the legislature about DEP standards, how standards are set, and whether DEP or the legislature should set them.  Industry lobbyists are seeking to strip DEP of the power to set any standards that are stricter than federal minimums, which would gut NJ’s public health and environmental protections, which have long been – and virtually across the board –  far more stringent than federal minimums.

Brogan is using the SAB to advance that agenda. And The Governor and DEP Commissioner Martin are backing them. This all has zero to do with science and almost everything to do with politics and economics.

Brogan also knows that the SAB explicitly is NOT authorized to consider regulatory issues, under the Administrative Orders that created the SAB.

2. The Builders Association spokesperson repeats Brogan’s mistake on the SAB role in rulemaking, and talks about bringing scientific credibility to DEP regulations.

After getting a chuckle about the Builders and scientific credibility in the same sentence, let’s state the obvious: a) the Builders want to build, everywhere, in a way that maximizes profits; b) DEP and environmental laws sometimes limit how much they can build or impose additional costs on construction that reduces their profits; and c) ergo: this has zero to do with science, and everything to do with land use and economics and political power.

3.  The Dupont’s representative on the SAB is identified as a “microbiologist”. But Dr. Gannon does not practice microbiology at Dupont – he is a high level manger and head of Dupont’s global corporate strategy on environmental compliance.

I assure you, Gannon was not appointed to the SAB for his microbiological work and he will not do any microbiology on the SAB.

He is on the SAB to represent Dupont’s strategic corporate interests. Period. And Dupont’s interests in DEP science involve BILLIONS of dollars in NJ liability, as well as BILLIONS more globally as NJ’s scientific work on Dupont toxic pollutants (like PFOA) is used in regulatory work by other states, EPA, and internationally.

4. Which brings us to serious questions about scientific bias and conflicts of interest (they are two different things).

The Order that created the SAB has vague restrictions on both. However, DEP failed to apply those restrictions in screening and selecting SAB members.

In response to our criticisms, these original restrictions were allegedly tightened in June, but only AFTER the SAB members were already selected.

Now that DEP appointed the SAB, they continue to fail to enforce and implement any ethical restrictions. Instead, DEP has left that all up to the integrity of individual scientists to determine on a case by case basis.

Dupont has inherent bias and deep conflicts of interest, so they never should have been selected on the SAB. And note that it is Mr Gannon who will decide when and if to recuse himself, not DEP or an independent ethics body:

DuPont’s Gannon said the board has a broad membership and strict guidelines about conflicts of interest to prevent industry or political bias. For example, he would abstain from issues that directly affect his business, he said.

In their board applications, several Rutgers professors recognized potential conflicts, namely that their institution or colleagues receive DEP grants for their research.

Earth to Miller: even with a conflict, there is a huge difference between a Rutgers academic scientist and one that works for a major corporate polluter like Dupont. Hello!

5.  Under the Order  that created the SAB, the DEP Commissioner sets the SAB’s issues agenda. The SAB does not select the issues they will work on.

Virtually every source to the story got this basic and important issue very wrong. The SAB is not the forum to debate priorities and select pet issues.

Rutgers scientist Mark Robson, who recently resigned in frustration as head of the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute, reveals his ignorance on this issue:

“I don’t know if we’re going to start with air, water, soil or food,” Robson said. “My impression is that what will be on the table is the science behind the entire suite of things under the DEP’s purview.

The SAB will start when DEP asks them to and work on what DEP asks them to. Period.

But worse, DEP spokesperson inadvertently reveals that DEP has no scientific priorities and no science agenda, in this killer quote from the DEP press office:

“They’re[the SAB] on call for any issue that comes up.”

Any issue that just randomly comes up? Right.

And the token “environmentalist” (who chairs a Standing Committee, and is not on the full SAB) also just doesn’t understand his own role, the role of his Committee, or the SAB and DEP’s role:

Board member Emile DeVito, director of science for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, said he is considering calling his own meeting of the ecological subcommittee he chairs.

DeVito, a trustee for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, is studying rare plants in the Pine Barrens of Ocean County this month.

“I would like to bring questions to the table rather than allow the political agenda bring issues to the table,” he said.

“One key issue I see on the horizon is if people will focus on solar power, what habitats and land areas do we cover up? There are already 5 square miles of applications to cover up farms with solar panels,” DeVito said. “It would be nice if we could put them in built environments instead of sacrificing natural areas or farms.”

Sorry  Emile, you don’t bring any issues to the table. The issues are assigned to you by the SAB Chair, who gets his assignments from the DEP Commissioner. Read the Order, please. (and we agree with DeVito that soil compaction is a huge problem, but the data suggest its not caused by solar panels. And we also agree that South Jersey’s farms are threatened, but, again, the data show that the threat is not from solar panels. Which prompts the obvious question: why are real causes ignored while solar gets focus?).

[Update: upon reflection, it is actually worse for Devito to raise pet solar/farm preservation issues on which he has both bias and conflicts of interest, than for Gannon of Dupont to raise PFOA. At least PFOA is a legitimate scientific issue.]

And DeVito – similar to Brogan – illustrates an ignorance of the difference between science and policy. The issues involved with locating solar facilities “in built environments” instead of ”sacrificing farmlands” (is that a scientific journal term?) is an energy and land use legal and policy issue. It has very little to do with science. And the science issues are subordinant to the legal and policy framework.

This is embarrassing and shocking, that these fundamental distinctions are just ignored – and by our “best and brighest”, no less.

7. So let’s close where the AC Press story closes – my arrogance meter is pinned:

“The public can’t tell the difference between science and a smokescreen,” he said. “The advisory board can sift out what’s real science.”

No further comment on that. Maybe, just maybe, this is why “the public” resents environmentalists and why the corporations are so successful in manipulating public opinion to create a backlash against “elites”.

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Obama’s Dr. Strangelove – BP Tentacles Extend

June 22nd, 2010 No comments

The former Chief Scientist for BP Oil is now the chief scientist for the US Department of Energy. 

That’s right, Dr. Steven Koonin, the former Chief Scientist at BP – whose own bio notes that he was responsible for “providing technical advice to senior BP executives” – is the Obama Administration Department of Energy’s chief scientist (title: Undersecretary for Science).

Not only that, but Koonin is one of the world’s leading proponents of a “beyond Strangelovian“ technology scheme known as ”geoengineering” – an absurd “intervention in the climate system”  where aerosols would be injected into the upper atmosphere to dampen sunlight and reduce global warming.

If anything, the man made disaster in the Gulf is an example of technological hubris – of engineers gone wild.

It is the result of a profound arrogance and moral failure to understand or even consider risks to natural systems and human communities caused by technological schemes.

Koonin’s global ”climate intervention” scheme  (which he championed while at BP) would make deep sea oil drilling seem like child’s play.

Another key lesson of the Gulf is what Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse described in an historic Senate speech as (text and video are here)

the revolting specter of an agency of government subservient to – captive to – the industry it is supposed to regulate.  [...]

So the question is, after all those years of corporate control of government in the Bush years, how far-reaching is the insinuation of corporate influence? We know big Pharma wrote the Bush pharmacy benefit legislation. We know big oil and big coal sat down in secret with Dick Cheney to write their energy policy. But down below the decks, down in the guts of the administration’s agencies, how far were the tentacles of corporate influence allowed to reach? How many industry plants are stealthily embedded in the government, there to serve the industry, not the administration or the public.

Revolting specter, for sure.

Yes Dr. Koonin, just how far do those corporate tentacles extend?

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