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Orwell Lives – Stenographic Praise Displaces Journalism

DEP NOT using huge regulatory powers to protect public health from known risks

I just posted the below as an Update to my piece yesterday on the DEP’s new dry cleaner grant program, but now realize that the underlying public policy and journalism issues deserve individual attention.

I initially sought to clarify the original post based on a conversation that emerged in a discussion of this issue on a national TCE (perc) listserve. The listserve discussion was focused on vapor intrusion of chemicals into about 450 homes in Pompton Lakes NJ from the Dupont site.

We were involved at the outset in Pompton Lakes (see this) and have written extensively about the situation (see this and this). Jim O’Neill of the Bergen Record has written several outstanding killer storries, most recently this: Dupont’s Danger Was Hidden Away.

But then I read the Star Ledger coverage  of DEP’s dry cleaner grant program and my head exploded. So, here’s the story.

A national vapor intrusion expert replied to my post to note that dry cleaned clothes can “off gas” perc in homes, and resemble vapor intrusion. I agreed, and said that perc also can enter homes from nearby industrial air emission sources (e.g. dry cleaners, chemical plants, et al).

I then tried to explain why the perc indoor vapor intrusion risks and outdoor ambient air risks were related and why I was so disgusted by the DEP press release touting the dry cleaner grant program.

You see, the “new” NJ DEP leadership makes a lot of noise in the press, especially in the Pompton Lakes community, that they are aggressively acting to protect public health. They say that now that they are aware of what’s going on in Pompton Lakes, they have made protecting the community a priority (in contrast to 25 years of prior DEP administration’s, who apparently either didn’t know or care about Dupont PL)

I don’t know how they pull that off, because the current Deputy Commissioner – who some say is really running the DEP due to the Commissioner’s lack of qualifications and experience -was the former head of the “broken” Site Remediation Program, which had “oversight” of Dupont, Pompton Lakes. In fact, her first public appearance as Deputy Commissioner was in Pompton Lakes,  where she was almost tarred and feathered for her comments and arrogant demeanor that gravely insulted residents.

The key point is that DEP has huge regulatory power to protect public health from serious known risks that they are NOT using.

The abandonment of the dry cleaner perc phase our rule is just one example of that.

In addition to the sham Pompton Lakes claims, DEP engages in PR stunts like the $5 million dry cleaner grant program – aside from getting the situation backwards by saying that polluting dry cleaners make “sacrifices” (instead of recognizing the fact that people’s health is sacrificed for the profits of polluters), DEP even have the chutzpah to note this:

 “Priorities for the grant money are dry cleaners located in residential settings, such as apartment buildings or mixed commercial and residential strip malls, and those located within 50 feet of day care centers.”

While DEP may consider proximity and residential/day care location risk in the dry cleaner grant program, the larger reality is:

1) DEP has no statewide vapor intrusion (VI) program. What DEP does on VI risks is site specific and privatized. The pace and extent of any VI investigation and remedy is under the control of polluters, not based on public health. DEP is well aware of scores of volatile organic contaminant groundwater plumes under occupied buildings that cause VI risks, yet does nothing to warn or protect the people in those buildings;

2) DEP is well aware of the fact that the DHSS school and day care center VI risk standards are based on a 1 in 10,000 risk level. Instead of adopting protective regulations using a  more conservative  risk standard for this extremely sensitive sub-population (i.e. children), current NJ school and day care standards are 100 times WEAKER than other DEP soil, water, and VI standards, which are based on 1 in a million risk level (which is derived by risk assessments that assume a healthy adult male exposure, not a developing child’s as mandted by law!); (i.e. for easy confirmation, see page 40-43 of DHSS rule adoption document – which flat out contradicts the “Kiddie Kollege” law, which mandates adoption of children’s health based state-wide DHSS standards, not site specific judgements); and

3) DEP does not have air quality standards or enforceable permit regulations to address exactly the kind of risky and unacceptable situation they describe in their press release, e.g. when an industrial emission source is located very close to homes or schools, DEP does not consider those health risks in setting permit emission limits on that source!!!

DEP knows all this irresponsible abdication, yet they get away with writing Orwellian press releases – which amounts to lying to the public – and no one calls them on it! – reporters instead stenographhically praise DEP for it!

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