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Be Mindful – A Perverse Form of Caveat Emptor

Have We Lost All Touch With: “There ought to be a law against that!”?

home for sale in Pompton Lakes plume area, July 2008

home for sale in Pompton Lakes plume area, July 2008

Back in January, we warned about proposed legislation (S3004/A3852) that would weaken the rights of homeowners, renters, and people purchasing property to know about toxic contamination.

The legislation was quietly being pushed by the real estate industry – so quietly in fact that they didn’t even openly testify in support of it, but rather used DEP to do their dirty work for them (see: According to DEP: Real Estate Values Trump Public Right to Know About Risks From Nearby Toxic Sites).

Illustrating the degree of influence held by powerful special interests in Trenton, remarkably, that bill passed both houses of the Legislature by wide margins. But thankfully, it was pocket vetoed by outgoing Governor Corzine.

Today’s Bergen Record carried a story that brings this debate back to life. But in doing so, it seems to forget all about government’s role, amounting to an extreme and perverse form of caveat emptor– see: Be mindful of potential hazards.

The Record’s readers have demonstrated interests at stake, given a number of local cases where people have been poisoned in their own homes by “vapor intrusion”, a process where toxic chemicals seep into homes from undergound pollution.

The poster child for this outrage is in Pompton Lakes, where about 450 homes located on top of a toxic chemical plume were poisoned by Dupont.

The Record’s story opens with a disclosure of severe abuse that occurs:

First-time homebuyer Jared Goldman had made three visits to a house he was interested in purchasing in the Radburn section of Fair Lawn when a neighbor told him about ongoing testing for a flow of toxic tetrachloroethylene (PCE) in the area. Among the stacks of information provided by the seller’s Realtor was no mention of possible contamination by substances left behind by a dry cleaning business that closed several years ago.

When Goldman learned of the Radburn spill, he consulted officials of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as well as representatives of the company in charge of cleaning up the site. He reports, “I learned that the water which was tested closest to my potential home purchase showed non-detection in late June/early July. Several homes, though, did have PCE vapors found, and remediation has taken place, or still is ongoing. With all this knowledge, I find it in terrible taste that Realtors continue to show homes in this area without disclosing that testing is still taking place.”

No mention? No disclosure? Burden on the buyer to research this? No DEP requirements? What?

I would assume that anyone reading that would immediately imagine themselves in the shoes of the home buyer, get angry, and shout: “There oughta be a law against that!”

I would assume that readers would be even angrier if they learned that the real estate industry is actively seeking to avoid disclosing this information.

But, no, instead of writing the obvious “there oughta be a law against that” kind of story, today’s lame story does just the opposite.

It instead goes on to quote various real estate agents about how things are working just fine – essentially misleading, instead of informing readers.

Pompton Lakes polluter Dupont is actually praised for beingopen”: (ask Pompton Lakes residents about that!)

When she is dealing with a home in the [Pompton Lakes] plume area, she encourages potential buyers to visit the municipal office for detailed information and to check in at the storefront that DuPont has set up in Pompton Lakes.

They’re constantly testing,” says Goll, “and not all the homes have an intrusion. One house could have a high reading, and the house next door could have nothing. Sometimes it depends on how the house is constructed. DuPont is open about it. They install mitigation systems, or they upgrade radon systems that are already installed.

The Record reporter wouldÂhave gotten a far different perspective if she spoke to real homeowners in Pompton Lakes – or even if she read the Record’s own extensive coverage of this issue.

By reading this lame story, readers would never know that real estate industry lobbyists are working to withold information about toxic risks, with DEP’s support no less!

Readers should know that in January, DEP testified that current public notification law allegedly is “negatively impacting property values” (that’s a quote from DEP testimony). And the DEP manager who gave that shameful testimony (supporting a real estate industry bill that the Gov. she worked for at the time vetoed) was promoted and is now Deputy Commissioner.

By reading this lame story, readers would never know that Dupont is being sued for failure to disclose information and warn homeowners of known risks (see this and the Record’s own coverage: “Pompton lakes residents begin suing Dupont over pollution“).

And main stream media wonders why people read blogs and are abandoning newspapers in droves.

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  1. September 5th, 2010 at 12:08 | #1

    Is she kidding? Pompton Lakes – How about the home that sold for full price in 2008 and then the buyers backed out of the sale when they found out about the contamination? They sold the home once again and this buyer with top credit went to six financial institutions and could not get a mortgage for the contaminated property. The home FINALLY sold for over 100k less and it took more than a year to sell it. How about those in the contaminated area that are turned down for refinancing and others for mortgages? Homes are “sitting” in the plume with no buyers….and the owners if they are lucky to sell are taking major hits and reducing homes dramatically. Meanwhile, another women bought less than a year ago in the plume and was not told the home was in the contaminated area!!! When were homes in other surrounding towns, which sold for much less than those in Pompton Lakes in the history of the real estate market and are now worth more?

  1. February 12th, 2011 at 12:18 | #1
  2. November 20th, 2011 at 11:41 | #2
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