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Scientists at UMDNJ to Study Environmental Exposures in Pompton Lakes

Study to Examine Potential Health Impacts From Dupont Toxic Site

[Update: 6/10/11: The Record reports on high levels of lead found in homes in Ringwood: Upper Ringwood urged to get kids tested for lead.

In addition to Ringwood/Ford, there were extremely high levels of lead and mercury in soils excavated by Dupont in Pompton Lakes. Given flooding, it’s likely that contamination moved significantly away from Acid Brook. Similar health studies and sampling should be done in Pompton Lakes. End update]

Last night, scientists from UMDNJ and Rutgers held a meeting with select invitees regarding the toxic pollution in Pompton Lakes – here is the invitation flyer.

The purpose of the meeting was to learn of concerns, obviously in the wake of an explosive December 2009 Health Consultation by the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS).

The NJDHSS study found elevated rates of cancers possibly related to exposures to volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s) seeping into homes from contaminated groundwater, a process known as “vapor intrusion”.  

NJDHSS issued a followup Cancer Incidence Analysis in April 2010 which fueled additional concerns.

Here is the meeting invitation I received:

We want to learn your concerns about environmental health exposures in your community and discuss the possibility of conducting a community-based participatory research study to address community concerns regarding volatile organic compounds (VOCs).    

This Preliminary Listening Session is being held in collaboration with the Center for Environmental Exposures and Disease (CEED) at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey/Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and the Pompton Lakes Residents for Environmental Integrity (PLREI).   (This Preliminary Listening Session has select invitees, subsequent sessions will be open to the public.)

I was unable to attend the meeting but sent the below letter to UMDNJ to outline my concerns and recommendations for the research design (with a copy to EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck).

My key concerns at this initial stage are that: 1) the proposed focus on VOC’s needs to be expanded to include toxic heavy metals lead and mercury; 2) include comprehensive exposure assessment, body burden, and epidemiological methods; 3) the research design be linked to Dupont pollution; and 4) be funded by Dupont via EPA regulatory enforcement .

Going forward, the research process must be open, transparent, based on strong science, and conducted with community input into research goals, objectives, and methods.

May 11, 2011 

Subject: Proposal for  Preliminary Listening Session on May 16

Dear Ms. Liang:

Thank you for this invitation.

Unfortunately, I am unable to confirm attendance at this time, as I will be travelling to my son’s college graduation this weekend and may not return home by Monday.

Therefore, please accept this brief list of items I believe are worthy of consideration in any environmental health and epidemiological assessment in Pompton Lakes, including their relationships to the Dupont contamination. To the degree possible, causal linkages with Dupont releases must be made part of the scientific inquiry.

Any work should be designed to fill gaps in the historic remedial investigation work at the Dupont site (both on and off site), as well as to validate historic work.

1. Community-wide contamination characterization.

Focus on off site transport of lead, mercury, and chlorinated organics.

Conduct representative samples of:

  • dust in homes
  • soil in residential yards and gardens
  • indoor air
  • ambient air
  • drinking water (tap) and source water
  • surface water
  • sediments
  • biota/wildlife 
  • pets

2. Exposure assesssment – chemical body burden of current residents

Given historically high levels of lead and mercury in soils and sediments, frequent flooding, and potential wind/dust pathways, it is reasonable to assume that metals have moved off site. Mercury is known to bio-accumulate. VOC’s are known to have migrated off site and entered homes. Thus exposure is likely. 

Research should quantify the concentrations of pollutants of concern in human tissue, blood, urine, hair, etc. and compare them to a baseline population (DEP did similar baseline work in recently comparing air toxics in urban Paterson with suburban/rural Chester, NJ).

3. In depth epidemiological work to build on prior DHSS study

Expand prior DHSS work to examine non-cancer endpoints associated with environmental exposures.

  • Expand tracking of health outcomes of out-migrants
  • Create a current statistical profile of community morbidity and mortality – how does it compare to similar populations?

4. Make commitments to conduct medical assessment and provide ongoing medical monitoring in exposed populations

5. Diagnose and propose a remedy to barriers to installation of vapor mitigation systems in homes where systems have not been installed 

It is my understanding that approximately half the 450 impacted homes above the “plume” have not installed vapor mitigation systems? Why is that?   What are the barriers and how can they be overcome?

6. Fish consumption advisories

DEP issues annual fish consumption advisories. Fish from Pompton Lake and other nearby likely impacted waters are included in those advisories. Are residents aware of these advisories? Why is the Lake not posted? 

7. Wildlife assessment

There is hunting in the area for deer, turkey, squirrel, and other game species. These wildlife populations probably have been exposed to on and off site releases from the Dupont site. The ecological impacts and potential human exposure risks should be examined.   

8. Risk communication – public education – Duty to warn

There is a great need for credible, accurate, and accessible information to be distributed to the community. Dupont, DEP, and EPA are not trusted by many in the community, and are thus not effective risk communicators.  This set of issues requires focus and resources.

It is embarasssing that a private consultant has prepared and distributed a brochure on vapor intrusion, while government has not. There is no reason that the vapor intrusion issue should be treated any differently than the significant communication resources invested in radon risks and mitigation.

9. How to pay for all this work

In my view, the aformentioned scientific and technical work is all directly related to and made necessary by the discharge of hazardous substances by Dupont and their off site migration.

Legally, Dupont is the Responsible Party (under Superfund) and the Permittee (under RCRA) that is required to address these concerns.

The costs incurred to conduct this work are eligible for assessment and cost recovery under Superfund and/or RCRA.

In the alternate, Dupont’s RCRA permit could be unilaterally modified by EPA to mandate this work be done in accordance with EPA specifications.

Regardless of the regulatory mechanism, the point is that EPA has permit, enforcement, and Superfund cost recovery powers to force Dupont to pay for this work.

Under CERCLA section 122(b)(3), funds recovered under an agreement with a potentially responsible party may be placed into a Superfund special account to carry out the purposes of that agreement (i.e., to conduct or finance site-specific response actions). I recommended that EPA rely on that authority in an enforcement action and create a Superfund Special Account to pay for the above work.

Importantly, the Dupont site would NOT have to be listed on the NPL as a Superfund site in order for EPA to deploy this enforcement authority. See my recent letter to EPA Region 2 Administrator Enck.

Please note that I left NJDEP out of these ideas. That is intentional, as they have no credibility in the community.

Thanks again for the invitation and your favorable consideration of these ideas. I’d appreciate a written response to how these concerns wll be addressed. I am willing to discuss further at your convenience. 


Bill Wolfe, Director



Of course, we will keep readers informed of how this study progresses.

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