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DEP Toxic Mismanagement Finally Called Out By Press

EC Electroplating has poisoned groundwater, residential basements, and the Passaic River with chromium

EC Electroplating has poisoned groundwater, residential basements, and the Passaic River with chromium

DEP Breakdown – Yet Oversight Weakened and Incompetent Managers Promoted

[Update: 11/22/11 – parts 2 and 3 of Fallon’s series ran yesterday and today.

While I’ve said I am pleased to see some investigative journalism on this issue, I won’t go into a lot of detailed criticism here, but I am forced to make at least this statement.

Fallon documented massive DEP failures and incompetence. DEP has lied to the public for years to cover those failures up.

During this time, Governor’s and Legislators (of both parties) – beholden to corporate polluters’ campaign cash – despite being fully aware of what is going on, have shown a deep indifference to public health and allowed the problems to fester.

So DEP and Legislators should have absolutely zero credibility based on this performance and pattern of pervasive lies.

So, how does Fallon deal with this credibility problem?

He uncritically and without any factual basis swallows their diagnosis of the problem wholesale (i.e. just too many cases for each DEP staffer!).

DEP officials admit that the remediation program has been deeply flawed, if not broken. Caseworkers were just overwhelmed with too many polluted sites.

But, as we revealed, US EPA Inspector General audits of NJ DEP’s cleanup program found no evidence to support the claim of an over-loaded staff (see EPA IG Report):

Claims about New Jersey’s overwhelming workload were brought to our attention during the evaluation, At that time, we requested documentation from NJDEP to support this workload challenge. We specified that we would need evidence that spanned the 20 year period since these sites were listed on the NPL. NJDEP did not provide this information.

(Also see this a second negative EPA evaluation of NJ DEP performance)

Worse, based only on a total straw man (no one has ever said they wanted “instantaneous environmental cleanup“?) he again uncritically and without any factual support, writes unequivocally prints their solution: privatization

“There are people who want to see instantaneous environmental cleanup,” said McKeon, chairman of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. “It’s difficult. We’re dealing with very complicated matters, geology, chemistry, biology.”

Fallon – again uncritically and without rebuttal – allows Assemblyman McKeon to pile on the bullshit even further:

State officials say the program has to work better than the old remediation system, under which sites languished because DEP workers were overwhelmed with cases.

“The alternative was to do nothing and let the contamination sit there,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, a sponsor of the law that established the program. “This gives us the ability to get more sites cleaned up rather than have them sitting around.”

But there were alternatives to privatization – even DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson testified to the Legislature that the law needed to be strengthen and enforced (see Jackson Oct. 23, 2006 testimony).

So, while Fallon borrowed heavily from this page (without recognition) and did some of his won good work, he ultimately misleads readers and thus fails ethically and journalistically.

And that amounts to cowardly and shoddy work= end update]

Scott Fallon of the Bergen Record wrote a killer story today, providing an in depth look at DEP mismanagement and lax oversight that allowed a Garfield NJ neighborhood to be poisoned with toxic heavy metal chromium.

(See: Dangerous chromium spreads through Garfield groundwater (but someone at the Record softened the original headline, which was: “A Neighborhood in Peril”

A highly toxic industrial chemical has been spreading under a Garfield neighborhood for almost three decades, slowly seeping into homes and threatening the health of thousands.

Residents live in fear that hexavalent chromium is infiltrating their basements, that their families could get cancer and that their property values have been destroyed.

And state officials allowed it all to happen.

We hate to say it, but we told you so – and several times, for several years now.

Back on February 12, 2011, I wrote: (see: Another ticking chemical time bomb goes off in NJ)and yes we know that technically, chromium migration is not “vapor intrusion” – but issues are similar]

This [Garfield] is another example of negligent oversight and borderline criminal incompetence at the DEP cleanup program.

We predicted this and issued warnings almost 5 years ago: MERCURY-LADEN DAY-CARE CENTER IN NEW JERSEY IS NO ANOMALY — Lax State Brownfield Laws Make Tragedy an “Accident Waiting to Happen”

This is yet another example of “vapor intrusion” –  how chemicals can migrate through groundwater, soil, and along infrastructure to poison people in buildings without their knowledge.

The NJ vapor intrusion poster child is the Dupont site, in Pompton Lakes, where 450 or more homes have been poisoned and elevated cancer rates have been documented by State health officials.

DEP knows exactly where all these potential “vapor intrusion” sites are located.

The sites (i.e. sites with known volatile organic chemicals in groundwater) are mapped in DEP’s  Geographic Information System (GIS) data layers (hit this link – scroll down for “groundwater contamination areas“). (Here is DEP GIS FAQ, which identifies software needed to access these maps)

Despite these known health risks, DEP refuses to act proactively to get control of these sites and warn people who live nearby who are being poisoned.

Again, local officials were unaware of what was going on at a highly contaminated site and forced to act and warn their residents – all because DEP failed to do so.

This DEP failure to act is an outrage (see “A Big Map for Toxic Site Cleanup“).

DEP knows exactly what needs to be done (but is doing the opposite – even weakening groundwater cleanup requirements).

Worse, the problems in Garfield are not an anomaly.

The causes of those problems in DEP are well known, but have not been fixed and no one at DEP has been held accountable.

On May 20, 2010 I wrote:

So again we see many years of gross mismangement at DEP that resulted in people getting exposed and poisoned in their own homes.

DEP has known about the contamination since 1983 (27 years) , but made a decision (without the Garfield community’s knowledge or approval) that it was “prohibitively expensive” to cleanup the pollution, thus sacrificing people’s lives to industry profits.

Again we see a total DEP failure to enforce cleanup laws. And again DEP failed to notify or warn people of the risks – and as a result again people lose all trust in DEP.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen the same story played out across dozens of NJ towns. The most recent is in nearby Pompton Lakes.

When will the managers at DEP be held accountable for this? When will DEP begin to enforce cleanup laws and force polluters to cleanup?

How many people have to get sick and die before things change?

In fact, in DEP’s Alice in Wonderland World, the lax oversight policies that led to Garfield have been further weakened and the managers responsible have been promoted.

We have been warning about these issues since 2005 – specifically in the case of Garfield, I outlined the problems and solutions in this October 2010 post (see: Garfield cancer risks from chromium in basements is highest in US

The ATSDR “immediate and significant risk to human health” findings validate the concerns I expressed at the May 20 public meeting, when I accused NJ state officials of downplaying the risks, misleading the community, and dragging their feet in responding to an urgent problem.

At tonite’s hearing, when I pressed EPA scientists to quantify what a “very harmful” cancer risk is, they indicated that the risk in sampled homes was 2 in 1,000, or 2,000 TIMES higher than the acceptable risk under NJ laws, which is 1 in a million.

The more recent ATSDR findings also validate our prior work on chromium risks. We have been involved since 2005. […]

I don’t want to repeat the Bergen Record’scoverage, but do want to make a few points that are not gettting adequate attention:

1.  The history of the site illustrates another DEP disgrace.

DEP discovered a large spill at EC Electroplating back in 1983.  DEP relied on the polluter, EC Electroplating to voluntarily clean up the site and protect the adjacent densely developed residential community.

That didn’t happen, yet DEP failed to enforce cleanup laws, conduct a cleanup themselves, or warn residents of risks so that they could protect themselves.

DEP requested that EPA take over the site in 2002. For 8 years, very little was done by US EPA.

EPA still has not taken enforcement action or even initiated the first step of cost recovery action against the polluter (RP) EC Electroplating.

2. There are widespread chromium problems in scores of NJ communities that are not getting the proper attention by DEP or EPA.

3.  DEP continues to fail to move forward with adopting protective soil and groundwater cleanup standards for chromium, based on the most recent science. […]

6. EPA, ATSDR, and/or NJ DHSSS should conduct (and pay for) medical assessments, bio-monitoring and health tracking of residents in homes found to have high levels of contamination in order to establish a baseline, guage exposures, and monitor potential health effects of chromium exposure.

It is good to see journalists like Fallon finally doing file reviews at DEP to research and support stories and hold DEP accountable.

But there are hundreds more skeletons in DEP files.

So, when will there be accountability and real reform?

(and why does the Record fail to credit dirty Hippie bloggers? Not only have we documented, written about, and predicted the entire  Record story on Garfield, I even briefed a Record reporter on severe flaws in DEP methodology Fallon wrote about – e.g. just one example: DEP mapping of vapor/subsurface migration routinely identifies occupied buildings – yet DEP does not warn residents.)


Dear Senators Smith & Buono and Assemblyman McKeon:

I wanted to be sure you saw today’s Bergen Record investigative story regarding failures in DEP oversight in Garfield NJ:

Dangerous chromium spreads through Garfield groundwater

The Record story documents numerous longstanding legal, policy, regulatory, and management failures at DEP that have not been corrected.
We believe that these failure warrant legislative oversight and request that you query DEP Commissioner Martin about these issues and conduct public hearings in the near future.
I have written about these specific problems extensively, and reiterate them here today for your consideration:

DEP Toxic Mismanagement Finally Called Out By Press

I am available to respond to any questions you may have and look forward to your prompt and favorable reply to this request.
Bill Wolfe, Director

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