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Swallowing the Bullshit Wholesale

[Important updates below]

[Update #2 – 11/24/11 – Providing praise for policymakers who have ignored the problem for years, Scott Fallon reports that Legislators call for health study of chromium in Garfield.

I called for that over a year ago, in this October 8, 2010 post:

6. EPA, ATSDR, and/or NJ DHSS 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.

So why does it only become news when Legislators say it? Why are they allowed to look good after years of neglect? – end update]

I just wrote this as an update to my Sunday post, but now see that it warrants its own post.

Parts 2 and 3 of Scott 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 did a good job in documenting longstanding, massive, and systemic DEP failures and incompetence.

DEP has lied to the public for years to cover those failures up.

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

So DEP managers 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 argument by a politician (i.e. no one has ever said they expected “instantaneous environmental cleanup“) he again uncritically and without any factual support, writes effectively in support of their solution: privatization (and yes we saw the perfunctory professor’s concerns printed in the story, but he assumes effective DEP oversight which does not exist)

“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.”

(hey McKeon – if cleanups are so scientifically complex, why did you outsource them to ill trained mercenaries who are authorized to make decisions without measurable and enforceable standards under DEP oversight?)

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

I outlined them numerous times in legislative testimony.

Even DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson herself testified to the Legislature that the law needed to be strengthen and enforced (see Jackson Oct. 23, 2006 testimony).

Fallon conveniently ignores all that because it would destroy his lame problem diagnosis and at the same time show how derivative his work is.

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

And that amounts to cowardly and shoddy work.

[Update: I just got a call from Scott Fallon who took me to task for this unsupported claim:

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

Fallon claims he has not read this blog in over a year and demands that I correct my error.

I had no direct evidence to support my claim that Fallon “borrowed” anything here. It was an assumption.

My claim was based upon the following:

1) the uncanny and remarkably similar narratives, issues, and findings covered in his stories and this blog;

2) Fallon was present and reported on a public hearing I spoke at in Garfield where I went into some of these technical issues in detail, so he had to be aware of my specific concerns;

3) I have discussed – with another Record reporter – many of the same issues and specific ways to rearch and document them, including DEP technical methods Fallon reported in detail on (no one else ever reported this highly technical issue – i.e about DEP mapping plumes and intrusion into homes. For Fallon to suddenly independently report this seems extremely unlikely).

4) This blog and my legislative testimony are in the public domain.

(update) 5. I believe that Fallon receives PEER press releases and her is some issue overlap between them and this blog.

But given that I now am  aware of facts that contradict my assumption, I must withdraw the claim that he “borrowed” anything from this blog.

My apologies to Fallon – the remainder of the criticism stands.

[Update 2 – now wouldn’t it be nice if I could pick up the phone and demand that the main stream press correct the errors they routinely make? And then they listened to my rant and they did so?

And why are thin skinned reporters more concerned with erroneous claims made about them, than about the factual accuracy of the content of their newspapers?

[Update 3 – Fallon stiffed me on this big vapor intrusion story too – something I write about often and am virtually the only NJ enviro involved with.  He’s an ambitious little prick who makes loads of mistakes and is easily spun by DEP.

Here’s just one error in that story – and its only there to create the false impression that VI is too new to understand. This lets regulators off the hook of doing nothing for years.

Despite the fact that I published DEP documents and testified in Pompton lakes that showed the DEP Commissioner was warned in 2002 about VI risks (information Fallon surely should have or did know about), Fallon wrote:

Scientists have only recently begun to understand its dangers. … The science behind detecting, measuring and remediating vapors is still in its infancy, but the concerns are growing, so much so that the federal Environmental Protection Agency was criticized recently by its own inspector general for having obsolete guidelines for dealing with indoor air risks.

Science in infancy? A 25 year old is NOT an infant.

See DEP on that issue:

VI has been recognized as a potential exposure pathway for human health risks for over two decades. VI is defined as the migration of volatile chemicals from the subsurface into overlying buildings (USEPA 2002b).

Plus, EPA and DEP directed Dupont to address VI 11 years ago, in 2001. (Look at the Chronology here)

And how could EPA Guidance be “obsolete” and EPA have “outdated standards” if he science is so new it’s in its infancy?

Crappy reporting – designed too let regulators off the hook.

The science behind detecting, measuring and remediating vapors is still in its infancy,

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