Confidential EPA Superfund Documents Show EPA Failed To List 27 NJ Sites on NPL
The Superfund Sites Next Door that You Never Heard Of
[Update #2 – 2/17/12 – As I said:
“EPA has yet to explain why it decided not to list sites that otherwise qualified for Superfund and why it deferred cleanup oversight to what its own Inspector General found was a failed cleanup program,” Wolfe added, pointing to the DuPont contamination of Pompton Lakes–which is still suffering from the worst vapor intrusion in the nation–as Exhibit A for immediate federal intervention. “The people of New Jersey have a right to know how these critical decisions are made and whether EPA or the Governor’s Office are delaying or derailing Superfund listing.”
Congressman Frank Pallone agrees (see: Abury Park Press Pallone asks EPA to explain 27 sites left off superfund list.
Read Pallone’s letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (hit this link)
Update: 2/16/12: This story got good newsplay.
I was disappointed that the Bergen Record (who covered the original EPA lawsuit story on page one: “EPA sued for release of toxic rankings“; the Star Ledger (who also covered the lawsuit story prominently” NJ environmental group asks feds to release rankings of toxic sites“); and the Trenton Times (who editorialized in support on 10/28/11: EPA should release information on contaminated sites all missed it.
News coverage rundown:
- Tom Johnson of NJ Spotlight wrote a good story, which also ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer (see: NJ’s Overlooked Superfund sites
- Gannett wrote a national story, out of DC office, while NJ Gannett outlets ran the Morris Daily Record version: Group: 4 Morris sites left of Superfund list
- The Fair Lawn Patch wrote: Toxic Site in Fair Lawn Left Uncontrolled By EPA – end update]
From our good friends at PEER.
EPA documents obtained by a PEER lawsuit show that EPA is sitting on at least 27 NJ sites that qualify for Superfund based on risks to human health and the environment, but for some reason is not listing them.
Failure to list these sites deprives NJ communities of information, resources, community involvement in cleanup decisions, and the priority attention of EPA and Congress that Superfund National Priorities Listing confers.
We had to sue EPA to obtain these documents, which are marked “confidential”, so EPA does not want this information in the public arena.
EPA may be intentionally seeking to minimize the Superfund NPL list due to opposition by powerful chemical companies responsible for cleanups.
Those lobbyists have blocked re-authorization of the Superfund tax, which funds cleanup at orphan Superfund sites where “responsible parties” are not available.
Or, EPA may be limiting Superfund listing for budget reasons – Obama’s proposed FY 2013 budget includes $755 million for Superfund.
Or EPA may be deferring to NJ Governors, who might oppose the 10% State cost share requirements for federal Superfund site cleanup costs.
But why would EPA defer cleanups to the State DEP program after EPA’s own Inspector General found NJ DEP the worst in the country, forcing EPA to revoke DEP lead at several Superfund sites?
Worse, since then, NJ’s cleanup program has been privatized, further limiting transparency, community involvement, and accountability.
NJ received $160 million in federal stimulus (ARAR) Act funds last year for cleanup of 8 NJ Superfund sites, and well over a billion in total Superfund monies.
Regardless, politics and economics should not over-ride Superfund’s risk based framework of protecting human health and the environment.
EPA has some explaining to do! Read all about it and review the lawsuit, HRS scoring sheets for these 27 sites, and other documents, from PEER:
Twenty Seven New Jersey Superfund-Eligible Sites Left Off List
EPA Still Reviewing Status of Unknown Number of Garden State Toxic Hotspots
Washington, DC – New Jersey already has the most Superfund sites of any state but could have many more according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents obtained through a lawsuit by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). More than a score of sites in New Jersey pose risks equal to or greater than Superfund-listed sites, yet these uncontrolled sites were not added to the Superfund National Priority List for clean-up by EPA.
PEER sued EPA in late October under the federal Freedom of Information Act after the agency failed to turn over the Superfund Hazard Rankings for non-listed sites in New Jersey. The Hazard Ranking System (HRS) numerically scores risks to public health and the environment from exposure to contaminated groundwater, surface water, soil and air.
Sites that score above 28.5 points on the HRS qualify for Superfund NPL listing. Documents surrendered by EPA reveal 27 sites that score greater than 28.5, with scores ranging from 30 to 70 on the HRS scale. Passed-over sites include Pompton Lakes, Fair Lawn, Plainfield, Gloucester, Berlin and Union Township, stretching across 11 counties. Scores reflect releases of high levels of chlorinated solvents and other toxic chemicals to soil and groundwater with the following major impacts:
- Off-site pollution of residential and municipal drinking water;
- Seepage of toxic vapors into nearby residential buildings; and
- Contamination of adjacent wetlands, streams and lakes.
“Priority for protecting communities is supposed to be based on risk, but several high-risk communities in our state got swept under the rug by EPA,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “All of these Hazardous Ranking System scores should be published so that there are apples-to-apples comparisons to help prioritize sites for clean-up and target responsible parties.”
EPA’s decision to bypass these sites leaves the sites under state auspices but the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a history of prolonged but ineffective cleanups. After the EPA Inspector General looked at a 20-year history of state-supervised clean-ups, it concluded DEP had the worst track record in the country at toxic remediation and recommended federal takeover.
This list of passed-over toxic sites in New Jersey may grow substantially, however. PEER is still litigating to force EPA to disclose the HRS scored for other sites where its National Priority listing decision is still pending. Those decisions could more than double the list of highly toxic sites without federal intervention. New Jersey already leads the nation with most Superfund sites (144).
“EPA has yet to explain why it decided not to list sites that otherwise qualified for Superfund and why it deferred cleanup oversight to what its own Inspector General found was a failed cleanup program,” Wolfe added, pointing to the DuPont contamination of Pompton Lakes–which is still suffering from the worst vapor intrusion in the nation–as Exhibit A for immediate federal intervention. “The people of New Jersey have a right to know how these critical decisions are made and whether EPA or the Governor’s Office are delaying or derailing Superfund listing”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability