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DEP “Science” Board Recommends Rollback of Groundwater Standard

All Private Sector SubComitttee Used by Commissioner Martin

A DEP Science Advisory Board (SAB) Report to the Commissioner was just posted on DEP’s website – it is a perfect example of exactly the problems we have predicted and regularly written about here.

I)  Biased Charge

First of all, the “charge” to the SAB (i.e. the question posed) was from “customer friendly” “regulatory relief” driven Commissioner Martin, so of course it was framed in a way to attack an important existing DEP regulatory protection long opposed by industry due to the high cost of compliance with it.

In this case, it was the “impact to groundwater” standard (IGW), which is a technical translator of how soil contamination impacts groundwater. The IGW standard protects groundwater – which is classified as drinking water – from  toxic pollution and often drives the extent – and costs – of cleanup.

II)  Conflicts of Interest – Lack of Scientific Integrity

Second, the SAB subcommittee that wrote the Report was composed exclusively of private sector “scientists”, including a corporate strategist –  not a practicing scientist – from Dupont. Dupont has millions of dollars at stake in the IGW debate, and therefore gross conflicts of interest that should have precluded any involvement with the issue on the SAB report preparation or deliberation.

III)  Improper Role in Regulatory Policy

Third, the SAB strayed far outside the scope of its mission, which was established by former DEP Commissioner Jackson’s Administrative Order. Under that Jackson Order, the SAB is prohibited from considering regulatory and policy issues, and must focus exclusively on scientific issues.

The majority of this SAB Report focuses on regulatory policy and even DEP administrative and program management issues! The SAB totally misconstrued its role and grossly violated their mission and charter under the Jackson Order that created the SAB.

Hit the links below to read the Report and see a summary by our friends at PEER:

Corporate Shadow Over Jersey’s Tainted Groundwater Darkens

Science “Advisors” Push Dramatic Relaxation of Groundwater Cleanup Standards  

Trenton — A newly released report recommends abandoning New Jersey’s current standards for protecting groundwater from chemical pollution.  The report is from the state’s Science Advisory Board but was written by four scientists, all with corporate ties including one from DuPont which stands to directly benefit from loosening rules governing toxic waste sites and leaking underground tanks and pipelines, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Approximately half of New Jersey residents depend on groundwater for their drinking water.  The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has identified more than 6,000 polluted groundwater sites, forcing closure of hundreds of wells across the state.   Polluted groundwater can also migrate under buildings, causing “vapor intrusion” from volatile chemicals that poison building inhabitants.

The Science Advisory Board consists of outside scientists picked by DEP.  This report attacks the “impact to groundwater” standard (IGW) and recommends replacing it with a more “flexible” system allowing site-specific exceptions.  While dated October 20, 2011, the report was not posted until last week. If its recommendations are adopted by DEP, more than 30 years of public policy would be reversed by –

  • Repealing the requirement that all groundwater should be considered and regulated as potable public water supply (unless someone submits a petition to reclassify a local aquifer to a less protective designation).   Instead, groundwater would be protected only on an as-needed basis;
  • Stripping the DEP role of defining risk assessment methodologies and allow private consultants to define and regulate risk on a case by case basis; and
  • Jettisoning the precautionary assumption underlying the IGW that legacy soil contamination will mobilize to cause a future groundwater impacts.  This move would eliminate the need to clean up soils unless a direct relationship to groundwater is shown, thus relaxing cleanup requirements for many toxic waste sites.

“If you want to safely drink groundwater in New Jersey, you had better have a good lobbyist,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that the Science Advisory Board subcommittee which drafted the report contained no academic or DEP scientists – all are from the private sector, including one who works for DuPont. “High polluting corporations have been trying to weaken groundwater standards and are on the verge of accomplishing this goal by getting permission to rewrite the science from within DEP itself.”

Under industry pressure, the Corzine administration downgraded the IGW from regulations to guidance.  The report recommends that it be removed from guidance and dropped altogether.  In addition to privatizing science, New Jersey has also privatized supervision over toxic waste cleanups.  If the new report is followed, corporate consultants would be free to decide how protective cleanups would be on a site-by-site basis.

“Under this new regime, public health becomes a negotiable commodity.   The only check on corporate irresponsibility would be other corporate consultants,” Wolfe concluded. 


See Science Advisory Board subcommittee report on groundwater contamination

Look at the corporate affiliations of the SAB subcommittee

Learn more about groundwater protections

Trace privatization of DEP science

View one of many reasons for DuPont interest

Examine New Jersey’s privatized toxic cleanup system

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

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