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This Should Be A Scandal

Do You Live in A DEP Mapped “Threat Radius”?

A regulatory dismantling is quietly happening in much the same way that the ALEC model bills have been the vehicle at the state level to drive a corporate right wing agenda.

Follow me and see how.

Jeff Pillets, investigative reporter for the Bergen Record, hit a grand slam yesterday with an outrageous story about lax DEP oversight and enforcement of toxic site cleanup laws (see: Ex-Convict in line for cleanup grant in Mahwah

He follows up today with the predictable expressions of local outrage, a song I’ve heard far too often across the state (see: Mahwah demands N.J. address oil spill

We again read that DEP knew for 12 years that toxic leaks and groundwater pollution from a gas station threatened municipal well fields in Mahwah, the source of the town’s drinking water.

After doing nothing to cleanup that pollution, the contaminated groundwater plume spread and worsened. A “crisis” suddenly emerged – who could have predicted that? [for my discerning readers, that's snark!]

And the denouement, in what could be the ultimate example of the collapse of government, the State EDA ended up approving a $335,000 grant to an ex-convict, the gas station owner who caused the pollution!

(do we need “stop and frisk” for polluters?)

You can’t make this stuff up – It is hard to imagine how it could get any worse – but, there is no need for imagination, it actually is worse than all that.

The problem is not just one site falling through the cracks and one anomalous grant to an ex-con – the problems are systemic and the intentional result  of DEP policy and a bipartisan consensus in Trenton.

Let me provide only the most recent example.

Here’s the story (see press release and links below for analysis and all the relevant DEP documents – including “threat radius” map):

DEP is outsourcing (and in this case privatizing) science through the DEP Science Advisory Board (SAB).

DEP used to lead the country in regulatory science, particularly due to the fact that NJ led the country in toxic sites and old polluting landfills. In the 1970′s and 1980′s, NJ led the way in groundwater pollution science, toxicology, and risk assessment -

NJ’s laws, programs, and science became models and the basis of other state laws and national programs at EPA, including the Superfund law, sponsored by then south jersey Congressman and future NJ Gov. Jim Florio.

For decades, DEP science had great influence on other State programs and DEP scientists participated as members of various EPA advisory groups, so DEP scientists  influenced the national picture as well.

Since the Whitman Administration (1994-2002) DEP science was underfunded, staffing slashed, and the former Division of Science has been marginalized and downsized to an Office (as Grover Norquist says, “small enough to drown in the bathtub”).

But, now – under Gov. Christie - NJ is becoming the model in a sophisticated strategy of regulatory and scientific rollback at the State level (NJ Gov. Christie has had influence on other Republican Gov.’s in Maine, Florida, Ohio, etc -

This is quietly happening in much the same way that the ALEC model bills have been the vehicle at the state level to drive a corporate right wing agenda.

In this specific case, the scandal is twofold:

1) Gross conflicts of interest – lack of scientific integrity. Dupont writing their own cleanup science.

The scientific report of the SAB was written by 4 “scientists” – 3 are private consultants to polluters and the 4th is a corporate strategist at Dupont (Dr. Gannon). The majority of the Report has little to do with science and mostly focuses on DEP policy and regulations.

Dr. Gannon is not a practicing scientist, his scientific training (in microbiology) has nothing to do with the report (groundwater pollution science and risk assessment); and Dupont has gross economic, legal and scientific conflicts of interest in the subject matter of the scientific report.

This could never happen at the federal level, where there are restrictions and controls over ethics, scientific conflict of interest, and transparency under a law known as “FACA” – the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

2) Industry Sponsored Rollback of protections for drinking water – groundwater pollution from toxic sites

The SAB Report itself is an all out attack on 35 years of science and NJ DEP regulatory policy regarding protection of groundwater and drinking water supplies from toxic pollution.

DEP regulations classify most groundwater as “potable” (drinking water – Class IIA). The groundwater standards are based on drinking water standards and often drive cleanup and increase cleanup costs.

This makes good sense, because about 1/2 of state residents rely on groundwater (private residential wells or municipal or private water systems that rely on groundwater wells, as in the Mahwah case you just read about).

DEP just quietly posted data on their Office of Science website under the Private Well Testing Act (PWTA) that shows 12%+ (1 in  eight) residential wells are contaminated and unsafe (see: State not alarmed by levels of tainted well water).

That well pollution could be the result of the fact that NJ has over 6,000 groundwater pollution sites and 15,000 more sites with soil contamination.

[clarification: The drinking water wells I am talking about are two different types: community municipal systems (public or privately owned) and residential wells. Many community wells and residential have been poisoned and shut down or required installation of treatment systems due to industrial toxic site pollution. The majority of residential wells tested under the PWTA fail to meet radiological and arsenic standards due to naturally occurring compounds in local rock formations. Regardless, the public health risk is the same regardless of source of the pollution. Similarly, the underlying DEP geological science, pollution science, toxicology and risk assessment functions and programs that are under attack are applied to both natural and man made pollution.]

(Most of this groundwater pollution is not being cleaned up, under an outrageous loophole known as a “Classsification Exception Area” (CEA), but that’s another story.)

The SAB Report reflects the polluters’  goal to rollback current DEP technical requirements and standards, to prevent them from being incorporated in the new privatized “LSRP” program – Licensed Site Remediation Professionals.

In this case, the Report attacks – and provides a justification for DEP Comissioner Martin to kill – what is known as the “impact to groundwater” (IGW) method and standard.

The IGW address cases where soil contamination interacts with groundwater and typically drives cleanups and greatly increases cleanup costs.

Polluters say it is “too conservative” and unduly burdensome. Here are the details, just released last week (no one picked it up):

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 and was written by four scientists 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).

Hit this link for complete release and links to documents:

And in case you need me to draw you a picture (source: NJDEP):

"Toxic Threat radius" -mapped by NJDEP

 

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