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Toxic Chemicals Released In South Jersey Train Accident Force Evacuation

November 30th, 2012 2 comments

Repauno, NJ - residential neighborhood within feet of chlorine rail tanker cars. Tanker cars were easily accessible and unprotected. Chlorine gas release would be deadly. (1/18/08)

 Do You Live in the “Kill Zone”?

[Important update below]

The Star Ledger is reporting that earlier this morning, a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals that caused breathing difficulties among at least 18 people and forced evacuation of the area, see: Paulsboro bridge collapse derails train, dumps tank car contents into Mantua Creek

This accident opens personal wounds.

On a policy level, it reminds us of real threats to our lives that require more aggressive regulation.

On a personal note, I have been down in that area and wrote about exactly these kind of risks as accidents waiting to happen, see: In Harm’s Way (hit the link and scroll down to see photos of unsecured trains with toxic loads near schools and daycare centers).

For taking those and other photos in Paulsboro, I was detained by local police, my car was illegally searched and my documents were seized, and I was later investigated by federal Homeland Security and the FBI.

A few days after the incident, three investigators came to my house: Homeland Security, FBI and  the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office.

At one point, while the focus of the investigation was on my photography of oil refineries, one of the investigators mentioned that I had been seen taking photos of train cars and chemical plants near schools, that I had a backpack on at the time, and suggested that I might be a terrorist seeking to emulate the “Chechen Rebels”.

I think I remain on a US domestic terror watch list as a result of this incident and investigation.

On a policy level, this accident reminds us that the chemical industry is creating unacceptable risks that require more stringent regulation (see:  25 Years After Bhopal Chemical Disaster: NJ”s “Fatal Fifteen” Shows it Can Happen Here

But instead of stricter regulation, under the Governor’s Executive Order #2, to appease the chemical industry, the Christie Administration is going in the opposite direction and rolling back NJ’s stringent state requirements to federal minimums.

The Whitman Administration tried and was warned not to do this way back in 1994, when a DEP Assistant Commissioner wrote this:

“Industry (e.g., CIC and NJBIA) would obviously prefer backing off to the EPA thresholds. However, the increases made by EPA on adoption were so large (averaging some 18 times the TCPA values with 33 of the 60 substances common to both lists assigned from 5 to 167 times corresponding TCPA values) that they are not technically justifiable in an area as densely populated as New Jersey where substances are generally handled on small sites, and would correlate with a significant increase in the number of potential fatalities.”

As I wrote:

NJ industries use over 15 BILLION pounds of hazardous chemicals per year. That number has grown slightly from 1990 – 1998 (most recent data reported by DEP Pollution Prevention). That’s almost 2,000 pounds for each resident.

Hundreds of NJ Communities are threatened by scores of dangerous chemical facilities, where an accident or terror attack could kill more than 100,000 residents.

While this spill may have been minor, it also reminds us that the liability cap for such spills still is far too low and legislation to raise it is stalled due to the political power of the chemical industry. (correction – see update below!)

The public interest and community safety are being sacrificed and put at needless risk as a result of the political power of the chemical industry -

While we may have  dodged a bullet with what appears to be a relatively minor train wreck, it could have been far worse. [correction – see update below]

When will warnings be heeded? After people die?

[Update:  It looks like EPA is downplaying the risks of the chemical released, vinyl chloride.

According to ATSDR “Tox Facts” VC is one of the few chemicals that are known human carcinogens – that relates to long term chronic exposures.

For acute exposure, I didn’t see EPA mention “coma and death”, ATSDR reports:

Health Effects

  • The primary target of vinyl chloride acute exposure is the CNS. Signs and symptoms include dizziness, ataxia, inebriation, fatigue, numbness and tingling of the extremities, visual disturbances, coma, and death.
  • Vinyl chloride can irritate the eyes, mucous membranes, and respiratory tract. Escaping compressed gas or liquid can cause frostbite or irritation of the skin and eyes.
  • Chronic exposure can cause permanent liver injury and liver cancer, neurologic or behavioral symptoms, and changes to the skin and bones of the hand.
  • Vinyl chloride’s acute CNS effects are likely to be caused by interaction of the parent compound with neural membranes. Other effects appear to be caused by interaction of reactive intermediates with macromolecules.

(PS – the site is down the rive from me, 40 miles south, south west. I am feeling a tad dizzy and nauseous just now and checked the weather – sure enough, wind is from the SE. Could a cloud be blowing up the Delaware River?

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Where Is Obama EPA As NJ Forges Ahead With Rebuilding Plans That Flout Environmental Laws?

November 29th, 2012 No comments

Will Obama EPA rubber stamp NJ’s $37 billion request – no strings attached?

As the Sandy Scene shifts from emergency response and demolition to a rebuilding phase, and after Governor Christie has prepared NJ’s $37 billion federal bailout request and named a redevelopment Czar, we were wondering where the Obama EPA is.

We fear that EPA and the federal bailout package are the only things that can slow down the irresponsible Christie runaway train, which is  preparing to pour billions of dollars of federal taxpayer money into rebuilding in precisely the same dangerous shore locations that were devastated by Sandy.

We note that more than $3 billion of the bailout sought involves public infrastructure that is funded and regulated by US EPA under federal environmental laws – water, sewer and waste management facilities (and toxic site cleanups).

We’ve seen the implications of failed water infrastructure with billions of gallons of raw sewage discharged to NY Harbor and Raritan Bay by 2 regional sewage plants; a Governor’s emergency water conservation directive; at least a dozen community water systems under boil water advisories (and washout of toxic waste sites).

We note that DEP Commissioner Martin issued an Order that waived state environmental permit requirements for rebuilding that infrastructure, including federally delegated wetlands permits (stunningly, the Martin Order didn’t exclude or even mention compliance with federal requirements – as if EPA did not exist!).

[Note: Don’t feel ao bad EPA, Martin’s Order ignored NJ State law too, e.g. CAFRA exmpts rebuild from permit requirements, but at least it does recognize federal law – NJSA 13:19-5.2:

b. The reconstruction of any development that is damaged or destroyed, in whole or in part, by fire, storm, natural hazard or act of God, provided that such reconstruction is in compliance with existing requirements or codes of municipal, State and federal law; ]

EPA Region II Administrator Judith Enck in NJ to talk about toxic fish advisories

We wrote EPA Region II Administrator Judith Enck on November 6 to request federal oversight of Martin’s waiver (see below), and almost a month later we have received no reply, despite followup requests.

Lisa Jackson testifiss at US Senate confirmation hearing for US EPA Administrator

We’ve heard nothing from USEPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who calls NJ home and should be leading the charge to assure that the shore redelopment plan is done in an environmentally sustainable way that complies with federal law.

The Obama administration included a number of progressive initiatives in the federal stimulus package, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act,  including new policies and billions of dollars for renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean water, smart electric grid,  mass transit, rail, and public housing assistance.

 

Are they going to simply rubber stamp NJ’s $37 billion request with no strings attached?

 

Here is my prior letter to EPA RA Enck:

 

From: “bill wolfe” <bill_wolfe@comcast.net>
To: “Judith Enck” <Enck.Judith@epamail.epa.gov>
Cc: 
Sent: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 11:14:05 AM
Subject: EPA oversight – NJ DEP waives rules for rebuilding infrastructure

Dear Regional Administrator Enck: 

Yesterday, NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Robert Martin issued an Administrative Order that waives certain state permit requirements for rebuilding certain public infrastructure,  

These waived permit requirements include State CAFRA, stream encroachment, and wetlands permits.  

These waivers may violate federal requirements and I strongly urge your immediate review to determine federal compliance. 

For examples:  

1) federally approved provisions of the State stream encroachment regulations (i.e. stream buffers for designated Category One waters) implement federally approved and delegated State Surface Water Quality Standards anti-degredation policy and implementation procedures. 

These stream buffers – codified in NJ stream encroachment regulations – also constitute EPA approved State “Best Management Practices” for the purposes of federally delegated Clean Water Act programs, including stormwater management and TMDL non-point source control “Load Allocation” programs;

2) State CAFRA permits satisfy certain requirements of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act and Clean Water Act; 

3) State wetlands permits satisfy certain federally delegated provisions of the Clean Water Act;

4) Also, waiver of State permit requirements pursuant to the Order may avoid triggering compliance with federal Clean Water Act mandated planning requirements, including Section 303 Water Quality Management Planning and Section 210 facility plans and permit requirements. 

As we speak, NJ sewage treatment plants are discharging millions of gallons of raw sewage to state and federal waters. EPA must not allow this disaster to be repeated by allowing NJ to deregulate the reconstruction of infrastructure.  

I urge your immediate oversight of this matter and look forward to your timely and favorable consideration.

Sincerely, 

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NJ Gov. Christie Slams Door Shut on Coastal and Climate Change Reforms In Wake of Sandy

November 28th, 2012 2 comments

Appoints Corporate Crony As Czar to Oversee Redevelopment

No Lessons Learned – Business As Usual

Will The Legislature Allow Christie To Control The Whole Game?

(Is there a “Heck of a job Marc” in NJ’s future?)

The “debate” of whether and how to rebuild the shore is over before any real debate actually occured.

Let this be confirmation of the trite slogan: politics abhors a vacuum.

In the vacuum created by the absence of Legislative leadership and while the planning and environmental advocates were hiding under their desks (or worse: having secret meetings with their friends at DEP) and making no public demands on the Administration, Governor Christie just unilaterally acted.

According to the Bergen Record, in another vast executive over-reach, Christie has centralized control and appointed a corporate crony as Czar to oversee redevelopment:

Christie also announced the appointment of Marc Ferzan of Lawrenceville and the hiring of Witt Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based public safety and crisis management consulting firm, to work with him.

Ferzan will be responsible for overseeing and coordinating the state’s long-term recovery, while working with local governments and public and private partners, including Witt Associates.

“I’m naming Marc to this position because of the importance and urgency of the effort and my commitment to getting it done efficiently and effectively for the people of our state,” the governor said. [...]

Ferzan said he planned to assemble a “core team” and would work with federal, state and local officials, charities, private industry, community organizations, volunteers and impacted community members to rebuild and develop mitigation strategies.

I have been writing here and working behind the scenes urging my colleagues to back a “strategic retreat” from the shore and to call for the formation of a Coastal Commission to oversee the public planning process.

As another “extreme weather” event,  Sandy illustrated the need to demand aggressive new climate change policies, including things like a phase out of in-state fossil power and imports; a moratorium on new pipeline and powerline construction; a carbon tax; accelerated wind and solar renewables; expansion of Clean Energy Funds; and massive public transportation and infrastructure investments.

None of that is likely to happen now -

(all of it was improbable, but it is certainly impossible without a demand, which is something that never emerged, despite numerous entreaties.

My guess is that this silence was no accident – now certain passive conservation groups can sit back and bask in the mitigation money likely to flow from the redevelopment boom.)

And I blame timid and visionless leaders of NJ ENGO’s (I’m willing to name names), a tabloid press corps, virtually no effort by the somnolent professional planning community, and a passive legislature.

The only question that remains is will Sweeney and Norcross sit back and take it?

(maybe Sweeney would get a burr under his saddle if US House Republicans proposed to eliminate prevailing wage and unions from the multi-billion $ federal bailout appropriation bill – something that is not beyond the pale, given the Katrina “Shock Doctrine” rollbacks and current “fiscal cliff” austerity politics. ) 

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The Choice is Ours – All Gone?

November 27th, 2012 1 comment

Downtown Newark, downtown Jersey City, Atlantic City, most of the state’s coastal towns and the Cape May peninsula are all gone.

Source: NY Times

Above map is from the Nov. 24, 2012 NY Times.

Below excerpts are from a 2005 Princeton University Study:  FUTURE SEA LEVEL RISE AND THE NEW JERSEY COAST - Assessing Potential Impacts and Opportunities 

Land use planning and building codes can play in important role in coastal hazard management. In New Jersey, and the U.S. at-large, there remains a significant lack of public understanding of the predictability of coastal hazards and hazard mitigation. Episodic flooding events due to storm surges are often perceived as ‘natural disasters’, not failures in land use planning and building code requirements. The presidential declaration of ‘federal disaster areas’ and the release of millions of dollars in state aid following major storm events may help foster the perception of storms as unpredictable ‘disasters’ resulting in unpreventable damage. Some property damage is unavoidable in the coastal zone from large storm systems, particularly along the oceanfront near a hurricane landfall. However, current research suggests that the total property damage related to coastal hazards is highly dependent on the design and elevation of the homes, buildings and other structures near the shoreline (Rogers and Tezak, 2004).  [...]

An important, and often underemphasized, strategy for decreasing the adaptation costs to sea level rise would be to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions. The release of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, notably CO2, exacerbates global warming which accelerates the rate of sea level rise. Several studies have attempted to determine response of sea level rise to different greenhouse gas emission scenarios (Wigley, 1995; Smith et al., 2000; Nicholls and Lowe, 2004; Wigley, 2005). Although substantial quantitative uncertainties exist in this research, and the uncertainties increase with time, the general modeled trends provide valuable insight.  [...]

Management programs focused on protecting the current shoreline will likely lead to the elimination of wetlands and natural beaches in most developed regions (Titus et al., 1988; Titus et al., 1991; Titus, 2000). New Jersey’s Garden State Preservation Trust Act provides the statutory framework and funding base needed to implement a plan for purchasing threatened wetland areas and undeveloped buffers between wetlands and development. However, most coastal wetlands are privately owned and the government can only protect a minority through an acquisition program (Titus, 1991; McCrery and Adams, 1995; Titus, 2000). It is more likely that significant portions could be protected  through the implementation of a regulatory program requiring the gradual withdrawal of development from the coast. Policies, such as rolling easements, focused specifically at the preservation of coastal ecosystems could prove useful. If future coastal management policies do not accommodate the natural inland migration of beaches and wetlands, these natural systems may disappear beneath the rising sea and the ecological, economic, and social benefits they provide will be lost.

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Sandy Scam – DEP Washes Its Hands of Any Role in Toxic Site Cleanup

November 27th, 2012 No comments

The Public Is At the Complete Mercy of the Mercenaries For Information

The Public Right To Know Just Eliminated by DEP

“I had many, many calls from mayors who simply were not getting enough information,” he said. “And even though the utilities had done what they were supposed to do and appointed a liaison for each town, those liaisons either lacked information or were not given good information. I don’t know what was worse — people not getting any information or being told the wrong information, but that was very, very frustrating and understandably so.”

Governor Christie, answering questions from reporters after a Sandy recovery event at a firehouse in Middletown Township on Monday, said the utility companies need to be more forthright with their customers.  ~~~ Bergen Record 11/26/12

[ Update 12/24/12 – Now this is truly Orwellian – DEP says they aren’t getting any calls from the public. Could that be because DEP ordered DEP contact info removed from signs at toxic waste sites? AP story

Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency has done visual inspections of major brownfield sites and also alerted towns and cities to be on the lookout for problems. Ragonese said they just aren’t getting calls voicing such concerns. ~~~  end update

[Update below]

It’s not just the utilities who have a responsibilty to communicate with the public they purportedly serve. Government has that responsibility as well. Christie needs to walk the talk with his own agencies.

So, at a time of increasing public concerns about potential impacts of Sandy on toxic waste sites, this is truly one of the most stunning statements DEP has ever made.

Coming at a time of environmental crisis caused by Superstorm Sandy – with heightened public concerns about whether storm surge and flood waters may have washed out contaminants from toxic sites – makes it even more extreme, reckless, and irresponsible.

(see Wall Street Journal: Sandy Stirs Toxic Worry)

In an extraordinary move, in a Nov. 26, 2012 blast email titled:  ”Calling all RPs and LSRPs! Know Your Role Regarding Public Inquiries“, DEP is now mandating the removal of  public information regarding how to contact DEP for information at thousands of toxic waste sites across the state.

In an update to the DEP’s “Public Notification & Outreach Guidance” and the “Public Inquiry Policy”, DEP just directed private consultants to expunge DEP contact information:

Signs must be updated immediately to delete contact information for the NJDEP Office of Community Relations and replace it with LSRP contact information.

So, now people who live down the street from a toxic site have no independent information about who to call at DEP – or government – to find out what’s going on and whether they should be concerned about toxic risks.

The public is completely reliant on private consultants – and DEP is taking steps to make that control even greater.

Orwell wrote about a man who worked at the Ministry of Truth, spending his days sanitizing the public record by deleting inconvenient information – DEP has just acted in exactly that Orwellian fashion by erasing signs posted at toxic sites of any DEP contact information.

Truly. Fucking. Amazing!

[Update – maybe Legislative oversight could help:

Dear Senator Greenstein -

I believe that I worked with you on this issue, and as a result,  you sponsored the legislation to require posting of signs at toxic waste sites in order to improve communications and advance the public’s right to know.

Thus, I assume you would be concerned about the below DEP Guidance, which directs the deletion of DEP contact information from those signs.

That move is especially troubling right now when the public has legitimate questions about affects of Superstorm Sandy.

Could you contact DEP Commissioner Martin about this?

Sincerely,

Bill Wolfe

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