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An Orwell Kind of News Day

With News Coverage Like This ….

I can’t let three news stories today pass without comment, because they all get the story so remarkably wrong it’s actually hard to believe – exactly upside down backwards:

I)   Shore Towns did good planning to avoid harms from Sandy

Regular readers here know that I’ve been writing furiously about how failed coastal land use planning, over-development, and how local and state governments ignored multiple warnings about shore vulnerability all contributed to the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.

Well, you can forget all that folks, because today’s Bergen Record story – with embarrassing support from Jeff Tittel no less – just announced that the shore towns did a swell job in planning!:

Shore towns’ planning helped spare them Sandy’s worst


… Such measures and others taken by towns, agencies and businesses in the years preceding Sandy — including using discarded Christmas trees to bolster dunes — are being credited for speeding the recovery process from the October storm, which rocked the shoreline with storm surges and inland winds.

The initiatives lowered flooding levels and lessened damage, just as they were designed to do.

“One thing we know overall is that when towns protect the environment — whether they pass ordinances for stream buffers or limit development — that all comes to help those communities during storms,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Environmental protections work.”

Yes, “environmental protection works” – but it was ignored by shore towns and DEP.

Shore towns have ignored repeated warnings on vulnerability, opposed sound local and regional planning and State land use regulation at every step, and over-developed the coast – to praise that irresponsible history is absurd.

For example, DEP recently did a pilot study with 3 shore towns and developed specific guidance on “Getting To Resilience”.  

Here it is (again) – and it’s right on point:

Coastal Community Vulnerability Assessment Protocol (CCVAP) is a GIS-based methodology to assist land use planners, hazard mitigation planners, emergency managers, and other local decision-makers in the identification of their community’s vulnerability through virtual mapping. By applying the methods defined in CCVAP to the pilot communities, areas were identified where built infrastructure, sensitive natural resources, and special needs populations overlapped areas of potential inundation. This vulnerability mapping supports community efforts to make the connection between the potential consequences of sea level rise and inundation to their vulnerability – ultimately to guide the community for resilience planning.

Getting to Resilience is a questionnaire developed as a non-regulatory tool to help coastal communities build capacity for resilience to coastal hazards and sea level rise.The application of the survey was intended to highlight positive actions already underway within the pilot communities and to identify opportunities to improve local resilience through planning, public outreach, mitigation, and response mechanisms. This questionnaire validates the hazard planning that the communities have begun to implement and identifies opportunities to incorporate adaptation strategies in broadercommunity planning.

Full post – which identifies several other  ignored warnings:

II)    “Environmentalist” agrees with Dupont that EPA lacks authority to Order mercury cleanup

This Suburban Trends story on Dupont Pompton lakes RCRA permit mercury cleanup managed to get several issues flat out wrong – and has a so called “environmentalist” mouthing what could be a line from a Dupont lawyer:

Pompton Lakes residents want thorough lake cleanup


… In addition to the expanded cleanup, DuPont will be required to test for contamination outside of the Acid Brook Delta area of the Pompton Lake and perform long-term monitoring of the lake.

Ella Filippone, executive director of the Passaic River Coalition, said she was happy with the expansion but advised the EPA to include a provision in the permit to allow DuPont to clean any potential hotspots it may find under the existing permit.

“I don’t think that the permit as it is written now clearly directs DuPont or gives the EPA the authority to demand that hotspots be removed as soon as they are found. (If not) there’s going to be all of this additional discovery, and then there’s going to be a modification, public participation, and all the rest of those long drawn out things before the hotspots can be removed. If they are not removed right away, then they will migrate downstream so the contamination will continue to move. There will be continuous contamination only in areas downstream, which are our water supply areas. We all drink that water, so these are big issues that have to be addressed in this project,” said Filippone.

Where do I begin to correct all that? I’ll start in order of the claims in the quote:

1) Dupont lawyers – and Ella – may say that EPA lacks authority, but the fact of the matter is that EPA has tremendous enforcement authority – the problem is not lack of legal authority, but the political will at EPA to use it.

Besides, that “lack of authority” issue sounds an awful lot like the arguments made by GE in the Hudson River PCB cleanup or the corporate polluters in the Passaic River dioxin Superfund cleanup. Simply stunning to hear that from the “environmentalist” source.

2) Aside from the fact that it is absurd for an environmentalist to oppose “public notice: and “public participation” and “all the rest of those long drawn out things“, EPA is not required to do additional permit modification procedures to Order Dupont to do hotspot removal.  Dupont’s lawyers wouldn’t even argue that.

3) The drinking water threat is a false scare tactic bogeyman.

The contaminant of concern is mercury. The adverse impact of concern is ecological – bioaccumulation  – not water supply/drinking water risk.

If Ella is so concerned about drinking water, she should look at the DEP permits for those 80 or so industrial and sewage treatment plants that discharge tons (literally) of toxic chemicals to the Passaic and Pompton Rivers above drinking water intakes.

Or the failure of DEP to regulate over 500 chemicals DEP has found in water supplies.

Or the failure of DEP to adopt drinking water standards for dozens of chemicals recommended by the DWQI.

4)  The real problem with hot spot removal is the definition of “hot spot” –

In finalizing the Dupont RCRA permit and responding to comments, EPA agreed with Dupont and determined that the background mercury level in lake and river sediments is 0.5 ppm – Dupont can’t be required to remove any mercury below that level.

Did Ella attend or testify at the public hearing on the RCRA permit to raise any of these bogus issues so that EPA could respond to them?  No.

III)    It’s a “tragedy” NOT to build housing on top of old landfills in floodplains

This Star Ledger story is a real doosy:

Somerville may receive nearly $900K county grant for landfill redevelopment.


Building houses on an old landfill with toxic groundwater contamination in a floodplain – gee, what could go wrong?

Here’s the comment I submitted on that:

I get calls all the time from moms and dads hysterical that no one ever told them that their home was built on or near an old landfill.

They find out when the get a letter from a consultant asking to drill holes in the basement floor to measure toxic gas seeping into the house (google “vapor intrusion”).

Or maybe the sidewalks, foundation, floors, and walls crack after a few years in new construction.

Or maybe the air starts stinking so bad they have to close the windows, especially on damp or raining days. When they look into the problem, they find that some dirtbag landfill operator (maybe married to a DEP Deputy Commissioner?) just started taking construction debris and punctured the “cap”, releasing old toxic gas.

Or maybe their kids are sick all the time and have asthma and various respiratory symptoms and red eyes and runny noses.

Or their well is poisoned.

Or they can’t sell the home because the well test came up bad or the deed restriction for groundwater pollution scared away a buyer.

Or maybe they get flooded out and say no one ever told them they were located in a “flood prone area” and they don’t have flood insurance.

Or the nice guy who built the houses has changed corporate names and moved to Florida.

Does stuff like this ever happen to you or people you know, Mr. Driver?

Or Mr. Star Ledger reporer?

Have neither of you never heard these stories, which happen regularly across the state?

Maybe if we had a DEP that enforced environmental laws instead of promoting economic development, things might be different, no?

When reporters write these stories, do they even ask basic questions about similar experiences with building homes on old landfills that were never properly closed?

Do the reporters even read their own newspaper? My goodness, we just went through a major extreme weather flood event – and Fennimore landfill is still smoking right up in Roxbury.

Ask the people in Roxbury that live near the Fennimore landfill what its like when an old landfill gets “redeveloped”:

Four days after it closed, Fenimore Landfill in Roxbury reopens

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  1. January 21st, 2013 at 16:22 | #1

    Funny my husband Mike has talking about those dam gates for years now and how they are aiding to the traveling of the contaminants downstream! I guess there is a first time for everything and it was the first time that I ever heard it come out of John S. mouth. Others siting on the dais in Pompton Lakes have said totally the OPPOSITE! The active resident knew and were concerned and brought it up time and time again along with Resolution No. 6 submitted by the Pompton Lakes Advisory Group over a year ago – http://www.pomptonlakescag.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Resolution-006-FINAL.pdf. Ella’s comments – check your facts and where have you been all these years?

  2. January 21st, 2013 at 16:32 | #2

    @Lisa Riggiola
    Thanks Lisa – here is what I testified at the public hearing with respect to the scouring issue:

    Number three, I didn’t see any analysis
    of the biological mechanisms under which mercury
    becomes bioavailable. I saw quite a bit of the
    physical methods about how erosion could scour the
    cap you’re proposing on the mercury you’re leaving in
    place, but I didn’t see any evaluation of how the
    mercury you’re leaving in place, outside the 26-acre
    remedial zone and underneath the stuff you’re going
    to cap and leave in place, how that over time will
    become bioavailable through biological means.
    Meaning everything from microscopic organisms to
    macroinvertebrates who digest that mercury and make
    it methylized and it therefore becomes bioavailable
    and moves through the food chain for fish and
    wildlife and human life. I didn’t see any of that.


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