Home > Uncategorized > Local Government Zoning Decisions Are Gutting Federal US EPA and NJ DEP State Toxic Site Cleanup Laws

Local Government Zoning Decisions Are Gutting Federal US EPA and NJ DEP State Toxic Site Cleanup Laws

DEP and EPA cleanup standards are based on local land use planning and zoning

Ringwood Ford and Pompton Lakes Dupont Toxic Sites Latest Examples of Abuse

A new corrupt tactic in the chemical industry driven strategy to weaken NJ’s toxic site cleanup laws and DEP regulations and thereby save billions of dollars in cleanup costs is focused on local government.

The tactic allows local governments – who lack the scientific expertise and legal authority –  to effectively gut State DEP and federal US EPA cleanup standards.

This local tactic stands the law on its head, as both Congress and the NJ Legislature enacted laws like Superfund and NJ Spill Compensation and Control Act that set state and federal standards that put US EPA and NJ DEP in charge of cleanup decisions, not local government.

Specifically, few people realize that US EPA and DEP’s toxic site cleanup standards are based on local land use planning and zoning. Those local plans and zoning designations govern the use of a site, and thereby, influence the potential exposure of people to toxic chemical at those sites.

Follow the logic:

1. DEP sets cleanup standards based on risks to human health.

2. Risk to human health is a function of, among other things, exposure potential.

3. Exposure potential is a function of, among other things, the land use of a site.

For example, a residential site results in human exposure to any toxics on site 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

In contrast, a commercial or industrial site has far less human occupancy and far less human exposure.

4. Accordingly, DEP cleanup standards are categorized as “residential” and “non-residential” categories. (see DEP soil remediation standards for “residential” and “non-residential” land uses). The standards vary by orders of magnitude.

Which brings us to two recent examples that illustrate a disturbing development, whereby corrupt local governments conspire with polluters to revise local land use master plans and zoning ordinances in ways that subject polluters to lax DEP cleanup standards and thereby let polluters off the hook for billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

Why would a legitimate local government- motivated by a desire to protect the health and welfare of their residents and environment – want to relax cleanup standards and reduce a corporation’s cleanup costs?

This corrupt abuse must stop.

The Legislature, Governor and DEP must get involved to prevent further abuses.

Let me provide 2 recent abuses of what is a statewide problem.

Ringwood – Ford

The US EPA recently let Ford off the hook for a permanent complete cleanup at their Ringwood Superfund site.

Environmental groups and the Ramapough nation are objecting to this corrupt EPA deal, and calling on NJ DEP to extend the public comment period. But they miss the underlying cause of the problem and it’s statewide nature.

In Ringwood, EPA agreed to change the original costly “preferred remedy” – the complete excavation of toxic waste – to a far cheaper, minimal, and far less protective typical “pave and wave” cap. It was  explicitly acknowledged by EPA that this deal would save Ford some $30 million in cleanup costs.

Basically, the Ringwood local government decided to locate a recycling center on a portion of the Ford toxic site, which changed the land use and risk assumptions and thereby provided cover for US EPA to gut their own “preferred remedy”.

I explained how local land use impacted US EPA’s sellout, see:

The Bergen Record reports today that EPA has “decided” to allow the Ford Motor Company to get away with a cynical scheme to avoid millions of dollars in cleanup costs and leave thousands of tons of toxic sludge in the ground, posing permanent risks instead of permanent remedies, see:

In fact, EPA’s own Superfund program manager openly admits that Ford has proposed a scheme:

Opponents of the plan, including many members of the Ramapough Lenape Nation who live next to O’Connor, say the recycling center is nothing more than a way for Ford and the borough to get out of an expensive cleanup.

Even the EPA official who is allowing the capping plan agreed. “I have no doubt that’s the motivation,” said Walter Mugdan, an EPA official in charge of cleaning up Superfund sites in New Jersey and New York. “It’s certainly a very plausible view.” …

“I was unhappy to get this plan at the 11th hour and 59th minute, but it’s not my job or the U.S. government’s job to be in the business of local land use,” Mugdan said.

This corruption is sickening – for US EPA and the Murphy DEP to go along with it adds insult to injury.

Pompton Lakes – Dupont

I’ve called the Pompton Lakes Council the most corrupt local government in NJ.

Their recent decision to rezone the Dupont toxic waste site is further evidence of that.

The Bergen Record exposed the corruption, see:

POMPTON LAKES — Zoning changes up for Borough Council approval Wednesday night would remove residential use from the list of future options for the polluted DuPont tract, raising concerns that the site may not be cleaned to stricter standards. …

But some former and current residents say that rezoning the property would allow Chemours to perform a less comprehensive cleanup.

“It’s basically saying that the property is not going to get a full cleanup,” said Helen Martens, who has lived for four decades in the neighborhood south of the plant where DuPont solvents have contaminated groundwater and vaporized into some homes. “We’re going to have to continue to live in fear that this pollution will still be up there.”

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s standards for soil cleanups are much stricter for residential development. 

For instance, cleanup standards for soil contaminated with the solvent PCE is more than 35 times as stringent if property is zoned for residential use rather than commercial. The standards for TCE and mercury are three times more stringent, and the standard for lead is two times more stringent. All of these contaminants have been found at the former DuPont campus, nestled in a valley alongside Acid Brook on the north end of town.

These abuses by corrupt local governments are happening across the state, as towns rezone land to reduce cleanup costs and put the health of their residents and local environments at risk.

These abuses must stop, which will require a change in law.

But, the NJ Legislature is beholden to protecting the polluters and promoting real estate development, not protecting the people and environment.

And the NJ ENGO’s are either AWOL or missing the target.

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