Home > Uncategorized > “Tweaking” The Toxic Titanic

“Tweaking” The Toxic Titanic

Skids Greased for Rapid Passage of Further Privatization Of NJ’s Toxic Cleanup Laws

Literally no public debate or involvement in statewide cleanup program

DEP & Legislative Oversight Have Devolved To Gibberish And Sleaze

“Even the best program, after 10 years, may need some tweaks,’’ [Senate sponsor and Chairman] Smith said. ~~~ NJ Spotlight

Things are moving remarkably quickly. It is hard to believe, but proposed legislation about to be passed actually goes beyond the reality I described in this post 8 years ago:

Since my initial set up post on the current proposed legislation to further weaken NJ’s privatized site cleanup program, several developments have occurred:

1) I’ve listened to the Senate Committee hearing testimony (including the DEP’s);

2) the Assembly Committee released its version;

3) the Senate Committee scheduled a June 17 vote to release the bill, and

4) NJ Spotlight finally wrote a misleading story today about the issue (after their shameful set up propaganda piece on the day of the Senate hearing by Langan Engineering,  one of NJ’s worst “pay to play” engineering firms.

The Star Ledger editorial Board (on 1/2/11) called Langan’s practices “sleazy”:

Langan Engineering & Environmental gave $25,000. It received $2 million from state agencies last year, and a senior associate of the firm sits on the state’s Site Remediation Professional Licensing Board, which oversees cleanups of contaminated sites. … 

… a sleazy practice that puts both parties within winking distance of a bribe, and that it engenders widespread mistrust.-

The Langan “senior associate of the firm” referenced but not named in the SL editorial is George Berkowitz. He is a former DEP Assistant Commissioner who managed DEP’s cleanup program (revolving door) and was heavily involved shaping the legislation that privatized it. Langan has LSRP employees, is involved in and earns significant profits from many toxic site cleanups, and has an LSRP Board member as a manager at the firm  and therefore huge conflicts of interest. Langan had 9 professional employees named to the DEP Stakeholder group that literally wrote the DEP cleanup regulations. None of these key facts were even mentioned as caveats in the NJ Spotlight propaganda piece or subsequent coverage.

So, if that isn’t enough to turn your stomach and open your eyes, let me try to clarify a few key issues.

1. How many sites have been completely cleaned up?

NJ Spotlight uncritically reported DEP’s totally misleading claim:

In the last decade, the Site Remediation Reform Act, in bureaucratic jargon, has reduced the number of sites awaiting cleanup from more than 20,000 to about 13,500, according to Mark Pedersen, an assistant commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP’s testimony was gibberish.

DEP’s data is based on an absurd and self interested bureaucratic classification of sites that has no scientific basis.

DEP data and classification of sites (“complex”???) are designed to intentionally mislead the public, exaggerate the number of cleanups, and downplay the risks to public health and the environment.

First, DEP has no credible scientific basis to make any statement about the performance of the cleanup program because DEP has failed to implement or release to the public the “Remedial Priority System” (RPS) mandated by the Legislature over a decade ago. Without the RPS, DEP is literally flying blind and making shit up.

The legislature mandated that DEP adopt and implement the “Remedial Priority System” (RPS), which not only provides a valid, structured, risk based scientific basis for classifying and managing toxic sites, it also includes triggers for direct DEP oversight of high risk sites.

The Legislature also mandated that DEP publicly disclose a list of risk based sites in NJ.

The RPS originally was required by provisions of the Spill Act enacted over 30 years ago. More recently, the RPS agains was mandated by the 2009 Site Remediation Reform Act (“SRRA”, phonetically as in SURRENDER).

The legislature mandated that the RPS be adopted and implemented in DEP’s cleanup program by May, 7, 2010 (one year after enactment). DEP has flouted that legislative mandate for over 9 years.

Without a RPS, DEP is flying blind and has no scientific or factual basis to make any credible public statement.

Second, the DEP site classification scheme (“complex sites”???) and program “data” greatly exaggerate the number of cleanups by counting partial cleanups (for soil, not groundwater), and allows cleanups to be counted for a portion of the entire site. The so called “cleanup” data are not site wide for soil and groundwater and natural resources.

The proposed legislation would make this problem worse by re-defining “remediation” to include partial cleanup or a cleanup for a portion of a site. People who purchase land or finance and/or redevelop contaminated land can easily be misled by this chicanery in how DEP classifies site cleanups. AND recall that the Kiddie Kollege tragedy was partially caused by confusion about the actual contamination of the site.

The real question reporters, legislators and the public need to ask DEP is this:

How many sites have undergone site wide permanent remedies, for soil and groundwater and vapor intrusion- including restoration of or compensation for damaged natural resources – without engineering and institutional controls?

That is the gold standard and it is a vanishingly small number of sites.

Ironically, the NJ site remediation program generates an enormous amount of real data on toxic contamination of soil, groundwater and biota at thousands of sites across the state. This data is ignored, very difficult for the public to access, and distorted by DEP’s gibberish.

DEP is just shuffling numbers and misleading legislators and the public. This is unprofessional, disgraceful and intolerable.

2. Are public health and the environment being protected?

In contrast with every other NJ environmental regulatory program – clean air, clean water, land use, etc – DEP does not even track and publicly report on trends in soil, groundwater, ecological, or public health contamination and impacts of thousands of toxic sites across the state.

That is a remarkable abdication and the privatization of the program made the problem much worse.

Worse, current cleanup laws and DEP soil and groundwater standards and cleanup regulations have numerous huge loopholes that let polluters off the hook for costly and protective site cleanups:

  • highly contaminated toxic soils can be “capped” (engineering control) and left in place
  • groundwater pollution can be left in place under a “Classification Exemption Area” (CEA – “institutional control”) which waives the groundwater standards;
  • there are multiple “exit ramps” to avoid public health protective remediation of risks from  “vapor intrusion” into occupied buildings
  • there are no ecological based cleanup standards (merely screening levels under the technical control and discretion of private consultants), therefore natural resources damaged by toxic pollution are often not restored or fully compensated for.
  • there is no public involvement in cleanup decisions, which are made by polluters and therefore almost always sacrifice protections of public health and the environment to reduce the corporate polluters’ cleanup costs and liability.

Here’s are just some of the real questions legislators, reporters and the public need to ask DEP to provide data for include:

  • what are the known health effects of exposure to toxic contamination and are these exposures and health effects tracked by DEP and/or DOH?
  • what are the levels and trends of toxic chemicals found in soil, groundwater, wildlife, and people?
  • what are the levels and trends of toxic contaminants in air, water, sediments, food and drinking water?
  • what is the current science on cumulative and synergistic effects of multiple exposures to multiple toxic pollutants?
  • How – precisely, with actual field data – is the DEP toxic site cleanup program influencing all these trends?

Finally, I’ll close this post with a final key point, which NJ Spotlight buried in the final paragraph (emphasis mine)

Environmentalists believe the lack of a ranking system leads the market to determine what sites are cleaned up — the ones that can be profitably remediated the quickest — because developers do not want to get involved in complex and expensive cleanup sites.

Yes, the Legislature has mandated that the “market” is in control of our public and environmental health from the risks of toxic pollution.

The toxic site cleanup program has become a real estate redevelopment program.

And even DEP mangers have prostituted their professional reputations to the real estate market. For the dirty details, see:

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
You must be logged in to post a comment.