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It Is Unconscionable To Cover Up Contaminated Drinking Water In Schools

Murphy DEP and NJ Spotlight Have Known For Months That At Least 18 Schools Have Unsafe Water

Allow me to preface this post with a relevant and brief personal anecdote.

Over 30 years ago, I was a member of the North Hanover Township school board. It was a K-6 district with 5 elementary schools, 4 of them on McGuire Air Force Base. The Air Force was represented on the Board Ex Officio by a full Colonel. The Air Force’s “military impact aid” paid for almost the entire school budget, giving North Hanover about the lowest property taxes in the State.

During the Executive Session of one Board meeting, the Superintendent distributed data showing very high levels of lead in several schools’ drinking water. This information had not been provided in the meeting Agenda and information packet Board members received a few days before the Board meetings. The Superintendent urged the Board to follow Executive Session rules and keep this information confidential until he could come up with some kind of remedial plan.

I immediately objected strenuously to both discussing this issue in executive session (the law limits issues that can be discussed) and for keeping it secret, but got no support from any Board members. But I did get an intimidating glare from the Air Force Colonel and was directed by the Superintendent to keep the information confidential in accordance with Executive Session requirements.

Regardless, as soon as we went back into public session, I immediately announced the problem to the public and later at the end of the meeting provided the data to the local PTA and teachers representatives.

To put it mildly, my Board colleagues and school administrators were pissed off.

It was not my intention to scare anyone. But I knew I was morally obligated to release this information that involved children’s health and by doing so, I would create sufficient public pressure to expedite a solution.

The parents and teachers were alarmed but very glad I gave them the information, which later led to closure and removal of the drinking water fountains and interim bottled water.

But the Air Force Colonel approached me after the meeting, got in my face, chest to chest, poked his index finger in my chest, and with a beet red face about to explode said: “We take care of our own – we don’t need your DEP telling us what to do.”

Fulfilling the saying “No good deed goes unpunished.” the next day, at 9 am I found a memo on my desk at DEP.

The memo was from the DEP Ethics Officer and it claimed I violated DEP ethics rules. It mandated that I read a statement publicly into the record at the next Board meeting to the effect that nothing I said represented DEP.

I’ve always wondered: How the hell could the Air Force get to the DEP Ethics Officer in less than 12 hours and force that memo to be written?

So much for DEP ethics, eh?

I guess that was all a prequel to the Kiddie College scandal 15 years later, see this remarkable NY Times story

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection knew in 1994 that a building that later housed a Gloucester County day care center was so dangerous that state inspectors were instructed to use respirators when entering the building, according to an internal memo obtained by The New York Times yesterday.

But the site remained contaminated, and as far as the department knew, unoccupied, until inspectors visited it in April and found that Kiddie Kollege, a day care center serving children as young as 8 months old, was operating in the building. Yet the center, which is in Franklin Township, was allowed to remain open for more than three months, until state environmental investigators determined in late July that the site was still contaminated. […]

The internal memo, dated Oct. 12, 1994, said “Level C at a minimum is required for entry into the building,” meaning respirators were required, said Bill Wolfe, a former department employee who is the director of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog group that provided a copy of the memo.

No one at DEP was ever held accountable for that – even by the DEP ethics officer. In fact, the manager involved at the time, Irene Kropp, later was promoted to Deputy Commissioner in the Christie DEP.

Which brings me to the topic of this post, because it looks like nothing has changed over my 30 years of violating DEP ethics rules.

Back on November 11, 2021, I disclosed DEP enforcement documents that showed that, among other things, at least 11 schools had unsafe levels of toxic chemicals PFAS, known as forever chemicals.

Those schools included the elementary (Bear Tavern) and middle schools (Timberlane) in Hopewell, NJ my own kids had attended and graduated from years ago, see:

The number of schools with unsafe water has increased to 18 since the 11 I listed in November.

The DEP, after covering up this data for several months, was forced to release this data. They finally did so yesterday – see the DEP list here.

Again, like DEP, after months, NJ Spotlight was forced to finally write the story today on Statewide drinking water contamination.

But they failed to report the contamination DEP disclosed in those 18 schools.

Even worse, the folks at NJ Spotlight tried to mask the school contamination issue by describing the DEP data a “list of utilities”

And that is unforgivable.

Just what does it take to get fired at DEP and NJ Spotlight?

[Update: According to the NJ AG’s PFAS lawsuit:

in 2014, PFNA was detected at 150 ppt in the public water system of Paulsboro, New Jersey, prompting the New Jersey Department of Health to recommend that residents use bottled water for infant formula and other drinking uses for children up to the age of one year.

What a long strange trip its been! (hit link and listen!)

[Update: Wow. Speaking of the Air Force, I wonder what the levels are at McGuire?

The worst PFAS contamination site is in Dover, in and around Dover Air Force Base, where hundreds of gallons of aqueous film-forming foam were used to prevent a devastating fire from spreading after a 735,000-pound C-5 military aircraft bound for Kuwait came crashing down in Delaware in 2006.

The Air Force has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to keep the contamination from spreading to neighbors’ drinking water sources. As of last year, five deep municipal wells on and near the base that provide drinking water have been found to be safe from contamination, officials said. Only six private wells out of dozens tested were found to be contaminated.

Air Force officials last year declined to provide the exact level of contamination found in the six private wells in Dover, but Joseph Kowalski, a remedial program manager at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, said they each had concentrations in the range of 3,000 ppt to 170,000 ppt – which would be 42 to 2,428 times the health advisory limit.

[End Note: Anyone who thinks I’m playing games should know that I tried to prevent this. I reached out to Dr. Keith Cooper, head of the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute and a professor at Rutgers, to urge him to talk to DEP, see:

From: Bill WOLFE <bill_wolfe@comcast.net>
Sent: Wednesday, November 10, 2021 5:27:21 PM
To: Keith Cooper <keith.cooper@rutgers.edu>
Subject: Q’s on PFOA/PFOS NONC data

Dr. Cooper – I don’t want to be a fear monger, but, having been through this drill before (Toms River childhood cancer, Kiddie Kollege Daycare, et al) I thought I reach out – I have no contacts at DEP, no one would listen to me there, and I’m actually trying to give them a heads up and chance to respond, before I have to do what I do.

Parents dealing with masks and vaccines, now they have to worry about drinking water in school? See where this could go?

Treatment on these noncompliant systems is like wearing a mask.

Can you reach out to DEP and get them focused on this?

Jon Hurdle at NJ Spotlight recently wrote a story, but he focused on just one water system. There are at least 20 more, several of which are schools, including where my kids went to elementary and middle school. That’s more than a brushfire.


Bill Wolfe

(see below email tom DEP, I BCC’d Jeff Hoffman)

Demanding that Gov. Corzine stop building schools on toxic waste sites, especially in Abbott poor and minor districts (2008, Trenton State House)

Demanding that Gov. Corzine stop building schools on toxic waste sites, especially in Abbott poor and minor districts (2008, Trenton State House)

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