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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?

Categories: Family & kids, Hot topics, Policy watch Tags:

Are There Any Grownups in the Room?

November 10th, 2012 3 comments

Gov. Christie Drunk On Springsteen and Snooki

 Time to Form A Coastal Commission To Plan For A Climate Changed Shore

“This is too important a place in the fabric of New Jersey’s culture to not rebuild it. I’ve never had any doubt in my mind that we’re going to rebuild it,” Christie said. “I do not intend to be the governor who presides over the idea that this is going to be gone. I refuse to accept that.” (Asbury Park Press 11/10/12)

 

[Update: 2/25/13 - We told you so! Asbury Park Press reports today:

Seaside Heights plans seawall with MTV funds

SEASIDE HEIGHTS — Snooki, Pauly D and the rest of the cast of “Jersey Shore” drew crowds and controversy over four summers in the borough, but their final act could leave the greatest impression.

The cast of the MTV hit reality show helped raise $1 million during a benefit broadcast in November.

Now, Seaside Heights officials want to use that money for a seawall that could protect the boardwalk where the gang partied and played until summer 2012, shortly before superstorm Sandy crashed into the real Jersey Shore.

We also told the Gov. that sea walls don’t work - end update]

And the Star Ledger called that a “sobering message“. Sober? The Governor is drunk on nostalgia.

Nostalgia will get you nowhere (“… that waitress I was seeing lost her desire for me...”)

There’s a time and a place for cheerleading and inspiration and all the Springsteen and Snooki Jersey Shore Photo-Op cultural bullshit.

But now, when expectations for a global warming driven future of the shore are forming, it’s time to Get Real.

So, are there any adults in the room? It’s way past the Good Governor’s bedtime.

Perhaps the legislature might want to stand up and be counted?

Because King Christie, enrthralled by his boyhood rapture, is taking some unilateral and significant steps right now – Star Ledger tells us :

Calling Sandy “our Katrina,” Christie said he would work to ensure New Jersey receives the same attention and federal support given to states along the Gulf Coast after the 2005 hurricane there. He said he planned to meet with his cabinet in the days ahead to map out a long-term strategy.

Do Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Oliver think that the Legislative branch and the people of the state have a seat at the table in developing  a “long term strategy” for the shore?

Or are they going to sit back and defer to Christie’s Cabinet meetings?

The Asbury Park Press makes very clear the emotions and vision driving the Governor:

There are certain iconic places that those of us who have lived here all our lives just know about and take for granted,” he said. “You look in here and you see the damage that’s done inside there. Does Madame Marie’s come back, or doesn’t it? And if it doesn’t, then it does affect the culture of the state. It’s a different thing. It affects our history and the way we look at ourselves. That’s why this rebuilding phase is going to have to be done really carefully and smartly and not in a rushed way.”

Do public policymakers and the people of the State think that science and responsible land use planning should play a role in shaping the future of the shore? Or how, as the Governor says, “we look at ourselves”?

Perhaps the Governor and Legislators and the public should ask DEP Commissioner Martin a few questions and read stuff like this, from DEP’s own “Coastal Community Vulnerability Assessment Protocol

The scientific community has arrived at a strong consensus that global climate change is occurring and resulting in changes to shoreline dynamics1. Climate change threatens to accelerate sea level rise and increase the frequency and intensity of coastal storms. As a result, citizens, development, and ecosystems will become more vulnerable to the impacts of coastal hazards, making it imperative to identify areas where special needs communities, vital public facilities and roads, and sensitive natural resources overlap areas of potential inundation. These issues need to be considered as New Jersey’s coastal communities plan to become more resilient.

Now is the time to discuss strategic retreat from high hazard coastal areas, develop a plan for adaptation to climate change, and get serious about accelerating an emergency transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Perhaps the best way to do that is via a Coastal Commission (a Highlands or Pinelands for the shore) to finally realize the vision of the 1973 CAFRA statute, which called for a “comprehensive environmental design strategy” for the coast.

Madam Marie’s and the Silverball Museum Arcade may be at the top of Governor Christie’s Agenda, but – borrowing from Patti Smithnot mine.

I prefer something along these lines.

[Update – I don’t want this important point by my friend Bill Neil to get lost in the comment section:

But this is not happening in an ideological and political vacuum: the Governor of NJ at the moment is a fan, big time of austerity and cutting the entitlements he doesn’t like.  So how do you pull that off – increasing entitlements at the riskiest of places – while going after Social Security and Medicaid – and you can fill in his NJ state favorites for me.

[Update #2: 11/11/12 – Let’s not forget this classic QOTD:

“I’m not afraid to listen to Bill Wolfe when he has a good idea,” [Senator] Smith said. Wolfe says he would like the Legislature to take a stronger stance with a bill to require action by the DEP. ~~~  Kirk Moore of thAsbury Park Press story on 9/27/10

FYI to readers: I initiated and wrote the bill that created the non-regulatory Coastal & Ocean Protection Council (since abandoned by Christie under Executive Order #40) and staffed Governor McGreevey’s Highlands Task Force and wrote the DEP and environmental provisions of the Highlands Act (both with Senator Smith, the prime sponsor).

This is What A Real and Caring Response Looks Like

November 6th, 2012 No comments

WPA workers respond to 1938 hurricane (watch "Shock Troops of Disaster")

The Hope and Spirit of the New Deal Embodied in the Occupy Movement

[Update: 11/9/12 - for those looking to help out, see this for good contact info:  Support Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts in NYC, NJ - end]

Yesterday, I came across a wonderful documentary on the New Deal agency the Work Projects Administration’s (WPA) response to a massive 1938 hurricane that devastated the New England coast.

It is an inspiring piece of propaganda.

The parallels and contrasts to Sandy are erie and disturbing – watch “Shock Troops of Disaster

After that inspiration, later, I was astounded and disgusted by the contrast between the 1938 WPA effort and the current response in NY City.

Compare that WPA effort to the “response” in NY City – watch this superb report from Democracy Now! on the Far Rockaways.

Watch at time 15 minutes, where they show the National Guard food distribution center – compare the hard working WPA workers with those National Guard troops and cops standing around doing nothing.

Compare how the well organized, compassionate and energetic WPA response treated people with dignity and respect, while the chaotic National Guard and NY City cops treat people worse than animals in a cage, spending hours in line for a bottle of water.

But don’t despair – the spirit and human decency so evident in the WPA response is alive!

Watch another superb segment on the Occupy Wall Street Movement’s active relief effort Occupy Sandy Relief at a hub called “Veggie Island”.

Watch how the Occupy people care, how they organize, and how they work.

How they treat people with dignity and respect.

Occupy is basically our only hope.

WPA worker combs young boy's hair - National Guard and Cops could give a shit.

Categories: Family & kids, Hot topics Tags:

25th Anniversary of Pequest Trout Hatchery Tainted by Waiver Rule

March 31st, 2012 No comments

Healthy Trout Waters Threatened By DEP Regulatory Rollbacks

Pequest trout stocking - D&R Canal at Bulls Island

Pequest trout stocking – D&R Canal at Bulls Island

DEP issued another self serving press release to celebrate this weekend’s hosting of the Pequest’s  25th TROUT HATCHERY FREE OPEN HOUSE.

Listen to the typical overt politicization of DEP, the spin, and the hypocrisy of the message from DEP Commissioner Bob Martin:

“Opening day of the trout season is a revered spring tradition for families and outdoor enthusiasts alike,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “The Christie Administration understands and appreciates this tradition for thousands of New Jersey residents and visitors, as well as the need to protect the waters that support these prized fish.”

Bob Martin and the Christie Administration may appreciate the tradition, but they are doing nothing to preserve that tradition and instead are seriously jeopardizing that tradition by rolling back water quality and land use regulations designed to protect trout.

NJ’s trout streams receive special protections under a host of DEP regulatory programs.

lockwood

Additionally, many trout streams are located in the NJ Highlands region and are protected by the Highlands Master Plan, which is under attack by the Christie Administration and the Governor’s appointed minions on the Highlands Council.

But for today, instead of laying out the comprehensive nature of the threat, I’d like to focus on the most pressing threat to the health of trout waters, the DEP waiver rule.

Under the DEP waiver rule, the DEP Commissioner is granted extraordinary power to waive virtually any regulatory protection deemed by a permittee to be “unduly burdensome” or to conflict with other regulations. Additionally, permittees are given an opportunity to seek a waiver from any regulation if they can demonstrate that they can provide a “net environmental benefit”.

There are no technical definitions or scientific methods to apply “undue burden” or “net environmental benefit”.

Therefore, waiver decisions will be made on an ad hoc case-by-case basis, which means that they will not be governed by any consistent and scientifically based methodologies, criteria, standards, Guidance document, Technical Manual, or overall policy.

The vague nature and ad hoc practice of issuing waivers in the absence of science based methods invites abuse, increases uncertainty in permit decisions, reduces predictability and transparency, and will increase permit delays and backlogs.

Each DEP program and individual staffer writing permits will have their own perspective on how to waive requirements. Chaos will ensue as permit applicants forum shop.

Waiver reviews divert scarce DEP staff resources from the Agency’s core mission and undermine the public confidence in the integrity of the Department.

So, in addition to these severe management and policy problems, given the Pequest Trout Hatchery Open House celebration, we thought we’d provide a few illustrations of exactly how the DEP waiver rule would harm NJ’s sensitive high quality trout waters (wonks can hit the links below to read the rules).

I)  Wetlands Buffers

Trout are a sensitive species that requires clean and cold water to survive.

Freshwater wetlands that drain to designated trout streams are classified as “exceptional value wetlands” and given 150 foot wide buffers. Those buffers filter water pollutants from the trout streams and provide vegetation that shades the stream and helps keep water temperatures down.

Under the waiver rule, a builder or other construction project could be provided relief from the buffers, allowing development to destroy those protective buffers.

II)  Category 1 Stream 300 foot-wide Buffers

Streams that are able to sustain naturally reproducing trout are defined as “Trout Production” (TP) waters. TP steams are classified under DEP Surface Water Quality Standards as “Category One waters” (C1). C1 waters are afforded 300 foot wide stream buffers (on each side of the stream) as BMP’s under the storm water management and stream encroachment regulations.

These buffers limit development and are strongly opposed by land owners and builders.

Under the DEP waiver rule, builders will receive waivers from the 300 foot C1 buffers.

III)  Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMP’s)

Stormwater from rainfall running off developed impervious surfaces carries pollutants to nearby streams and causes erosion. The resulting sediment and pollutant loads destroy trout streams.

DEP stormwater regulations require and encourage various stormwater BMPs, most importantly to recharge water on the site, protect water quality, and avoid or minimize erosion. By recharging storm water into the ground, nearby stream benefit as groundwater provides “base flow” during the hot summer and periods of low rainfall.

BMP’s cost money and can reduce development. Builders view them as “unduly burdensome” and they will seek and be issued waivers from DEP stormwater requirements and BMP’s.  Trout will suffer.

IV)  Stream Studies

Many development projects and other so called “point sources” (pollution discharge via pipe, sewage treatment or industrial sources, etc) are required by DEP to conduct stream studies to assess the impacts of their projects and mitigate impacts.

These studies cost money are are considered “unduly burdensome”. They will be waived and water quality will decline and trout will suffer.

V)  Water Quality Monitoring

DEP requires that many polluters monitor their pollution (compliance monitoring) and/or the ambient water quality nearby. This information is vital to setting protective permit conditions and enforcing them.

But monitoring costs money and is considered “unduly burdensome”. Waive it goodbye.

VI)  Increases on Wastewater Flows or Pollutant Loads

DEP policy is to prevent degradation of high quality waters. The presence of high quality trout waters results in limits on the total capacity (wastewater flows and pollutant loads) that may be allocated to regional sewage treatment plants.

In turn, these limits on capacity restrict the amount of development that may occur in the watershed.

As such, the local sewer authorities view them as”unduly burdensome” limits on their operating revenues and the builders view them as limits of development.

A good example is the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority plant which discharges to the Walkill river near the National Wildlife Refuge. The capacity of the plant is limited, which limits development in this environmentally sensitive watershed.

Kiss those limits goodbye – they unduly burden development.

VII)  Water Releases to Maintain Minimum Stream Flows and Temperatures

Trout require cold flowing streams. Some of these stream are protected by DEP set minimum stream flow and temperature requirements. DEP requires some permittees to release water to meet these minimum flow or temperatures to protect trout.

Releases from the Newark reservoirs to the Pequannock River are a good example – but this costs money and is viewed as unduly burdensome. Waive those protections goodbye.

VIII)  Water Allocation Permits

DEP issues permits to pump groundwater or divert streams or rivers for water supply.

One of the factors DEP considers in deciding how much water that can be diverted to water supply  in an environmentally sound way is impacts on the flows of streams. Trout streams are given special consideration.

Water allocation permit applicants are required to conduct costly studies to assess these kinds of impacts.

Builders, landowners, business and economic development interests view DEP studies and permit conditions as limits on available water as undue burdens on economic growth and development.

Permit conditions and studies DEP require permittees to conduct support needed revisions of:

IX) Septic System Permits

DEP issues permits to developments of over 50 units the rely on septic systems.

Nearby trout streams are given buffers and other protections that limit the location, design, and size of the septic system, and thereby limit development potential.

Landowners and developers see the costly DEP mandated studies and permit restrictions as “unduly burdensome” limits on development. Bye-bye.

X)  Watershed Studies – Water Quality Management Planning

DEP water quality management planing rules – which dictate where sewers are located and how much wastewater treatment capacity is assigned to a regional sewage treatment plant – dramatically impact land use and economic development.

The WQMP rules require numerous planning, mapping, and scientific studies related to land use and water quality. These studies cost money and the rules limit development.

Builders, landowners, public authorities, and county governments view these rules as excessively prescriptive and unduly burdensome.

Gone.

XI) DEP Highlands Regulations

DEP Highlands regulations set forth comprehencie requirements to protect critcial Highlands waters and natural resources, including a restrictive 88 acre minimum lot size (septic density) in the preservation area.

These regulatory restrictions are strongly opposed by land owners and builders as “unduly burdensome”.

Trout streams benefit from these protections. All of them can be waived.

XII)  Net Environmental Benefit Abuse

Given the mitigation, land swaps, and pollutant trading schemes that are already approved by DEP, I can’t even begin to imagine the kinds of abuse that this will invite.

Incommensurables – apples – oranges – grapes – the sky is the limit.

Land for water – water for wildlife – air quality, energy, recycling and a multitude of other “good deeds” will be used to relax various regulatory requirements.

Just use your imagination- and then ask Bob Martin: Let’s Make a Deal!

(Or Call Lt. Gov. Guadagno and ask for a little “customer service“!)

(Or, you could always talk to Cindy or Dave – they have friends in High Places:

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Categories: Family & kids, Hot topics, Law & order Tags:

Bulls Island Update

March 28th, 2012 5 comments
Bulls Island - erosion controls along 100 feet of 450 foot fill (3/28/12)

Bulls Island – erosion controls along 100 feet of 450 foot fill (3/28/12)

There has been lots of activity since we last posted on 3/25, so a quick update on Bulls Island is in order. I’ll do the photos first and the regulatory stuff second.

First some good news – I visited the site again today and noted that all the tires and most (but not all) of the debris had been removed from the riverfront fill and that a 100 foot sediment control fence was installed (see above photo).

Now the bad news: for some reason the fence was only installed along 100 feet of the 450 foot long riverfront fill.

Worse, it looks like DEP plans to leave the debris & fill in place and not even try to restore the natural vegetation that was destroyed.

That is not acceptable and I will seek removal and restoration during the enforcement process.

Compared with the natural riverfront condition, the vegetative clearing and small landfill that has been created along the river is a disgrace (compare these two photos):

debris fill, bulldozed vegetation, and erosion controls

debris fill, bulldozed vegetation, and erosion controls

this is the natural condition, just 300 feet downriver

this is the natural condition, just 100 feet downriver.

A quick regulatory update.

First, here’s what I’ve gathered actually happened:

The NJ Water Supply Authority was conducting what they felt was routine maintenance dredging under a USACE permit and a DEP wetlands General Permit. On 3/21, I witnessed them filling a dump truck with dredge material for offsite disposal.

A state parks employee told me that NJWSA bulldozed debris and fill along the river at their request as a courtesy.

A NJWSA rep told me that 98% of the riverfront debris and fill was NOT from the Canal dredge operation. This is important because both the USACE and DEP permits restrict storage and disposal of dredge material and debris. Both permits do not allow riverfront disposal.

NJWSA says they have an agreement with DEP on the the wetlands permit which seasonally restrict dredging to protect trout. NJWSA says that seasonal trout restriction and any soil erosion management practices are not necessary.

The DEP wetlands permit also requires fences and seasonal restriction to protect wood turtle. NJWSA did not comment on that.

The regulatory agencies with jurisdiction/activity are:

1) US Army Corps of Engineers (D&R Canal dredge); 2) NJ DEP (wetlands permit for canal dredge and unp-ermitted activity along riverfront); 3) D&R Canal Commission (canal dredge and riverfront fill and disturbance: 4) Hunterdon County Soil Conservation Service (canal dredge and riverfront disturbance); and 5) Delaware River Basin Commission (not sure exactly what their role is).

Canal Dredge – US Army Corps of Engineers Dredge Permit

The USACE permit has a number of conditions that appear to have been violated. I sent a detailed letter to the USACE requesting compliance inspection for their permit. Let me know if you’d like a copy.

Canal Dredge – DEP Wetlands General Permit

The DEP permit had a number of conditions that appear to have been violated. Most significant include: 1) fencing and seasonal restrictions to protect wood turtle;  2) seasonal restrictions to protect downriver trout stocking; and 3) compliance with soil erosion and sediment control plan requirements.

I requested DEP enforcement inspection but not been more specific.

DEP land use enforcement advised me that DEP inspected the site on 3/13 and remarkably found no violations. I have no idea what they were looking at.

After I submitted photographs documenting violations, they agreed to reinspect the site and meet with the NJWSA and Park Supervisior. I don’t yet have documents on what occured.

Riverfront bulldozing , destruction of riparian soils & vegetation, and storage and/or disposal of debris and fill

DEP staff conducted a permit database search and told me the there were no permits issued for this activity.

What was done there appears to be a flagrant violation of DEP flood hazard control act regulatory requirements and local SCS soil erosion and sediments controls (the area was 450 feet by 30-100 feet, far greater than the 5,000 square foot threshold for permits).

I referred this for enforcement to USACE, DEP, Hunterdon County SCS and D&R Canal Commission.

I haven’t heard anything back from those agencies yet. However, I do know that DEP, D&R Canal Commission, and Hunterdon Co, SCS all conducted inspections.

Tree Health Assessment and Tree Removal Plans

This is the most important issue.

I filed an OPRA request for these documents. Today, DEP requested an extension until April 5.

In other matters, I am aware that Delare Riverkeeper filed a DEP Hotline complaint and is involved.

I’ve provided info to NJ Audubon and requested their support, particularly on the bird habitat issues related to any planned tree removal. They seem interested and supportive.

I spoke with editor of the Hunterdon County Democrat – they should be doing a followup story.

The DEP Press Office (Larry Rangonese) is unrepentant and continues to attack me and question my motives.

We will keep you posted. More photos shot today below.

looking north: silt fence installed along only 100 feet of 450 foot long fill

looking north: silt fence installed along only 100 feet of 450 foot long fill

no erosion controls - heavy rain or rising river will wash this soil, fill, and debris right into the river

no erosion controls - heavy rain or rising river will wash this soil, fill, and debris right into the river

view from the new landfill - will DEP revegetate?

view from the new landfill - will DEP revegetate?

Categories: Family & kids, Hot topics, Law & order Tags: