The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Toxic New Jersey Elementary School Finally Wins Relief

Vapor Intrusion Controls May End Three-Year Ordeal at Atlantic Highlands


The students, staff and parents of a New Jersey elementary school
suffering from an underground plume of toxic chemicals finally may be
getting some help, according to documents released today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A state-approved
vapor intrusion plan will be in place next month at Atlantic Highlands
Elementary School in Monmouth County on the northern New Jersey shore.

For more than three years, children and teachers have been
exposed to unsafe indoor toxic air pollutants that exceed state vapor
intrusion levels. In announcements this week, the New Jersey Department
of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that it will oversee
installation of a "sub-slab vapor mitigation system" to reduce chemical
exposures within school facilities.

"While this is good news, it is long past due because the state DEP
again has fallen down on the job," stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill
Wolfe, a former DEP analyst, who had been prodding the state to address
the long-standing problem. "Even this new remedial action is the result
of a voluntary negotiated settlement and not a state enforcement

A plume had migrated under the school building from an abandoned
industrial site across the street that is the suspected source of the
problem. Groundwater and soil have become contaminated with the toxic
chemicals Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Tetrachloroethylene (PCE).
Despite indoor air readings far above safety levels, cumulative risks
to children have not been quantified nor were protective measures

For several months, an organized group of parents has worked quietly
with the DEP case manager and local schools officials and was led to
believe that a sub-slab depressurization system would be installed
before the start of this school year. Under the arrangement just
unveiled, portions of the school will have to be closed to install
vapor controls.

"As recently as last week, DEP denied it even had jurisdiction. Only
the threat of publicity sparked this action," Wolfe added. "The state
needs clear rules so that this sort of buck-passing cannot recur."

PEER points to areas of ambiguity that the state has not clarified,
including whether the "Kiddie Kollege" law (enacted after a
mercury-laden day-care scandal) applies to existing schools whose land
becomes contaminated or only to new schools located on land that is
contaminated. In addition, to avoid delays and needless exposure of
children, DEP should issue an enforcement Spill Act Directive to the
Responsible Party with a compliance schedule and stipulated penalties
in cases such as Atlantic Highlands.

"This case shows that all of the rhetoric about children being the
top enforcement priority is just so much hot air," Wolfe concluded.
"Health protections should have been put into play at the first sign of


Read the DEP announcement about measures at Atlantic Heights Elementary

See the PEER letter to DEP

Trace the three-year history of the Atlantic Highlands struggle

Look at recent problems with toxic schools in New Jersey

Revisit the Kiddie Kollege day-care scandal

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a
national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals
working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.