The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

New Jersey Closing Its Nose to Vapor Intrusion Crisis

Vapor Intrusion Rules Cast into Regulatory Limbo as Horror Stories Multiply


Rules seeking to accelerate indoor air sampling and provide more
rapid response to toxic vapors seeping into homes, day-care centers and
other buildings were recently set aside by New Jersey authorities and
the new administration of Governor Chris Christie has pledged to kill
them altogether, according to Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). This regulatory gap occurs as new evidence shows
even more widespread contamination of groundwater and soil than
previously thought and as the state moves to pick of the pace of
"brownfields" redevelopment of contaminated sites.

Toxic vapor
intrusion occurs as contaminants in soil or groundwater emit vapors
that enter structures, typically through basements, sickening
residents. As widely reported, volatile organic chemical vapors from a
century-old DuPont factory have endangered over 450 homes and thousands
of residents in Pompton Lakes. Residents there were outraged to learn
that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and DuPont
took years to notify them of the problem and test the air in their

New Jersey is one of the nation's most contaminated
states yet it still has failed to restrict high-density construction
atop hundreds of underground toxic plumes. Under governors of both
parties, New Jersey has pushed for quick and cheap redevelopment by
merely capping contaminated plumes under old industrial sites, a
practice call "pave-and-wave." As a result, the state has been buffeted
by a steady stream of lurid eco-horror stories as the chemical fumes
ultimately surface.

The agency began to come to grips with the
indoor exposure danger and in 2005 adopted a "Vapor Intrusion Guidance"
document. That document was based on a "phased approach" - a laborious
but voluntary 10-stage process in which extensive groundwater and soil
sampling was required before indoor air was sampled. Huge loopholes in
that guidance were exposed by the Kiddie Kollege tragedy in 2006 where
60 toddlers were poisoned by mercury vapors in a day-care center
located in a contaminated former thermometer factory. It took DEP over
14 weeks to notify parents of the exposure.

Kiddie Kollege led
to changes in law and DEP vapor intrusion policy. In August 2009, DEP
adopted "Vapor Intrusion Guidance" revisions to speed up indoor air
sampling where "sensitive receptors" were involved (day-care centers,
schools, homes). Even this halting step has been reversed, however:

  • On November 17, 2009, DEP withdrew its August guidance on vapor
    intrusion, returning to the flawed phased approach which leads to the
    extensive delays seen in Pompton Lakes; and
  • The Christie
    administration Transition Report on DEP went even further, stating that
    vapor intrusion rules are not legally required under the Site
    Remediation and Reform Act and DEP should limit its rules only to cover
    "required elements." If implemented, this stance would essentially
    repeal official Vapor Intrusion Guidance.

"New Jersey
appears to be burying its head in contaminated sand," stated New Jersey
PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. "There are hundreds of
contaminated groundwater cases that may be poisoning indoor air in
Garden State homes, schools and day-care centers. To avoid years of
delay in sampling groundwater and soil, DEP must mandate more rapid
indoor air sampling and abandon the Christie Transition

See the November 2009 suspension of vapor intrusion guidance

View the Christie DEP Transition Plan (page 16 for vapor intrusion text)

Look at toxic vapor intrusions threats in New Jersey schools

Revisit the Kiddie Kollege day-care operation in an old mercury-laden thermometer factory

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.