The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

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

NJ Toxic Cleanup Priorities Miss Public Health Mark

Belated DEP Toxic Site Priority System Ignores Vapor Intrusion and Migration


New Jersey took its first step this week toward a long overdue system
for prioritizing the need to clean up thousands of toxic sites.
Unfortunately, the state ranking only looks at risk to drinking water
sources while overlooking human inhalation, ingestion and other
exposures as well as effects on wildlife and the environment, according
to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

single-track toxic priority system will allow serious public health
problems to fester, such as -

  • Subsurface vapor intrusion
    into homes and occupied buildings, as occurred at Pompton Lakes and at
    the DuPont site where 450 homes became uninhabitable by vapors from
    untreated groundwater;
  • Migration of chemicals through soils
    into building basements, as occurred when chromium poisoned hundreds of
    households in Garfield; and
  • Indoor exposures from conversion
    of industrial buildings, as occurred with the mercury contamination in
    Hoboken or inside Kiddie Kollege, the now infamous day-care center.

one lesson that we should have learned from decades of debacles in New
Jersey is that there is no quick-fix for toxic waste," stated New Jersey
PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that the state is also ignoring
exposure to workers, ecological impacts on fish and wildlife, cumulative
effect of multiple chemicals and "environmental justice" communities
already overburdened with pollution. "If your home is uninhabitable
because of toxic vapors what good does it do you that your well water is

The Legislature first ordered the Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP) to create a "Remedial Priority Scoring
(RPS)" system 28 years ago under 1982 amendments to New Jersey's toxic
clean-up law. In 2006, PEER revealed that DEP officials had
intentionally allowed its priority rating system "to expire," leaving
the state without any guide for deciding which sites were most in need
of remediation. Former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson then testified
that developing a priority system was her "first priority" but despite
her pledge no priority system emerged during her tenure.

RPS was again mandated as a core element of the 2009 Site Remediation
Reform Act. Under that law, the RPS serves as the basis for assuring
that DEP retains full oversight of the highest risk sites, while newly
created private "Licensed Site Professionals" handled the clean-up of
lower priority sites with little or no DEP oversight. Under SS39 of that
law, DEP is supposed to adopt an RPS that can measure and rank each
site's risk to human and ecological health, considering defined
receptors, by May 7, 2010.

"The concern is that privatized
site clean-up consultants will use this flawed RPS to evade DEP and
community oversight at sites where drinking water is not the primary
risk," Wolfe added, pointing out that by DEP's own admission, its RPS
failed to address other key human and ecological risks. "In New Jersey,
we have no excuse for taking a half-assed approach to addressing our
glaring legacy of toxic sites."

New Jersey's new toxic priority system

View growing
vapor intrusion problem

the PEER recommendations on how to fix the RPS system

at how toxic ranking had been abandoned

Revisit broken
pledges to fix toxic ratings

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.