Trenton — Just weeks after a scathingly critical Inspector General report, federal intervention has ended more than twenty years of foot dragging by the State of New Jersey in addressing a long-festering toxic site in Ocean County, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A proposed clean-up plan for the Brick Township Landfill is ready for public comment little more than two months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took site control away from its state counterpart.
At Brick Township, as at many other toxic hotspots, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has dithered for years without effective action. In June 2008, the EPA Office of Inspector General issued a stinging report finding that the New Jersey program for cleaning up old toxic sites has broken down and urged immediate federal intervention, which occurred soon thereafter.
The Inspector General (IG) report focused on seven of 38 state-managed clean-up operations that have been going on for more than 20 years without completion. EPA has already proposed clean-up plans for two of the seven (Evor Phillips Leasing Company, Old Bridge Township, Middlesex County is the other).
The EPA plan for cleaning up the Brick Township Landfill, where groundwater contamination has spread ten-fold from the original 40 acre site to cover more than 400 acres, exposes major flaws in the state approach as illustrated by its –
- Response to IG Report. EPA acknowledged and responded to the management flaws identified in the IG Report. As a result, EPA assumed lead jurisdiction at the Brick site after 20 years of delay by the state, and has proposed a cleanup plan for public comment. In contrast, DEP rejected the IG Report and has failed to fix the state's broken site remediation program;
- Deed Restrictions. EPA will deed restrict the site to ban residential construction. By contrast, New Jersey DEP has no such policy. In fact, DEP is actually encouraging construction of homes on old toxic landfills, most notably the infamous EnCap project. In Camden, for example, DEP is allowing construction of an “early childhood development center” on an old landfill; and
- Public Involvement. Under the federal Superfund law, public hearings are mandated. In this case, the public can view and comment upon a “feasibility study/alternatives analysis” in which tradeoffs are laid out. Under state cleanup laws, there are no public hearings nor is there an effort to inform the public about alternatives and tradeoffs, let alone invite public comment on them.
“EPA has put our state program to shame,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “One thing proven by EPA is that involving the public improves the quality of clean-ups.”
A key point of controversy, however, is failure of EPA’s plan to include a clean-up of groundwater. In this respect, the federal approach is similar to the state’s, in that approximately 90% of DEP-supervised sites with groundwater pollution are not cleaned up by active pump-and-treat systems, but simply monitored, as EPA proposes at Brick Township.
“Failure to clean up groundwater essentially condemns the land in perpetuity because the water will stay forever poisoned,” Wolfe added, noting that Brick Township has agreed to pay clean-up costs, instead of pursuing multiple contributions from all industrial and commercial polluters who used the landfill. “It is certainly cheaper to simply cap the site but risks to public health and the environment remain.”
The Brick Township Landfill public hearing is this Wednesday, September 10, starting at 7:00 pm in the Brick Township Civic Plaza, 270 Chambers Bridge Road.
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