Trenton — A growing public health emergency at New Jersey’s Pompton Lakes requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in far more aggressively than it has, according to a letter sent today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In 2010, EPA promised to provide more oversight for a long-stalled state-run clean-up of a profoundly polluted old E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Company ammunition plant but authorities still do not have a handle on worsening problems.
Hazardous materials are migrating off the 600-acre DuPont site. Volatile organic compounds from uncontrolled contaminated groundwater are migrating into at least 450 homes, exposing residents to imminent and substantial health hazards. Yet, almost three years after the vapor intrusion peril was supposedly first discovered, less than half of the homes have adequate vapor mitigation systems installed.
In a letter to EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, PEER urges the federal agency to invoke powers it has under national toxic clean-up laws to fully map pollution threats and to undertake speedy public health protections leading to a full clean-up. The PEER letter characterizes the 2010 EPA pledge to increase its involvement as welcome but “not nearly sufficient.”
“After more than 20 years, Pompton Lakes deserves more than additional half-way measures,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former analyst with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), pointing out that the affected community has been cut out of official decision-making. “EPA has residual powers that it is not using – as if EPA is keeping both an arm and a leg tied behind its back.”
Tomorrow, April 12th, EPA will hold public information sessions on the Pompton Lake clean-up from 3-5 PM and from 7-9 PM in the Carnevale Center located at 10 Lenox Avenue, Pompton Lakes, to explain its decision not to list the site on the federal Superfund Priority List.
To buttress his arguments, Wolfe points to a report by the EPA Office of Inspector General that warned as long ago as 1998 against the agency deferring for too long to ineffective state voluntary clean-ups. In addition, EPA’s own guidance for enforcing a key anti-toxic law prescribes the steps PEER advocates.
The long-stalled clean-up of the Pompton Lakes site has stemmed from a state DEP that depended on voluntary compliance by DuPont, a process that has stretched out for years with little success. At the same time, the state has been weakening its own clean-up standards – a trend culminating in the Christie administration moratorium on regulations that halted even limited vapor intrusion safeguards.
“The only thing that is clear is that the state DEP is no longer a reliable partner which is precisely why a complete federal intervention is the only hope for the families of Pompton Lakes,” Wolfe added. “What good are these toxic clean-up laws if they are never enforced to bring about actual toxic clean-ups?”
Read the PEER letter urging stronger federal action at Pompton Lakes
Look at the limited EPA intervention at Pompton Lakes
See EPA fact-sheet on Pompton Lakes
View the EPA Inspector General warning against EPA deferral to state voluntary clean-ups
Examine EPA clean-up guidance that should be applied to Pompton Lakes
Note Christie move to jettison New Jersey vapor intrusion safeguards
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