Washington, DC — New Jersey already has the most Superfund sites of any state but could have many more according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents obtained through a lawsuit by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). More than a score of sites in New Jersey pose risks equal to or greater than Superfund-listed sites, yet these uncontrolled sites were not added to the Superfund National Priority List for clean-up by EPA.
PEER sued EPA in late October under the federal Freedom of Information Act after the agency failed to turn over the Superfund Hazard Rankings for non-listed sites in New Jersey. The Hazard Ranking System (HRS) numerically scores risks to public health and the environment from exposure to contaminated groundwater, surface water, soil and air.
Sites that score above 28.5 points on the HRS qualify for Superfund NPL listing. Documents surrendered by EPA reveal 27 sites that score greater than 28.5, with scores ranging from 30 to 70 on the HRS scale. Passed-over sites include Pompton Lakes, Fair Lawn, Plainfield, Gloucester, Berlin and Union Township, stretching across 11 counties. Scores reflect releases of high levels of chlorinated solvents and other toxic chemicals to soil and groundwater with the following major impacts:
- Off-site pollution of residential and municipal drinking water;
- Seepage of toxic vapors into nearby residential buildings; and
- Contamination of adjacent wetlands, streams and lakes.
EPA’s decision to bypass these sites leaves the sites under state auspices but the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a history of prolonged but ineffective cleanups. After the EPA Inspector General looked at a 20-year history of state-supervised clean-ups, it concluded DEP had the worst track record in the country at toxic remediation and recommended federal takeover.
This list of passed-over toxic sites in New Jersey may grow substantially, however. PEER is still litigating to force EPA to disclose the HRS scored for other sites where its National Priority listing decision is still pending. Those decisions could more than double the list of highly toxic sites without federal intervention. New Jersey already leads the nation with most Superfund sites (144).
“EPA has yet to explain why it decided not to list sites that otherwise qualified for Superfund and why it deferred cleanup oversight to what its own Inspector General found was a failed cleanup program,” Wolfe added, pointing to the DuPont contamination of Pompton Lakes--which is still suffering from the worst vapor intrusion in the nation--as Exhibit A for immediate federal intervention. “The people of New Jersey have a right to know how these critical decisions are made and whether EPA or the Governor’s Office are delaying or derailing Superfund listing.”
See the HRS scores for Superfund-eligible bypassed sites
View current New Jersey Superfund sites
Look at the PEER lawsuit
Revisit the horror story of Pompton Lakes
Examine the pattern of languishing state clean-ups
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