Washington, DC — Days after revealing that it did not act on 27 Superfund-eligible sites in New Jersey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now admits that there are nine more such sites, according to agency records surrendered in a lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). EPA is still considering Superfund listing for one site in Essex County but has decided not to list the other eight.
This brings to 36 the total number of sites with contamination risks greater than the Superfund threshold where EPA has failed to act. New Jersey already leads the nation with most active Superfund sites (114) but this record number could have been raised by nearly a third if all eligible sites had been listed.
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 National Priority List (NPL) listing. The latest documents surrendered by EPA reveal nine sites that score greater than 28.5, with scores ranging from 35.78 to 57.14 on the HRS scale.
One site, Selecto Flash Inc. in West Orange (Essex Co.), is still pending EPA decision as to whether to list it on NPL, according to a Department of Justice email to PEER sent on behalf of EPA. Unlike the other eight sites, however, the Selecto Flash site is not even found on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “Known Contaminated Site List” (7/11 version).
“Due to EPA’s misguided ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ posture, communities in our state are kept in the dark about serious contamination risks right next door,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, whose unanswered requests to EPA triggered the suit. “Nor do we know precisely why EPA acted on some sites and ignored others with similar contamination rankings.”
Passed-over sites cover five counties and include places such as Berliss Bearing in Essex County and Bridgeton City Landfill in Cumberland County. EPA’s decision to bypass these sites leaves them under state auspices but the DEP has a history of prolonged but ineffective cleanups. Last month, for example, EPA was forced to set aside a dangerously incomplete DEP-approved cleanup plan for Pompton Lakes.
“A number of these highly contaminated sites may be languishing in limbo, trapped in a dysfunctional DEP cleanup program,” added Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “With DEP, sites fall through the cracks with little public involvement and even less transparency in cleanup decisions – all of which will only get worse as New Jersey implements its new privatized cleanup program.”
See the HRS scores for the 9 other Superfund-eligible bypassed sites
View confirmation of Superfund status still pending for one site
Look at previous list of 27 bypassed NJ toxic sites
Examine New Jersey mishandling of one of these sites – Pompton Lakes
Read opaque EPA statement on why it bypassed highly contaminated sites
Revisit lapses in New Jersey privatized toxic cleanup program
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