U.S. Fish & Wildlife Seeks Damages vs Dupont at Pompton Lakes
Mercury Contamination of Jersey Water and Wildlife Will Last after EPA Cleanup
Trenton — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is seeking monetary natural resource injury claims against DuPont for widespread mercury contamination that will remain long after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes its long-delayed and much criticized cleanup at Pompton Lakes, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Service has concluded that the EPA cleanup plan now being considered will leave natural resources surrounding the former E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Company ammunition plant significantly impaired for which public compensation is owed.
Pompton Lakes is already one of the longest toxic removal operations in U.S. history. After literally decades of dithering by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), EPA finally ramped up oversight of the cleanup four years ago but thus far has done little better. The latest setback was this past April when EPA withdrew its RCRA cleanup permit for dredging mercury from Pompton Lake. It has proposed a new permit now undergoing public review.
In 2012, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service severely criticized EPA’s initial plan for its scientifically flawed ecological assessment and for failing to address the fact that “significant levels of contamination will remain” from “mercury, which in certain forms is highly toxic and biomagnifies via the food web” flowing downstream from the old factory site. In comments filed on November 10, 2014, the Service repeats many of those earlier criticisms.
In addition, the Service disclosed it is pursuing monetary damages against DuPont under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment authority under Superfund. In its “Preassessment Screen Determination” for the Pompton Lakes site dated October 13, 2013, the Service declares:
“DOI [Department of Interior, the Service’s parent agency] does not expect that the remedial measures carried out to date, or those planned for the future, will fully address the various sources and pathways of exposure to hazardous substances…or the past, present and future injuries resulting from such exposure. Therefore, DOI has determined that the response actions carried out or currently planned do not or will not sufficiently remedy the injury to the natural resources of Pompton Lake and the Ramapo, Pompton and Passaic Rivers.”
The Service is also confident about its prospects of collecting:
“DOI has further determined that there is a reasonable probability of making a successful claim… Therefore, DOI concludes that an assessment of natural resource damages is justified.”
“While we are pleased that the Fish & Wildlife Service will exact compensation for environmental damages, the long-suffering people of Pompton Lakes will still be living in a contaminated environment,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a longtime former DEP analyst who had pressed for the Service review. “EPA has disserved the people of Pompton Lakes who deserve a complete cleanup of the Lake and downriver contamination.”
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