The Superfund has tackled the most difficult pollution and provided solutions to very complex remediation projects throughout the United States. The first two installments of this series traced the history of this program, the types of contamination, the enforcement protocols, and the spill response mandate from Congress.
This portion of the series will be dedicated entirely to my home state, New Jersey, which has the highest number of Superfund sites in the United States. The complexities of some of the politics involved in the placement of sites on the Superfund list will also be examined.
The State of New Jersey has the most sites listed on the Superfund system for cleanup. This number can be attributed to the abundance of manufacturing, chemical engineering, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies located in New Jersey based on its central location between New York City and Philadelphia.
The other troubling statistic for New Jersey is that it is the most densely populated state in the country. Therefore, a spill or a hazardous pollution site has the potential to impact many more lives than in other, more remote areas of the United States.
In the N.P.L. section of the EPA website you can search the sites and filter them by state. Using that website feature, I was able to determine that New Jersey has 144 sites listed on the N.P.L. which is a staggering statistic (www.epa.gov).
In a recent report made available through the Freedom of Information Act (F.O.I.A.) the State of New Jersey could have 27 more sites which are toxic that could have qualified for the Superfund program and are not on the list.
The most notorious site which remains missing from the list in New Jersey for Superfund cleanup is the former DuPont site in Pompton Lakes. The EPA has confirmed that the company’s practices have contaminated the ground water, soil, sediment, and surface water at the site (www.nj.com).
The pollution present at the former DuPont site threatens an area containing approximately 400 homes, where reports of illness from families breathing in toxic vapors from the contaminated groundwater seeping into their basement have become increasingly problematic.
Governor Christie has maintained that the state Department of Environmental Protection (D.E.P.) will continue to work on the cleanup efforts at the site. The Governor has stated that many sites on the Superfund list sit for years without being adequately addressed (www.nj.com).
However, the head of the Sierra Club in New Jersey, Jeff Tittel, counters the Governor’s assessment by stating that the state program has been in charge of the site for years and nothing has been done to address the major issues there, that it is a prime candidate for Superfund remediation.
The EPA statement to the media when the inquiry was made about the Pompton Lakes site being overlooked for Superfund status intimated that the site was too small for inclusion in the program. The site is estimated to be anywhere from 540 to 570 acres in size; which has the environmental groups and residential groups in that area in an uproar (www.nj.com).
In the meantime, New Jersey has been awarded $160 million in federal funding via the stimulus package directed toward 8 Superfund sites in the state (www.njspotlight.com). This proves that the federal government is aware and concerned about the pace of the cleanup efforts of the numerous polluted sites in New Jersey.
In addition, New Jersey has two other sites being proposed for inclusion on the N.P.L. at this point: Route 561 Dump Site in Gibbsboro and the Mansfield Trail Dump in Byram.
These overlooked toxic sites have been a source of great concern for residents in New Jersey. The debate continues on whether or not the sites should require EPA assistance in order to remediate properly versus the ramifications of having the environmental program run by the state government be responsible for those areas.
According to the website, NJ Spotlight.com, there are concerns from the environmental groups that the state program is concerned more about the redevelopment of the land than the complete remediation of the pollution at these sites. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups cite the more strict standards of cleanup required by the Superfund as the rationale for why the DuPont site should be under the EPA jurisdiction.
In fact, New Jersey has privatized its hazardous waste cleanup program which allows for more cost conscious remediation work and less public scrutiny of the program (www.njspotlight.com). The New Jersey D.E.P. has also introduced a program called the Licensed Site Remediation Program which would use private contractors hired by the polluters or P.R.Ps to clean up the waste sites. This program has also met with strong opposition from the environmental groups in the state.
The prevailing question from the environmental groups in regard to this program is: how can the public be assured that the cleanup process is done correctly and thoroughly with limited government oversight?
The other issue I see in this approach by New Jersey is it does not address how the cleanup of a site would be achieved in the event that the corporation or entity involved in the pollution on the site is now bankrupt or no longer exists. In that case, who would be responsible for hiring the private contractors to clean up the site?
The new order of the day from the Christie Administration is to limit state government expenditures and maintain balanced budgets, so in that scenario, the state government would not cover the costs of the expenses to remediate the site. I would have to assume that the site would end up on the Superfund list anyway for the federal government to clean up the hazardous material.
The other point worth mentioning here is that other states have gone to a similar model to the one used in New Jersey to deal with the cleanup of contaminated sites. The net result of this shift could be a changing role in the future for the EPA with regard to environmental contamination cleanup, but that remains to be seen.
One of the most polluted sites in New Jersey at one point was the Imperial Oil site in Morganville. It first became listed on the Superfund in 1983, which is a strong indication of the level of contamination at that location at one point in time.
The EPA, through Superfund, has removed 25,000 gallons of contaminated oil from the 15 acre site (www.epa.gov). The project also provided for the cleanup of four other properties which are residential and located adjacent to the Imperial Oil site.
According to the U.S. government, there are 406,326 people living within 10 miles of the site (www.census.gov). That potential for potential public health risk to a huge number of people is a driving force behind the importance of cleaning this site properly and thoroughly.
The Imperial Oil cleanup project received $33.4 million in Recovery Act funds to treat the contaminated soil on the site which is threat to the groundwater supply located beneath the site (www.epa.gov). The soil will then be tested over a very long period of time to measure the effectiveness of the remediation work done there.
The safe cleanup of the Imperial Oil site is a case study in the success that the Superfund protocols can achieve when the process is allowed to move from start to finish. That location featured some complex environmental remediation problems, and the EPA was able to find solutions to those issues and move the project forward to the final stages of soil sediment cleaning.
The next installment of this series will explore the criticisms of Superfund which have manifested over the years. It will also take an in-depth view of one of the worst pollution areas the program has ever faced, the Gowanus Canal site in Brooklyn.