Priorities & remediation of our contaminated sites

Propublica points out New Jersey has some of the strongest environmental laws in the country, including the precursor to the federal Superfund law, and the state has made strides in cleaning up contamination. However, 10 years ago the state  said it would rank its most contaminated sites. It never did. Today, there are nearly 14,000 contamination sites across New Jersey and still no sign of rankings to indicate which sites are most urgent and to assure equity in remediation to different areas in our state.

There is often talk about our superfund sites but the problem is much broader. Large areas of our state are contaminated with a cocktail of dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Since the 1940s PFAS chemicals were discharged in the plants’ wastewater, which then mixed with drinking water supplies. The industrial use of PFAS has been phased out of American facilities in recent years, but the damage has been done. 

In September, New Jersey put limits on the levels of PFAS that can be found in drinking water. However, this matter is made more complicated because on Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its first nationwide “action plan” to deal with the PFAS, but failed to set national safe water drinking standards.

Just this past week our Attorney General Grewal took legal action against an owner of ‘waste mountain’ in Sussex County. The DEP says soil samples from the site showed levels of contamination high enough to classify the site as a solid waste facility, which owner Wallace does not have a permit to operate. A positive step, but much more must be done, starting with priorities.  

In 2006, Lisa Jackson, then head of the DEP, told the state Senate Environment Committee the ranking system for contaminated sites was “the most important thing” the agency could do to protect residents. The first list of NJ priority rankings were supposed to have been published in 2010. That did not happen. The DEP’s Site Remediation Program website promises the rankings are still coming: “The first round of category determinations was finalized and will be posted on the SRP website on a date to be determined.” 

With some 14,000 contaminated sites our very health and welfare are threatened. Governor Murphy should make this a high priority.

Preview image: An inactive 74-acre landfill in Kearny (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)


The former Bayonne Barrel & Drum Superfund site

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