Tag Archive: DEP

Jackson’s Back in Jersey – for a Pony in Pompton Lakes

[for version with links to supporting documents, see:


Obama US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson visited NJ yesterday for whirlwind press stops in Newark, Ringwood, and Pompton Lakes (the Ringwood visit was not mentioned in the itinerary of the official EPA press advisory). Along with the press conferences and photo ops, Jackson took the opportunity to meet with small groups of residents to listen to their concerns. The Pompton Lakes meeting was private and not open to press.

The NJ press corps played right along and gave Jackson exactly what she was seeking – headlines, photo’s, and generally non-critical stories that echoed her message (see Bergen Record Pompton Lakes; and Bergen Record Ringwood and Star Ledger coverage).

I want to focus briefly on the policy and then on the politics of this visit with respect to the Pompton Lakes site.

Jackson’s message was consistent with what she did for over 3 years as NJ DEP Commissioner and thus far as head of US EPA: create an appearance that she and EPA are acting aggressively, responding to the concerns of the community, and holding polluters accountable (all while delivering little to nothing of substance, and sometimes doing exactly the opposite – see: WHY LISA JACKSON SHOULD NOT RUN EPA – Disastrous Record in New Jersey Bodes Ill for Reforming EPA).

Bob Spiegel of Edison Wetlands Association quote got it exactly right in the Bergen Record story:


“The problem is that the EPA and DEP keep asking DuPont to do things about the cleanup. What they need to do is start telling DuPont to do things about the cleanup,…  At what point do the agencies start using their authority to direct DuPont to act?”

EPA has tremendous legal power and financial and technical resources under Superfund, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the Clean Water Act. The fact of the matter is that Jackson’s visit did nothing to enforce this legal power or deploy EPA resources.

For example, Jackson refused to commit to listing the site on the Superfund “National Priorities List” (NPL). But the Pompton Lakes site does not have to be listed on the NPL before EPA can take immediate action, allocate resources, or pursue enforcement actions against Dupont.

Similarly, EPA has long been involved at the Dupont site under RCRA’s “Corrective Action” program. Yet despite this authority, EPA has issued no enforcement orders that compel Dupont to do anything, or imposed any RCRA fines and penalties to punish Dupont for what they have done to Pompton Lakes.

And as a result of huge off site water quality impairment and sediment pollution, EPA could hammer Dupont with Clean Water Act enforcement actions (i.e. fines, penalties, cleanup Orders), including issuing Natural Resource Damage restoration and compensation Orders.

But Jackson’s only written materials were press releases, not EPA enforcement Orders or litigation.

In terms of responsiveness to the community, there was muted and implied criticism in the Bergen Record story:


Pompton Lakes residents and officials said they did not recall Jackson coming to the borough to discuss the DuPont contamination when she had been DEP commissioner, but appreciated her presence there Friday.


That unstated criticism was included in the Bergen Record coverage of the Ringwood visit which noted that the meeting with residents there did not focus on the Ford site cleanup issues but “focused more on personal, family issues”. So this quote is about as close to criticism as it gets for a member of “the family” as fellow Ramapough Mountain Indians referred to Jackson (see this photo & story for the context here – Jackson politically used Ringwood residents during her confirmation hearing):


“I’m glad she’s still thinking about us,” said Jack Walker, another resident. “For a while there, we haven’t heard anything and I thought maybe we were forgotten.”

In terms of the larger political context, Jackson’s visit can be interpreted as motivated by at several different objectives.

First, Jackson could be engaging in the typical and relatively harmless political dog and pony show that has gone on for years at NJ’s Superfund sites.

But that kind of cynical political stunt is NOT harmless and is especially inappropriate right now because the residents of Pompton Lakes are facing a cancer cluster and demanding that EPA take over the cleanup due to failures by DEP and deep distrust of Dupont, who have not been honest with them. (see this for Dupont’s power at EPA)

Residents are expecting independent and  aggressive EPA intervention, not typical political games. And that’s exactly why Jackson’s personal involvement is totally inappropriate because for 7+ years she did nothing as a DEP Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner to force Dupont to cleanup the site. During Jackson’s tenure at DEP, vapor intrusion issues were being mismanaged by NJ DEP. These failures led directly to Pompton Lakes exposures.

Jackson can not be the independent objective broker the community seeks at EPA because she has a direct conflict of interest, having been involved as a decision-maker at NJ DEP. That’s why Jackson was recused from any involvement in NJ issues as EPA Administrator. Her involvement now undermines EPA independence and creates the appearance of politicization.

The Bergen Record previously reported on the Lisa Jackson recusal in a 9/1/09 story (below)- I didn’t see any time limit in that story:


Jackson said she agreed when she took over the EPA to recuse herself from involvement with any actions she took as New Jersey’s commissioner. A spokesman said the recusal is designed to prevent Jackson from influencing EPA employees to act one way or another regarding New Jersey.”  (see: EPA chief’s spin on DEP audit)

While one might think that NJ would benefit by having a former NJ DEP Commissioner head up EPA, actually, the opposite is the case. There were subtle yet profound benefits for NJ associated of Jackson’s recusal, which tended to empower EPA Regional Administrator Judy Enck. Enck comes out of the NY environmental advocacy community and has roots in Governor Eliot Spitzer’s progressive approach to public policy, particularity with respect to the important role of regulation and vigorous enforcement. Jackson simply does not share that progressive philosophy or environmental advocacy experience and commitment. As I wrote on December 11, 2009:


Enck’s boss, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was previously NJDEP Commissioner and Chief of Staff to Governor John Corzine. Jackson is recused and can not participate in EPA decisions in NJ. This provides Enck more autonomy and control in NJ within the EPA chain of command, yet it also requires that she avoid any appearance of favoritism in NJ. (See: New Obama EPA Regional Administrator Plants a Flag in NJ)

Or, Jackson could be sending a strategic political shot across the bow of the Christie Administration on behalf of the Obama EPA. (see: Christie’s Environmental Rollback Agenda Receiving National Attention)

Christie said during the campaign that he looked forward to battles with the Obama EPA – Christie said (watch it on YouTube)


 “I’ve got a feeling that you will see, come January 2010, a lot of battles between the Christie administration DEP and the Obama administration EPA.”

His actions thus far tread heavily on compliance with EPA delegated or funded programs. (See: Christie Regulatory Czar Given Power and Tools to Rollback Environmental and Public Health Protections

But if this were Jackson’s motivation, again she played a very weak hand by delivering nothing of substance and failing to focus on or hold Christie accountable for  actions he already has taken (see: CHRISTIE OUTLINES RADICAL ECO-ROLLBACK IN NEW JERSEY – Privatization Specialist Tapped to Head Department of Environmental Protection)

Either way, looks like more of the same old same old from Lisa Jackson:  politics and symbolism over policy and substance.

First Casualty of Christie Moratorium is Your Drinking Water

[for complete version with links to supporting documents, go to:


Perchlorate found in 1 in 6 DEP sampled NJ water systems – thousands of NJ residents exposed to chemical linked to thyroid damage that can slow brain development in children.

The saga over attempts to protect NJ’s drinking water from the chemical perchlorate continue – see “Rocket Fuel in Your Water?” and “Playing Politics with Your Drinking Water” and “Chemicals Found in Infant Formula”

When we last left this story in January 2009, former NJ DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson was being criticized during her US Senate confirmation for EPA Administrator for failing to adopt protective standards during her 3+ year tenure, despite the warnings of DEP’s own scientists, NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute’s 2005 Report recommendations, federal Center for Disease Control studies, and public health experts across the country. The 2005 DWQI Report recommended a 5 ug/L (ppb) standard in part because:


Pregnant women and infants are considered to be sensitive subpopulations for perchlorate’s effects, as hypothyroidism can have serious consequences on neurodevelopment.

When reporters asked why Jackson had failed to act for almost 4 years, here’s the answer some gave:


[DEP Commissioner Lisa] Jackson’s supporters blame Corzine, not Jackson, for New Jersey’s failure to regulate perchlorate.

   “I am very disappointed that the state hasn’t moved faster on developing a perchlorate standard,” said David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, who sat on the panel that urged the state to regulate perchlorate. “That being said, I fully lay the blame on the governor’s office. DEP was ready to roll two years ago. It was the governor’s office that prevented us from moving forward faster.”  Jan. 13, 2009 ProPublica

Well fast forward to March 2010 and now we have a new Sheriff in Town, one that was endorsed by Dave Pringle. And what did Christie do?

He issued a moratorium that effectively killed the perchlorate standard finally proposed by DEP in March 2009, after 4 years of delay (barring, of course, unforeseen events between now and March 16, the deadline for the March 2009 proposal to lapse. It is highly unlikely that DEP will be able to respond to sham Red Tape Review process comments by then, because Red Tape review ends on March 15. It would be virtually impossible for DEP to read nonetheless respond to public comments in 24 hours. Of course, Christie or Regulatory Czar Guadagno could exempt perchlorate under the public health exception to Executive Order #1, but that too is highly unlikely because it has not been done thus far. The Perchlorate standard should never have been included  on EO#1 target list in Attachment A. Given the new Christie regulatory policies in EO 1, 2 and 3, any perchlorate MCL is not likely to be re proposed for some time and probably not at the 5 ug/L level. This is just another in numerous examples of how Christie’s Executive Orders are quietly rolling back public health and environmental protections.)

PEER Press Release (use this link for better resolution)

Quote of the Day: I thought I’d probably end up at the BPU

If environmentalists had concerns about the direction of the DEP under the leadership of Christie nominee Bob Martin, they aren’t going to feel any better after reading a Q & A with him in the Star Ledger where he says this:

“I never anticipated being at the DEP. … I thought I’d probably end up at the BPU (Board of Public Utilities) since I had dealt with utilities at Accenture,” Martin said.

The article says he’d be the first to say “he’s not a big greenie” and he thought he’d end up overseeing the utilities. He talks about simplifying the permit process so that business aren’t hindered. If that’s not sending a message, I don’t know what does.

When Will It Be Time?

Among the great issues of our time, perhaps the value and care of our Historic Sites does not readily come to mind. Nonetheless, those of us who feel strongly that the lessons of history are most important are concerned with our vanishing heritage and what amounts to cultural vandalism; in truth, some of the most significant reminders of our past are closed to schoolchildren for the first time in generations. Much can be done, however, to improve the status and condition of our State Historic Sites without impinging upon scarce resources, if only we could elevate our interest and concern in their protection and promotion. This is not a crusade without rewards, for New Jersey has long avoided the potential economic benefits of heritage tourism in the celebration of its unique contributions to the life of our Nation.

On January 7, 2010, the Assembly passed a bill Assembly Environment chairman John F. McKeon, Mayor of West Orange and Democratic Assemblyman representing the 27th District, is sponsoring to dedicate $150,000 of the revenue collected from Island Beach State Park to fund that park’s programs. The “Island Beach Interpretative Program Fund” created by the measure (A-4337) would support educational programs to help visitors learn about the wildlife and natural resources of the park. As innocent and helpful as this appears on the surface, I feel this is a misguided diversion of scarce resources. While I enjoy nature hikes and often paddle our waterways, I ask why are we are so willing to subsidize kayak tours while the irreplaceable fabric of our past suffers demolition by neglect—and I am speaking here of significant historic resources that the State of NJ has owned and operated for upwards of a century.

New Obama EPA Regional Administrator Sends a Message to Christie

[Note: cross post – for complete version with pictures and links, see:


Enck’s high profile visit provides an early pushback to Christie’s campaign statements regarding EPA oversight.

In her first week on the job, new Obama EPA Region II Administrator Judith Enck traveled to New Jersey. Enck visited the Cornell Dubilier Superfund site in South Plainfield, NJ where $30 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds were allocated to cleanup the site and benefit the community. According to EPA:

Cornell Dubilier Electronics, Inc. operated at the site from 1936 to 1962, manufacturing electronic parts and components, including capacitors.  The company dumped material contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other hazardous substances directly onto site soils during its operations. EPA has detected PCBs in the, ground water, soil and in building interiors at the industrial park and at nearby residential, commercial and municipal properties.  EPA also has detected PCBs in the surface water and sediments of the Bound Brook, which crosses the site’s southeast corner.  A pre-1991 investigation conducted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in the vicinity of the former CDE facility revealed significant ground water contamination consisting mainly of the volatile organic compounds, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene.  Due to widespread contamination, residential wells in the area were closed and residents hooked up to a city water supply. In 1998, EPA began cleaning the interior of homes near the site that contained PCBs in household dust and potentially responsible parties at the site removed PCB-contaminated soil from homes.

Enck spoke about progress being made in cleaning up the site. Chemical pollutants have migrated off site into nearby homes and Bound Brook, a tributary to the Raritan River. As a result, fish are highly contaminated with unsafe levels of PCBs and should not be eaten.

The event, while designed to highlight the Obama Administration’s environmental and economic revitalization efforts, also sent a strong message to the incoming Administration of Governor elect Chris Christie, who has already challenged EPA oversight and threatened a moratorium on regulations.

That message is: EPA will not only be investing significant funds in environmental cleanup in NJ, but will be overseeing federal environmental laws and holding the State accountable to implement federally delegated and/or funded programs.

EPA provides millions of dollars to NJ DEP to administer federally delegated clean air, clean water, safe drinking water, toxic site cleanup, and hazardous waste management programs. That funding, in addition to federal law mandates, provides EPA Region II with tremendous leverage over NJ DEP.

In August 2009, EPA issued a scathingly critical audit of NJ DEP’s performance (See: EPA AUDIT RIPS NEW JERSEY DEP PERFORMANCE – Corrective Actions Never Implemented for Toxic, Wetlands and Other Programs. In June 2008,  the EPA Inspector General issued a highly critical report of NJ DEP that prompted EPA Region II to take over cases that had been mismanged by NJDEP. (See:  EPA REPORT BLASTS NEW JERSEY TOXIC CLEAN-UPS – State Failures to Enforce Law Lead to Worst Delays in the Country

NJ recently privatized its state toxic site cleanup program, so Enck’s early focus on the Superfund program is a clear indication that EPA will be looking closely at how NJ implements the privatization scheme.

Enck’s high profile visit provides an early pushback to Christie’s campaign statements regarding EPA oversight. In October, Christie laid down the gauntlet:

   “I’ve got a feeling that you will see, come January 2010, a lot of battles between the Christie administration DEP and the Obama administration EPA.” (watch YouTube)

Just days after his election, Christie promised to impose a moratorium on regulations, to make it “easier for business”, an act which is certain to raise issues regarding compliance with federal EPA requirements. Recently, EPA used federal power to block implementation of Governor McGreevey’s so called “Fast Track” environmental permit law and to scale back the scope of Corzine’s “Permit Extension Act”.

EPA Region II oversees the states of NY and NJ and the territory of Puerto Rico. Enck’s is the first EPA Region II Administrator in recent memory that is not from NJ, so she is not beholden to any NJ players which gives her a stronger degree of political independence. Enck was a member of former NY Governor Elliot Spitzer’s team and was with Spitzer when he served two terms as NY Attorney General. Enck helped make environmental enforcement a high priority for Spitzer and comes highly praised by both NY and NJ environmental communities.

Enck’s boss, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was previously NJDEP Commissioner and Chief of Staff to Governor John Corzine. Jackson is  recused and can not participate in EPA decisions in NJ. This provides Enck more autonomy and control in NJ within the EPA chain of command, yet it also requires that she avoid any appearance of favoritism in NJ.

The site visit was coordinated with remarks by South Plainfield Mayor Charles Butrico and Senator Frank Lautenberg’s Office. Importantly, there was a significant presence of members of State and local environmental groups and media. So, overall, this was a very well planned, well executed, and successful event for the new EPA RA.

Enck will face challenges in holding NJ DEP’s feet to the fire. It is clear that she is up to that task, and has made oversight of NJ a priority.

We have written about and will be closely following these development. (some fishy history here)

Christie: “Cutting Onerous Regulations”

[Note: cross post – for version with links, go to:


I just listened to Governor Elect Chris Christie’s victory speech, where he pledged to “turn Trenton upside down” and, among other things, focus on “cutting onerous regulations“.

As I wrote previously, I believe that these are traditional conservative republican code words for slashing DEP employees and rolling back environmental regulations opposed by corporate business interests.

So, my pledge to you Mr. Christie, is that we will be very closely monitoring what you do at DEP and to the body of environmental and public health protection regulations.

As you move into transition planning (hopefully a transparent and balanced process we volunteer to participate in, but doubt your interest in appointing our expertise), we remind you of some basic facts:

1) taxpayers pay less than 2 tenths of 1% of the State budget to fund the operating budget of DEP. This implements the polluter pays policy. There is no taxpayer savings to be had by further slashing DEP budgets. ONLY 24.7% of DEP’s FY 2009 $230 million operating budget, just $56.81 million, is paid by taxpayers from the state general fund. (read DEP budget here);

2) numerous studies show that the benefits of environmental and health regulation far exceed the costs;

3) numerous studies show that pollution imposes massive public health and ecological costs of NJ residents and the economy;

4)  DEP and enforcement of environmental regulations have had no impact on the current economic recession, which is driven by collapse of the financial system, not “onerous regulations”;

5) almost all DEP programs are federally funded, federally enforceable, and/or federally delegated. NJ is currently not in compliance with many federal clean air, clean water, safe drinking water, and toxic site cleanup requirements

6) the people of NJ strongly support enforcement of environmental and public health protections, on a bipartisan basis.

(and the two south jersey republican who called for elimination of DEP lost)

Last, I hope the NJ Environmental Federation was listening closely tonight – and wonder how well they will sleep.

Republicans Want to Eliminate DEP

[Note: cross post – for version with links to supporting documents, see:


According to the Press of Atlantic City today, Republican challengers in the Assembly 1st District (Cape May/Cumberland/Atlantic) want to eliminate the DEP.

Let me repeat that – political candidates for the NJ Assembly want to eliminate DEP.

I am one of DEP’s biggest critics, but this is ridiculous – I think we’ve crosed some kind of rhetorical threshold (and DEP does not get $327 million in state funding).

This kind of know nothing assault is what happens when the environment is taken off the public policy agenda during an election cycle.

This is not the mere radical craziness of a couple of South Jersey Republican challengers. These perverse views are shared by many uninformed politicians and voters.  

The Governor has failed to lead on the environment, and has a poor record. So Corzine has no incentive for even mentioning the environment during the campaign.

Worse, Republican challenger Christie recklessly invites such crazy attacks by his call to slash DEP budgets further and transfer the natural resource programs out of the agency.

Independent Daggett, a candidate who knows better and has actual environmental management experience as USEPA Regional Administrator and DEP Commissioner, is not exactly out there leading the charge defending DEP.

The media is depleted by downsizing, diverted by the political circus, and seemingly locked into traditional horse race electoral coverage that ignores policy issues.

Environmental groups – heavily invested in Trenton lobbying –  seem to have lost all ability to organize and mobilize the public, or shape public opinion.

Let’s hope the voters can see through it, but that may be tough, because no one is talking about the environment, the protections DEP provides,or the economic facts.

If the typical voter is not concerned about DEP’s public health protections (clean air, clean water, drinking water, toxic site cleanup, oil and chemical plant safety, et al) and is concerned only about taxes and money, one fact they might want to consider is that ONLY 24.7% of DEP’s FY 2009 $230 million operating budget, just $56.81 million, is paid by taxpayers from the state general fund.

Over 75% of DEP’s budget comes from industry fees, pollution enforcement fines, and federal EPA grants. (read DEP budget here)

The total State budget for FY 2009 was $32.87 BILLION. That means that DEP’s share of the state budget was less than 2 tenths of 1% (0.17% – do the math).

There is NO money to be saved by cutting DEP.

Additional cuts to DEP’s budget can not be justified on fiscal grounds.

Actually, cuts would INCREASE taxpayer burdens because DEP would receive less federal grant funds and fee and fine revenues would be reduced as DEP workload decreases. These would have to be made up with general funds from the taxpayer.

Taxpayers are getting a bargain at DEP!

It’s the polluters and developers who want DEP eliminated, not the voters.

Shameful republican hacks are manipulating public opinion and doing the bidding of polluters and developers, who want DEP off their backs.


New Toxic Daycare Exposes Loopholes in Corzine Reforms

[Note” cross post – for version with all the links and photo, go to:


Symbolically illustrating the importance of the issue, the very first piece of legislation Governor Jon Corzine signed in the year 2007, was the so called “Kiddie Kollege”  law (P.L. 2007, Chapter 1.). To much fanfare, in a January 11, 2007 press release, Corzine proclaimed:


TRENTON – Governor Jon S. Corzine today signed legislation to help ensure that child care and educational facilities are environmentally safe for the children attending them.

“This bill will help identify and remediate educational facilities and child care centers located on environmentally high risk sites,” Governor Corzine said. “This puts New Jersey at the forefront of states nationally in protecting children from environmental contaminants while at child care facilities and schools.”

At the time – and in testimony during legislative review of the bill – we warned both the Governor and Legislators that the entire approach was fatally flawed and would not be effective in protecting children from toxic chemical exposures while at schools and daycare centers across the state.

Basically, the fatal flaw was to try to address a massive problem in NJ’s toxic site cleanup program with a band aid – the daycare licensing process.

But of course its a lot easier politically to sweep the issue under the rug by making it only a day care licensing issue, than it is to take on the powerful chemical industry lobby in New Jersey that is responsible for the problem. Daycare centers don’t have lobbyists or make campaign contributions.

Perhaps even worse, we have learned that the Attorney General’s Office has issued a legal opinion that says that the Kiddie Kollege law DOES NOT APPLY to existing schools. This opinion basically calls the Governor a liar.

The Middlesex preschool case exposes multiple flaws and loopholes in the Kiddie Kollege law:

1. The Middlesex Boro pre-school where unsafe indoor levels of benzene and TCE were recently found is located virtually on top of an old landfill. Proper closure and cleanup of the landfill is regulated by and is the responsibility of DEP and has NOTHING to do with day care licensing.

2. The source of the chemical fumes in the preschool are  caused by what is known as “vapor intrusion”; a process where volatile organic chemicals move from a toxic waste site through groundwater and soils and enter a building from below (see this for a good explanation) . Identifying sites and controlling vapor intrusion into buildings is regulated by and is the responsibility of DEP and has NOTHING to do with day care licensing.

3. The source of the chemicals in the pre-school are from a DEP regulated discharge of hazardous substances to soils and groundwater. Cleanup of contaminated sites is regulated by and is the responsibility of DEP and has NOTHING to do with day care licensing.

4. Thousands of children in hundreds of schools across New Jersey are potentially  impacted by vapor intrusion from toxic sites and industrial emission sources. These pollution sources are regulated by DEP and have NOTHING to do with day care licensing.

The Middlesex preschool tragedy was predictable, predicted, and entirely preventable. So, for purposes of public education and accountability, let’s walk quickly through the history of all the warnings that were not heeded by the Governor and Legislators, all of whom knew better:

In August 2006, when the Kiddie Kollge daycare tragedy emerged, we warned:


“What is going on in New Jersey is both unbelievable and to be expected from its deliberately anemic toxic cleanup laws. There are likely hundreds more ticking toxic time bombs out there that have been re-developed with DEP’s blessings.”

When DEP failed to respond aggressively to the tragedy, we warned that a coverup would likely ensue:

CALL FOR INSPECTOR GENERAL TO HEAD MERCURY DAY-CARE PROBE – Severe Toxic Problems Acknowledged in 2002 Internal “Vulnerability Assessment

“If we do not want to see this type of debacle recur, it is crucial that the underlying policy, regulatory, and program weaknesses be identified – and that is a job for the Inspector General.”

When we disclosed that DEP was negotiating a voluntary agreement with the polluter of Kiddie Kollege that poisoned 60 toddlers, we warned:

NEW JERSEY TOXIC CLEANUP PROGRAM EXPOSED AS TOOTHLESS TIGER – State Allows Industry to Control Cleanup Even In Most Egregious Cases

“New Jersey only cleans up contaminated sites with the consent of the polluter – how nuts is that?” If the Kiddie Kollge scandal cannot produce meaningful reform, then heaven help us because we apparently cannot help ourselves.”

When DEP conducted a flawed statewide “assessment” of  4,200 day care centers within 400 feet of a toxic waste site, we warned:

60 MORE NEW JERSEY DAY-CARE CENTERS NAMED ON TOXIC WARNINGS – Hundreds of Homes, Schools and Other Facilities May Also Be Vulnerable

“Why is DEP not also giving warning notices directly to parents, teachers and neighboring residents?”… “What is being found at day-care centers is just the tip of a much bigger chemical pollution problem that New Jersey is not ready to acknowledge,”

When we uncovered documents that showed that DEP was actively covering up the problem, we warned:

NEW JERSEY AGENCY SAT ON SECRET LIST OF 6,000 TOXIC DANGER SITES – Latest Corzine “Kiddie Kollege” Reform Scheme Falls Well Short of Mark

“These documents show that that DEP knew perfectly well that tragedies like Kiddie Kollege were accidents just waiting to happen,… According to testimony delivered by Bill Wolfe, the Corzine plan contains several other major flaws:

The bill skips over existing health risks at more than 700 day care centers which are located on or within 400 feet of contaminated toxic waste sites plus as many as 100 schools located on or near toxic waste sites;

When similar toxic problems were found at schools, we warned:

TOXIC SCHOOL SCANDAL SPOTLIGHTS WEAK NEW JERSEY LAW – Parents Get No Notice of Child’s Exposure in Deregulated State Clean-Up Program

“As we have repeatedly warned, every few months another toxic scandal will erupt and state officials will again try to act as if they do not know how it could happen. The place to start looking for answers is in the mirror.”

When scores of old landfills were shown to be polluting groundwater and emitting poison gases into nearby homes across the state, we warned:

NEW JERSEY POSTS LIST OF 831 DIRTY DUMPS BUT NO CLEANUP PLAN – More than One in Six Abandoned Dumps Polluting Groundwater

“A number of housing developments have sprung up along the perimeter of the landfills, without proper notification to purchasers or adequate cleanup and closure. In some places, [toxic] gas has migrated into basements and drinking water wells have been contaminated…. In a December 12, 2006 letter, Bill Wolfe asked the Corzine administration to warn potentially impacted residents”

When so the called Kiddie Kollege reform legislation was being considered by the legislature, we warned:

NEW JERSEY TOXIC DAY CARE REFORM BILL STILL MISSES THE MARK – State Grasping for Quick Fixes to Broken Brownfields Program

“While the intent and some provisions of this ambitious legislation are commendable, the bill fails to address the underlying flaws in NJ toxic site cleanup laws, while the indoor air program may be unworkable,”

When the Kiddie Kollege bill was on Governor Corzine’s desk, we warned and requested a conditional veto::

CORZINE URGED TO CLOSE LOOPHOLES IN TOXIC DAY-CARE BILL – Conditional Veto Could Strike Out Exemptions and Strengthen Safeguards

“This is the moment when Governor Corzine needs to back up his rhetoric of being independent from special interests. If Governor Corzine will not act now to protect children from a lifetime of damage from breathing poisonous vapors, when will he act?

(end of story – tomorrow, Part III)

Another Toxic Daycare Shocks Middlesex Parents

[Note: cross post – for version with links and photo’s go to:


Imagine the anguish of being told your child was exposed to cancer causing industrial chemicals while at daycare. Our kids went to daycare, so I understand a parent’s concerns and fears – but our worst health fear for our kids was contraction of pink eye.

Yet, almost 3 years to the day after the tragic Kiddie Kollege episode where 60 toddlers were poisoned by mercury vapors while at daycare (see  NY Times “After Mercury Pollutes a Day Care Center, Everyone Points Elsewhere”) that’s exactly what another group of New Jersey parents were told last week.

And again, similar to the Kiddie Kollege case, (see NY Times “Memo Shows Agency Knew of Danger in Child Care Building” ) the DEP knew or should have known and failed to take steps to prevent the problem or adequately warn parents.

So here we are again. We were disgusted but not surprised that yet another toxic daycare center was discovered operating in NJ in Middlesex Boro. This is an intolerable situation – DEP must stop putting out kids at risk and engaging in crisis management, reacting to one scandal after another.

Last week, the local newspaper reported: New tests show elevated chemical vapor levels in Middlesex Borough preschool

MIDDLESEX BOROUGH – A second round of tests has confirmed the presence of elevated vapor levels of two chemicals inside a local church preschool, but not in amounts anywhere near enough to shut the facility, the borough’s environmental engineering firm has reported…. According to Ferguson, the latest air samples showed levels of TCE fumes at 16 micrograms per cubic meter in the preschool room at the church complex and 9.7 micrograms per cubic meter in the youth lounge. The findings for benzene fumes were eight micrograms per cubic meter in the preschool room and 13 micrograms per cubic meter in the youth lounge.

“These levels do not pose an adverse health risk,” said Ferguson. …

Mayor John Fuhrmann, who attended Monday night’s meeting, said he’s satisfied with the way the company is handling the tests, adding that he expects the firm to present a remediation proposal “as soon as possible.”

Both Fuhrmann and Ferguson noted that the source of the vapors has not been determined, but said the firm is working to find that out.

Trichloroethylene is a common household cleaning solvent, often used as a degreaser, Ferguson said. It is odorless in the amounts found in Sadat’s air samples.

First, I suspected that the local reporter got badly spun, because right off the bat I knew that Mr. Ferguson was factually in error and was therefore misleading parents with his bogus claim that the levels posed no adverse health risk.

Here are some facts: The DEP indoor air level for benzene, a proven human carcinogen, is 2 microgram per cubic meter. The reported levels in this preschool are 13 micrograms, which is more than 6 times or 650% higher than DEP’s indoor air level.

The DEP indoor air level for TCE, a proven human carcinogen, is 3 micrograms per cubic meter. The reported levels are 16 micrograms, which is more than 5 times or at least 533% higher than DEP’s indoor air level. In August tests, the TCE levels were even higher (the reader can confirm this and read the complete DEP Vapor Intrusion Guidance document here).

Yes, these are DEP’s chronic indoor exposure levels, but there is great uncertainty regarding children’s health effects and exposure is completely preventable.

Children are particularly susceptible to the adverse health effects of cancer causing chemicals because their lungs are still under development; they have high inhalation rates relative to body mass, high lung surface area per body weight, low lung clearance rates, narrow lung airways, and immature immune systems. Children metabolize chemicals differently than adults and are far more vulnerable to chemical exposure than healthy adult males used to calculate most risk assessments.

The “acceptable risk” of a child’s exposure to industrial chemicals while at a daycare is ZERO (0) – “ND” or “non-detect”

Parents can refer to federal toxicological profiles of benzene and TCE here – the common sense bottom line is to minimize exposure:

“Living near gasoline fueling stations or hazardous waste sites may increase exposure to benzene. People are advised not to have their families play near fueling stations, manufacturing plants, or hazardous waste sites.”)

Second, I was baffled as to why a Mayor would be satisfied with this totally unacceptable situation.

Well, it turns out that the source of the problem is the Middlesex Boro landfill and/or underground gasoline storage tanks (UST) 100 feet or so from the day care center. So we now understand why the Mayor would have an incentive to minimize the problem.

Third, I was curious as to why a consultant that is known for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites was suggesting that common household cleaning compounds might be a source of the problem in the pre-school (and not the old landfill and USTs). These volatile organic industrial chemicals have poisoned soil and groundwater at hundreds of sites in New Jersey, including the indoor air of nearby buildings.

Well, in turns out that the consultant works for Middlesex Boro, who owns the liability for the landfill and UST problems, so again we now understand why the consultant’s first loyalty is to his client and why they too have professional and legal liabilty incentives to minimize the problem.

So I took a trip out there. I spoke with the day care center owner, toured the site, spoke with local officials and neighbors, and took some photographs.

What I saw confirmed my suspicions, so I filed OPRA requests with the Middlesex Boro clerk’s office and the DEP to get the data and smoking guns.

I also will send a letter to DEP Commissioner Mauriello that makes a series of recommendations, the most important being immediate installation of a subslab vapor recovery system at the day care center. If such a system is not installed immediately (less than 2 weeks) then the facility should be closed until a system is installed.(the letter is similar to Memo to DEP: Protect Kids – Enforce the Law

DEP recently oversaw installation of a system at Atlantic Highlands Elementary School, where indoor air levels were significantly lower than in this Middlesex preschool. (see: A Win for the Kids and Parents of Atlantic Highlands

US EPA installed a system in the Franklin Township Elementary School where, again, where levels were significant lower than in Middlesex.(see EPA Final Franklin Elementary School Presentation)

The children of Middlesex Boro deserve at least the same level of protection as that provided by DEP and EPA in other school settings.

More shoes to drop in this story, as we explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and who is accountable.

Part II – Corzine daycare center reforms failed (Wednesday)

Part III – DEP ignored repeated warnings which led to tragedy (Thursday)

Part IV – What the case files say – (pending OPRA replies)

Part V – The solution installed – subslab vapor mitigation system (pending)

Part VI – Lessons learned and real reform agenda (pending)

Lisa Jackson on Real Time with Bill Maher

Former head of the DEP and current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was on Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday. Here is much of the segment:

They talked about states that have brought the federal government along to higher standards, but said that we should be past the states leading the way on clean energy because in a year or two, China will literally clean our clock. They talked about hybrid technology, but that how the electricity is generated is very important. Maher brings up how raising beef causes more global warming than cars, to which Jackson tried to gloss over the answer, but Maher wasn’t having any of it. Then they started talking about water and people getting sick from it with everything added in the water supply. Jackson said we should be concerned that we don’t know enough about clean water and water is a concern for us. Then they moved to toxic chemicals management, to which Jackson said they’re trying to move the bar back to think about what will happen at the end