Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The War After the War: Pompton Lakes vs. DuPont

By Jon Lindenauer

DuPont, a leading American chemical company, established itself as a gunpowder supplier and manufacturer at the turn of the 19th century. The industry rose to prominence in the early 20th century when it became a primary military supplies provider during World War I. But in a tragic circumstance, DuPont’s munitions aid in past and present American War efforts has resulted in the harm of a neighboring suburban community: in Pompton Lakes, NJ.

Although DuPont has a remarkable track record of industrial growth, its reputation has been tarnished by its unfortunate environmental track record. Credited alongside fellow environmental offender General Motors with the invention of chlorofluorocarbons (or CFCs) – a compound known for its destructive nature to the ozone – DuPont has been embroiled in a series of ecological fiascos. One notable debacle was a case in which the company was fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for polluting drinking water with perfluorooctanoic acid (sometimes referred to as C8) caused by Teflon production in a West Virginia plant. While the PFOA case raised concerns due to abnormal and possibly hazardous levels of the harmful agent in the residence of the nearby community, the results of the current situation in Pompton Lakes appear to be far more deadly.

A December 2009 article in The Record showed that the battle between DuPont and the residents of Pompton Lakes is heating up, with approximately 500 Pompton citizens in attendance for a community meeting regarding outrage over the present state of the issue. Prior to the meeting, the findings of a recent study released by the NJ Health Department showed elevated occurrences of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and kidney cancer in individuals living in the community, undoubtedly caused by pollution from the local DuPont manufacturing plant. The meeting called for federal officials to initiate a decontamination attempt of the area, which has been ravaged by toxic vapors from past DuPont chemical pollutants rising up through the ground into the homes and property of the Pompton Lakes neighborhood near DuPont’s former manufacturing site.

In a tearful plea for federal support, various member of the Pompton community spoke out about their tragic experiences at the crowded meeting. Some spoke regarding their own grave medical conditions while others spoke of family members claimed by the deadly agents that have infected their surroundings and threaten the lives of everyone in the town. In response, DuPont issued an e-mail statement conveying the company’s ongoing commitment to alleviating the contamination plaguing its adjacent community, but offering no method or plan for a complete clean-up solution.

Sadly, 2009 marked a slew of dead-end promises and investigation regarding the DuPont / Pompton issue that included Erin Brockovich and the environmental law firm Weitz & Luxemburg holding a special open meeting in March to discuss possible legal action regarding the situation. Additionally, a sprawling article series published by The Star Ledger served to shed light on the scenario but ended in March of last year offering little in the way of potential resolution, with the only hint of closure being an investigation by the state regarding the since-proven elevated cancer rates for the region. But perhaps the recent organized outrage might spark renewed interest and motivation regarding future decontamination efforts.

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