Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pompton Lakes Getting Attention in Washington

By Virginia DiBianca

It has become too familiar of a story. A major manufacturer decides on setting up a plant in a town and hires workers. The town becomes a “company town” where the town's people work for the plant and build a life. They live in the community together, develop friendships with fellow workers, and see their children go to the same school. One day, usually due to cost cutting and restructuring, the plant closes down. The town is left with a void where once a vital industry stood. In the case of Pompton Lakes and the Dupont Company, however, the void was left with the residue of contamination that has stricken many of the residents with serious health issues and deteriorating property values.

Dupont moved into Pompton Lakes in 1902 and began manufacturing gunpowder. At the onset of WWI, the workforce was over 7,000 people and the town experienced a housing boom where it became known as a “company town”. The production level continued to escalate with World War II, when Dupont further increased the staff to an additional 3,000 employees. Development and expansion continued through the 1950s; however, downsizing began in the 80s. In April of 1994, the plant closed its doors.

It was around the 1980s, when an increase number of reports of kidney cancer and lymphoma began coming from residents residing in a concentrated area of Pompton Lakes. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that a section in Pompton Lakes near where Dupont’s plant stood showed evidence of groundwater contamination of chemicals used as cleaners and degreasers called tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), which infiltrated over 400 homes built in close proximity of the infected area, via vapors from an underground concentration of chemicals called “the plume.”

While it has taken over 30 years, government officials have lately been taking a solid interest in addressing the contamination. In March of 2010, New Jersey Representative Bill Pascrell committed to Pompton Lakes to bring their concerns to Washington. In May 2010, a meeting was held where Pascrell and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (who was a former head of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection) met with residents of Pompton Lakes and a high ranking Dupont official in Washington to determine what steps needed to be made to satisfy the residents and take steps to remediate the contamination. Concerns among the residents included depreciating home values and increasing reports of cancer.

While Dupont has stated they are committed to remedy the situaion, there have been debates as to the best means of containing the toxic fumes. Dupont’s latest claim is that they would conduct tests on groundwater remediation methods and to determine what the best option would be by the summer of 2011. They would also expand the list of contractors from two to ten that perform sub-slab testing that residents could use to test their home.

In January 2011, a spokesman for Dupont reported that they can see progress over the years since installing a pump-and-treat system to stop the further spread of chemicals He stated that historical data shows that, "concentrations of contaminants in the aquifer across the off-site Plume area have been going down by as much as 10 times of what they were originally measured. It is believed this reduction is the result of a combination of re-injected treated water flushing the aquifer and the natural biologic and abiotic remediation process occurring in the aquifer."

It was also reported that a bioremediation test will be conducted that consist of introducing nutrients or bacteria, "which are necessary to stimulate or accelerate biodegradation of the contaminants”.

Residents of Pompton Lakes have formed a committee called Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes (CCPL), where they are questioning whether the clean up efforts will be effective. According to a Mahwah “hazmat” consultant, Tom Darmin, “PCE and TCE are chlorinated solvents. EVERYBODY used them to 'degrease' (clean) metal parts and products (going several decades back). They were cheap and very efficient de-greasers”.

Chlorinated solvents are also known as 'sinkers' because they are heavier than water and 'sink' through the water table. Therefore, PCE and TCE can migrate deep down into the aquifer and tend to be well pollutants. When they hit an impervious layer such as bedrock or a solid layer of clay, they can migrate horizontally and sometime very quickly especially if they get into fissures where they flow with ground water within those fissures.

The PCE and TCE that collects in the 'shallow' aquifers and subsurface soils will de-gas. It is the degassing in the shallow subsurface that is one of the human health and safety concerns, as this 'off-gassing' can infiltrate through building slabs and cracks in building foundations or where sewer lines enter buildings.

Remediation? There are thoughts that an impervious vapor liner would be effective - but how to install it under established structures? The method that Dupont is currently offering residents is similar to the way radon is mitigated from basements by collecting the gases at the sub slab with a vacuum system and venting to the outside.

For more information:

History of Pompton Lakes and the Dupont plant:

Pompton Lakes residents begin suing DuPont over pollution
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pompton Lakes want answers before bioremediation project
for DuPont contamination begins
Sunday, January 30, 2011

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