By Deanna Dunsmuir
A quarter century after DuPont began plans to clean up industrial contamination at its explosives manufacturing plant in Pompton Lakes, residents and company officials are still arguing about what’s been done, should be done, or will be done.
As contamination investigations continue since the mid-1980’s, residents struggle to accept that an “aggressive” cleanup has or will take place.
“Many residents have told me they don't trust DuPont or the NJ DEP. They think DuPont is covering up pollution and DEP is rubber stamping inadequate DuPont cleanup plans,” says Bill Wolfe , former planner and policy analyst for the state Department of Environmental Protection and former policy director of Sierra Club's New Jersey Chapter.
“They are frustrated by the slow pace of cleanup, angry for not being told about vapor intrusion, and disgusted by repeated failures by local and state officials to provide full information and allow them to have a meaningful role in cleanup decisions that affect their lives, their family’s health, and their property value,” he says.
DuPont Pompton Lakes Site
Non-profit community groups such as Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes (CCPL) and Pompton Lakes Residents for Environmental Integrity (PLREI) have been formed to give a voice to residents and add pressure for cleanup.
A big issue is that as a result of DuPont Pompton Lakes Works’ contamination of soil and ground water, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE) were found in homes due to vapor intrusion.
Waste management practices during the facility’s operation resulted in contamination of surface water, soil and sediment, and ground water both on and off site, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
According to the Pompton Lakes Works Remediation Project Information Center, “Vapor intrusion is defined as the migration of volatile organic compounds from the subsurface into overlying buildings.”
The EPA’s website claims that much of the soil contamination has been removed and a ground water pump and treatment system has been installed.
DuPont Speaks Out
Amid environmental committees and residents calling for a more aggressive cleanup, PR representative for DuPont, Roberto Nelson, maintains that an extensive amount of remediation has been done and will continue to be done.
“Since 1985, we have completed extensive investigations to identify and develop the appropriate remediation options,” Nelson says.
“To date, remediation activities have focused on removing more than 200,000 tons of contaminated soil and sediment at off-site locations. This included the Acid Brook and Wanaque River projects. These projects included the remediation of more than 150 properties and the replanting of approximately 10 acres of wetlands.”
VOC Ground Water Contamination Remediation System
DuPont has been conducting indoor air sampling and installation of a vapor mitigation system at no cost to homeowners, Nelson added.
Furthermore, Nelson said, DuPont has been addressing the ground water contamination affecting a large part of the town, “In 1998, DuPont installed and today continues to operate a groundwater extraction/treatment system that prevents additional contaminated groundwater from leaving the site. This system treats approximately eight million gallons of water per month and returns the clean water to the ground."
About the Site
“The former DuPont Pompton Lakes Works (PLW) manufacturing site covers 576 acres in the boroughs of Pompton Lakes and Wanaque in Passaic County, New Jersey. A residential area of the town of Pompton Lakes lies to the south and southeast of the former plant site,” according to the Pompton Lakes Works Remediation Project Information Center.
“The former manufacturing facility produced blasting caps and other explosives over a 92-year period, including for the U.S. Government in World Wars I and II. Manufacturing operations at PLW ceased in 1994. During the site’s operations, chemicals were used during the manufacturing processes to degrease and clean machines and metal parts. As a result, some of the chemicals used during the processes were spilled onto the ground.”
Although the site was running from 1902 to 1994, run off of chemicals and other pollution did not come to light until the federal Superfund law required industries to report potential contamination problems. DuPont’s report in 1985 has caused residents much grief over the years. Town meetings, committee formation and worried residents with a wide array of concerns (property values, safety, etc) have stormed the town and EPA with questions that many feel are still unanswered.
Alleged VOC related Illness
The VOCs from DuPont’s long use of chemicals created a storm when residents of the Pompton Lakes residential neighborhood near the former plant began battling illnesses that some claim are due to the contamination.
According to testimony to the EPA by Dana Patterson, Toxics Coordinator for the environmental nonprofit Edison Wetlands Association, the VOCs found in homes is causing cancer related deaths.
Patterson testified in regards to the site’s evaluation by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the New Jersey Department of Human and Health Services (NJDOHSS) for cancer risk.
The results of the 2009 assessment exhibited an elevated number of kidney cancers and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in residents living in the contaminated plume area near the former DuPont plant.
“I see the real-life impacts of this on a more personal level every time I meet with the families of Pompton Lakes: I see the mothers who are inconsolable because their children are dying all too young. I see the daughters losing a parent in agonizing painful battles with a host of cancers,” Patterson wrote.
“I see people who speak out at public meetings; and wonder why they can get no real help, only a pass-the-buck mentality that deflects all real decisions and accountability, and life-and-death issues are lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth of confusion.”
Public health risks are calculated by the EPA using the Hazard Ranking System (HRS).
A HRS score greater than 28.5 qualifies for Superfund, according to Wolfe.
“EPA has never done an HRS at the DuPont site, so it is not clear what the true risks from the site are and how they compare to other Superfund sites nationally and in New Jersey. We are urging EPA to conduct an HRS before making any final decision at the site,” he says.
In the conclusion of Patterson’s testimony, the idea of declaring the Plume a Superfund site is suggested.
“I am not saying that those state and federal health officials don’t care, or don’t want to do the right thing, but rather their hands are tied until the USEPA includes vapor intrusion within the Superfund ranking system,” wrote Patterson.
Superfund a Solution for Cleanup?
A popular solution toward a more aggressive cleanup among activists and residents is declaring the Plume a Superfund site. This approach offers funding and added pressure on DuPont to a more extensive removal and investigation of toxins.
On March 23 the town council voted against seeking denied status as a Superfund site, “at this time.”
Plume resident and Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes (CCPL) founder Lisa Riggiola called the council's decision "a political knife in the residents' back,” as reported by the Suburban Trends.
“Councilman Mike Simone said the council based its decision on a credible document,” stated the Trends, in regards to the the Superfund listing.
"I have seen documents directly from the USEPA that state that the change to Superfund would take time, would likely not speed up the cleanup process, that the outcome would be the same, and that the Superfund "tools" are mostly available, especially since the USEPA has agreed to add another level of oversight not normally seen in RCRA sites," Simone said.
"I chose to follow the factual statements from credible organizations, such as USEPA, NJDEP and the Ada, Oklahoma scientists."
Activists suggest that the denial of a Superfund site request was made in fear of turning away future residents and creating public embarrassment.
"This is a political decision made for all the wrong reasons, to avoid "stigma" and promote redevelopment, and with a misinformed understanding of EPA options,” Wolfe says.
David Kluesner, Public Affairs Specialist for the EPA, was contacted as to why the EPA has not added Pompton Lakes to the Superfund listing, yet failed to answer.
During two public question-and-answer sessions last month inside the Father Michael Carnevale Faith Formation Center, Walter Mugdan, EPA Region 2 director of emergency and remedial response division, went over the history of the Superfund program and the Resource Conservation Recovery Act, two governmental programs used to clean sites, according to The Record.
Mugdan stated that general government policy is to stay with the original cleanup method identified for a site, which is Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for the local DuPont site.
Mugdan believes that the RCRA is comperable to the Superfund listing.
Even if DuPont was declared a Superfund site, the company would still be involved with the cleanup process, said Barbara Finazzo, an EPA senior policy adviser. She said the EPA and DEP will do unannounced audits of DuPont’s work and hold surprise site visits “to determine if they play by the right rules.”
Not declaring the Plume a Superfund site puts less pressure on DuPont to cleanup the area, Wolfe says.
“EPA has broader and more powerful enforcement powers under Superfund to compel DuPont to cleanup, to pay for cleanup (including punitive penalties 3 times cleanup costs), and to compensate the public for damages to natural resources caused by the pollution. EPA also has unutilized enforcement powers under RCRA,” he said.
Yet a Superfund listing would not, in itself, answer all the residents’ concerns.
“Legally the burden of proof is high,” in terms of linking cancers directly to the chemicals, Wolfe notes.
Click here for an interactive map of Superfund sites in New Jersey.
Deanna Dunsmuir is a junior Communication Arts major at Ramapo College of New Jersey with a concentration in journalism with a minor in Political Science. She aspires to be a reporter. Her academic experience includes journalism, leading an on campus organization and interning.