By Bliss Sando
POMPTON LAKES, NJ – 24 years is a long time to wait for justice to be done, and the residents of Pompton Lakes are still waiting. However, the recent announcement by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that it will reconsider its widely criticized plan to remove 26 acres of contaminated soil from a portion of Pompton Lake gives some residents hope.
Former Mayor Jack Sinsimer and some residents began uncovering DuPont’s pollution in the late 1980’s and since then the small lake community has discovered that it's been left with an inheritance of toxic waste and pollution from the old explosives plant, the former main employer in the town. DuPont’s plant once covered a 576-acre site on elevated ground. The industrial complex closed down in 1994, but during its long operation (mainly under the ownership of DuPont), it leaked hazardous chemicals and heavy metals such as mercury and lead into the surrounding area. These toxins have seeped deep into the soil, groundwater and lake sediment, and have even entered some 400 homes in vapor form.
The northern New Jersey site has not been added to the federal Superfund list, however, despite pleas to the federal government from environmental groups and residents. The Environmental Protection Agency’s website acknowledges the pollution, but claims that substantial progress has already been made to clean up the site and will continue to be made. Residents are not inclined to agree.
For years, DuPont has been taking what residents say are small, insignificant steps toward remediation, and the residents have continued to demand a proper cleanup. Residents worry that if DuPont continues their “cleanup” at this rate, it will take a lifetime or more to complete the decontamination.
Earlier this month, tests were done that confirmed the recontamination of Acid Brook, which runs through the former DuPont site and past several homes. Over 15 years ago, DuPont and the federal government confirmed that this stream was completely cleaned up, yet now toxic metals and chemicals are showing up again, some in dangerous proportions. Specifically PCE, a chemical linked to cancer, was at an unsafe level, according to EPA officials. This proves that DuPont’s small cleanup attempts have been unsuccessful and are simply not enough.
Since the EPA’s tests confirming the recontamination of Acid Brook have been made public, DuPont’s recent application to remove 26 acres of contaminated soil has been scrutinized by the public and was finally delayed. The residents expressed concern about the heavy truck traffic that will result from the dredging. “We’re going to have large trucks coming through residential streets for more than a year,” worries Raymond Bosna, whose home is located on Jefferson Avenue, one of the roads that the trucks will use to carry out the toxic soil. Raymond also worries about his two small children who frequently play outside.
Jeffrey Marsden, the Pompton Lakes borough engineer, expressed his concerns in a February 3 letter about possible damage to residential roads by the 4,000 trucks that will be needed to carry out the soil and the spread of contaminated dust throughout the neighborhood, among others.
In addition to these concerns, many residents believe that the EPA’s original plan for this dredging was insufficient. Former Governor James Florio and well-known environmental activist Lois Gibbs recently endorsed the residents’ pleas to add the site to the Superfund list.
More support for the critics of the EPA and DuPont came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. FWS field supervisor J. Eric Davis Jr. called the plan inadequate, and described the soil dredging as only “an important first step.” Davis wrote, “[T]he Service does not believe that the proposed remedial action, as currently planned, will completely address historic releases, nor be sufficient to protect against future injury.”
The original proposal called for approximately 68,000 cubic yards of highly contaminated soil and sediment to be removed from a lake delta created by Acid Brook, along with 7,800 additional cubic yards from the shore. All of this would take place inside a 26-acre area.
Lisa Riggiola, of the grassroots group Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes, stated: “The important thing is that the entire lake is cleaned up. It's 250 acres, not just the 26 acres they're talking about.” She also stated that, “of course,” the DuPont plant site itself must be cleaned up as well.
The major flaw residents point to in the EPA’s plan is the fact that DuPont’s former plant site has yet to be cleaned up. Consequently, since the plant sits on top of a hill, the highly concentrated contaminants there have found their way downhill toward the lake, particularly via the Acid Brook. The recontamination of the Acid Brook only supports this theory. However, the EPA plans to clean up a small area of the lake and shore, which sits at the bottom of the hill, despite the fact that this area will probably continue to receive new contaminants from uphill/upstream.
Dana Patterson, the toxic coordinator for the Edison Wetlands Association, said that “If they don’t address the source first, the plant, then the lake could just become re-contaminated.”
Patterson said that the Edison Wetlands Association, an environmental organization which has been assisting residents in their campaign for a full cleanup, is “excited” about the recently announced delay of the dredging. However they, along with many residents, still worry about the incomplete nature of the EPA’s original plan.
Residents and environmental organizations hope to keep the public pressure on the EPA and DuPont until they agree to a complete cleanup of the area.