Thursday, April 4, 2013

Delayed DuPont Cleanup Keeps Community Holding Breath

By Ashley Intveld

For nearly a century, DuPont manufacturers occupied 576 acres in the Pompton Lakes area in Passaic County, New Jersey. DuPont manufactured blasting caps and other explosives used during World Wars I and II, as well as used chemical solvents for cleaning heavy machinery. The DuPont factory stood in stark contrast to an otherwise serene location. Community members were drawn to this location by the scenic banks of the expansive lakeside. Kept from the public eye lurked a lethal threat to the peaceful community: toxic metals, chemicals and vapor from the nearby DuPont plant.

DuPont ceased operation in Pompton Lakes in 1994, leaving behind a cancer pocket for community members to live in. In 1990, eyebrows were raised concerning the discoloration of the stream flowing from the plant, nicknamed “Acid Brook,”  Local residents requested the water be tested. After disclosing startling high rates of carcinogenic and lethal chemicals in the groundwater surrounding the plant, DuPont implemented a pump and treat system at the factory site in 1998, eight years after the shocking discovery.

Citizens’ homes were left unchecked for about two decades before an investigation was performed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in March 2008. This investigation disclosed the presence of chemical vapor in the basements of local homes. This vapor is a result of contaminated groundwater migrating volatile organic compounds from the subsurface into overlying buildings. The discovered compounds, including tetrachloroethene and trichloroethene, posed dangerous threats to the homes’ occupants. DuPont’s response was a proposed cleanup project to proceed that May.

DuPont also proposed to decontaminate 68,000 cubic yards of affected soil, which covers about twenty-six acres of the Pompton Lake area where Acid Brook flows in. The Environmental Protection Agency requested that DuPont expand the decontamination to 100,000 cubic yards and 40 acres, due to the concern of locals. DuPont appealed this request on February 4, 2013 under the argument that, “The final permit has open-ended remediation requirements that are based on undetermined cleanup obligations.” Bob Nelson, a spokesperson for DuPont, continued, “By including future, undefined cleanup obligations as conditions of the final permit, the EPA has eliminated any meaningful opportunity not only for DuPont, but also members of the community, to comment or provide input to the agency's future cleanup decisions.” 

DuPont, formerly occupying 576 acres of the Pompton Lakes area, therefore, has focused its decontamination to a mere fraction of the land it once occupied.
Although DuPont has closed its former manufacturing plant, the devastation it caused will continue to be a recurring problem for the citizens of the Pompton Lakes area. Unless the toxins are properly treated, it will be a persistent issue. DuPont’s hold on its cleanup project is due in part to unforeseeable cleanup obligations. Perhaps DuPont refuses to acknowledge the full magnitude of the impact their negligence caused the entire area. Until the cleanup issue is clarified, Pompton Lakes locals will continue to hold their breath in anticipation of relief from their environmental strife.

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