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NJDEP: State is Overseeing Toxic Site, PEER Report Was 'Misleading'

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said they are taking care of cleanup at the Borden Chemical site in Fair Lawn

A hazardous waste site in Fair Lawn that appeared last week on an environmental group’s list of toxic sites left uncontrolled by the Environmental Protection Agency is in fact being overseen by the state, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said Friday.

While groundwater contaminants still exist at the Borden Chemical site, located at 8-10 22ndSt., they are being monitored through quarterly progress reports, NJDEP spokesman Larry Hajna said. Most recently, the site opted in to the Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRP) Program, which oversees the remediation of contaminated sites on behalf of the NJDEP.

The issue came to light Wednesday when Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) issued a statement excoriating the EPA for failing to add Borden Chemical and 26 other New Jersey sites to its National Priorities List, even though the sites had exceeded the agency's cut off score on its Hazard Ranking System. Sites that exceeded the necessary hazard score but were not added to the priority list were left under the state’s jurisdiction.

“EPA has yet to explain why it decided not to list sites that otherwise qualified for Superfund and why it deferred cleanup oversight to what its own Inspector General found was a failed cleanup program,” New Jersey PEER director Bill Wolfe said in a statement. “The people of New Jersey have a right to know how these critical decisions are made and whether EPA or the Governor’s Office are delaying or derailing Superfund listing.”

The EPA’s decision to not assign certain sites Superfund status is not as cut-and-dry as PEER’s report would indicate, however, according to a statement released by the EPA.

“Placing sites on the Superfund list is a decision made using a number of factors, not just their hazardous ranking score,” the statement reads. “One important factor is whether the site is being addressed under another cleanup program, as is the case with these sites.”

NJDEP spokesman Larry Hajna was blunt in expressing his disdain for PEER’s report, which he said was intentionally misleading because it did not explain the EPA’s actual listing process. 

“This is a nonsense report that [PEER director Bill Wolfe] did and he’s really creating a lot of concern through the use of selective spin,” said Hajna, who added that the DEP does not recognize Bill Wolfe and PEER as a legitimate environmental organization. “The sites that are on the [PEER] list are ones that we’ve also evaluated and they are sites that the responsible party has been working on through the state program.”

According to an NJ Spotlight report, environmentalists remain unsatisfied with the EPA's decision not to prioritize the sites and have argued that receiving Superfund status is important because the designation comes with the potential for federal funding, greater expertise and stricter cleanup standards than does leaving the issue up to the state.

Contamination at the Borden Chemical site likely started in the 1940s under then-owner Commercial Ink & Lacquer Company, which manufactured inks, lacquer and paints. Borden purchased the property in the 1960s for its Borden Coatings and Graphics plant, which manufactured on site solvent-based printing inks used in the food and consumer products industries through the 1990s.

In 1992, Borden entered into an agreement with NJDEP concerning ground water and soil remediation at the site, and an interim remedial ground water collection/treatment system was designed and installed later that year.

Ground water contaminants that include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, arsenic and dissolved arsenic are still present in the site's ground water and continue to be monitored quarterly, Hajna said. 

Today, the rectangular 4.5-acre lot is owned by Paramus Auto Mall, which purchased the site in 2004 and redeveloped it as a parking lot/car storage center.

bill wolfe February 20, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Hello readers - My name is Bill Wolfe. I am Director of NJ PEER. I must repond to this hatchet job, as I was personally attacked and my organization slandered by the DEP press office without any opportunity to rebut. So readers should at least look at the supporting documents, my bio and PEER's organization's mission and webpage and judge for themselves: Bio: http://www.wolfenotes.com/about/ About PEER: http://www.peer.org/ Original PEER press release and supporting documents that DEP called "misleading" http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1554 I would also note that the US EPA Inspector General reviewed DEP (mis) management of contaminated sites - here is that IG Report: http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2008/20080602-08-P-0169.pdf I'd also remind readers that the "size" of a site is irrelevant - Superfund is based on risks and the HRS is the EPA's own measure of risk. NJ's most recent Superfund site - EC Electroplating in Garfield - was a "small site" that DEP oversight bungles for many years. See: http://www.wolfenotes.com/2011/11/dep-toxic-mismanagement-finally-called-out-by-press/
bill wolfe February 20, 2012 at 04:20 PM
First of all, we never spoke with Patch about reporting our press release, so Patch is responsible for why they wrote. Seconsd, PEER is a whistleblwoer organization, so, like Wikileaks and the Pentagon, of course DEP does not like that. Third, we note that toxic chemicals are still present in the groundwater 20 years after so called DEP "cleanup". Do residents and property owners know that? Fourth, our original press release provided links to supporting documents. Fifth, current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, when she was DEP commissioner in 2005, testified that the DEP cleanup program was "broken" and could not be fixed. AS a result, the Legislature privatized it. Last, here is EPA IG recommendation - that EPA assume lead status from DEP - read the full report to find out why. What We Recommend We recommend that the Region 2 Administrator direct staff to coordinate with NJDEP officials the clean-up of specified sites more than 20 years old. Region 2 should assume lead status from New Jersey for those sites where both agencies agree it would be beneficial and develop Letters of Agreement for those sites.
bill wolfe February 20, 2012 at 04:31 PM
One final point that must be emphasized: I never got a call from a Patch reporter to brief them before they ran with the original story. The original story was based only on the PEER press release. These issues are complex and require briefing, particularly for reporters that are not environmental pro's. Patch is responsible for what they wrote - if they did no work and misled readers, it is pathetic and unprofessional to now use DEP to blame and attack me for that.
Tom Troncone (Editor) February 20, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Bill The original story was written off of a press release that you sent out, so it's not like we did a story in a vacuum without contacting you... it was your press release. I'm not sure what is "pathetic and unprofessional." You issued a pretty scathing release, and now the DEP is responding. I would submit that your issue is with them and not with us for simply reporting their response to your press release. We stand by our story.
Tom Troncone (Editor) February 20, 2012 at 05:20 PM
And that being said, if you want to submit a guest op-ed piece on the Fair Lawn site, we'd be more than happy to run it.
bill wolfe February 21, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Readers - The original story was misleading. My press release specifically stated that EPA deferred oversight to NJ DEP: "EPA’s decision to bypass these sites leaves the sites under state auspices but the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a history of prolonged but ineffective cleanups. After the EPA Inspector General looked at a 20-year history of state-supervised clean-ups, it concluded DEP had the worst track record in the country at toxic remediation and recommended federal takeover." http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1554
bill wolfe February 21, 2012 at 01:47 PM
(part 1 of 2) Zak - if you consider yourself a reporter, just ask the following obvious questions: 1) the EPA documents we released are stamped "confidential" and we had to sue EPA under FOIA to get them. Now Why is that? Don't citizens have a right to know about risks in their communities? Don't citizens have a right to participate in decisions EPA makes about whether to list a site on the Superfund National Priorities list? EPA issued a press statement - ask them exactly what are the factors, other than risk, that EPA considers in whether to list a site under Superfund, ad how they consider them. Why does EPA "concurrence policy" defer to NJ Governor Christie?. 2. I just Google mapped the site and note it is nearby a school and many homes. If you read the EPA HRS document you will note that the toxic chemicals in groundwater are highly mobile volatile organics. So, you and your readers should take a look at THIS MAP and ask DEP for a similar map for this site and see if those homes and school are in what DEP calls a "THREAT RADIUS" for vapor intrusio.: http://www.wolfenotes.com/2012/02/what-if-this-were-your-home-or-school-in-toxic-vapor-crosshairs/ 3) The EPA HRS risk document is a "reassessment" and was dated 8/18/2008. If DEP says the site was cleaned up in 1992, why do you think EPA was reassessing it in 2008? Hint - look at above "THREAT RADIUS" map and call he people in Garfield or Pompton Lakes that live near EC Electroplating and Dupont sites.
bill wolfe February 21, 2012 at 01:48 PM
part 2 of 2 4) Why would a DEP press officer personally attack a critic and an organization that represents DEP employees? Maybe to attack and discredit the messenger to avoid dealing with the message? 5) That sign in your pretty little picture is dated 10/12/11. Why is that? Hint: Call NJ Senator Linda Greenstein )D-Mercer) and ask her all about it. She sponsored the law that mandates posting of signs and fences. Ask her why. And then ask her if she worked with Bill Wolfe in drafting the bill. If you or your editor began to ask any of the above questions, you might have the right to call yourselves reporters. But, because you didn't ask any of them but printed a personal attack on me, you are a bunch of stenographers who do a disservice to your profession and your readers. Wolfe
bill wolfe February 22, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Dear Patch reporters and editor: Perhaps you might consider this aspect of journalistic ethics: "Like many broader ethical systems, journalism ethics include the principle of "limitation of harm." This often involves the withholding of certain details from reports such as the names of minor children, crime victims' names or information not materially related to particular news reports release of which might, for example, harm someone's reputation.[7][8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards
bill wolfe February 23, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Readers - see this Press of Atlantic CIty Report for an example of how a good reporter covered this story: Group finds site of former Hammonton dry cleaner overlooked for Superfund designation http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/breaking/group-finds-site-of-former-hammonton-dry-cleaner-overlooked-for/article_617c3f6c-5dc2-11e1-8c3f-0019bb2963f4.html

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