Although it poses risks equal to or greater than Superfund-listed sites, a potentially environmentally hazardous site in Fair Lawn was left off the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund National Priority List, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The Borden Chemical site, located at 8-10 22nd St., was one of 27 New Jersey sites identified by environmental watchdog group PEER as being Superfund-eligible but uncontrolled by the EPA.
Superfund is the name of the environmental program established to address abandoned hazardous waste sites. Once a toxic site is identified and added to the National Priorities List, EPA can clean up the site or compel the responsible party to clean up the site. In this case, however, Borden Chemical was not added to the appropriate list.
“Priority for protecting communities is supposed to be based on risk, but several high-risk communities in our state got swept under the rug by EPA,” New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe said in a statement.
In October, PEER sued the EPA for its failure to turn over Superfund Hazard Rankings for unlisted sites in New Jersey. The rankings score the potential risk to public health and the environment from exposure to contamination at a specific site. Any score above 28.5 points qualifies a site for the Superfund National Priority List.
According to documents obtained by PEER, Borden Chemical in Fair Lawn received a score of 50.03 when it was assessed in 2008, but was never added to the priority list for cleanup.
Fair Lawn already has three sites that have been added to the Superfund National Priority List: the Clariant site, the Fair Lawn Well Field and Fisher Scientific.
Other passed-over sites in the state stretch across 11 counties and include Pompton Lakes, Plainfield, Gloucester, Berlin and Union Township. Even excluding these sites, New Jersey -- with 144 Superfund sites -- has the most of any state, according to PEER.
Sites left unlisted by the EPA fall under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which PEER alleges has a history of prolonged but ineffective cleanups.
“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,” 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.”
NJDEP spokesman Larry Hajna told NJ Spotlight that the omission of the 27 sites from the Superfund National Priority List was because many of those locations are smaller sites where cleanups are ongoing.
Wolfe discounted that argument, saying that the risk posed to the public by the toxic site was the important factor, not the site's size.
The EPA released a statement in response to the PEER report saying the Superfund-eligible sites had not been listed because they were being handled under New Jersey’s cleanup program or under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
“Placing sites on the Superfund list is a decision made using a number of factors, not just their hazardous ranking score,’’ the statement said. “One important factor is whether the site is being addressed under another cleanup program, as is the case with these sites.’’
The EPA's statement failed to appease environmentalists who, according to an NJ Spotlight report, have argued that receiving Superfund status is important because it comes with the potential for federal funding, greater expertise and stricter cleanup standards.