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Toxic Site in Fair Lawn Left Uncontrolled By EPA

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an environmental watchdog group, announced Wednesday that Fair Lawn has an additional superfund-eligible site

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.

Zak Koeske February 21, 2012 at 03:28 AM
With all due respect, Mr. Wolfe, I don't see how the information contained in the article is any different than what you pulled from the press release. The article states: "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." Both the article and your press release clearly state that the NJDEP has control of sites left off the EPA's list, and that you and PEER believe that NJDEP has a poor track record for site cleanups.
bill wolfe February 21, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Zak - if you consider yourself a reporter, just ask the following obvious questions: (submitted in 2 parts to meet size restriction): 1) the EPA documents we released are steamed "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 community's? 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. 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 01:40 PM
(continued) 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
Rich Ber December 31, 2012 at 02:04 AM
I want to find out if the well site in Fair Lawn also contained Mercury. My mother died of cancer .My family has other problems. I left Fair Lawn in 1998. I never drank the water. I could not stand the taste. My family and friends did. Some of my friends and school mates have already died of cancer. I also remember as a kid with a bad smell coming from the sewer and Knowing that Sandoz Chemicals was across the river in paterson. Please Let me know if there where any heavy metals in the water so I can help my brother.
Zak Koeske December 31, 2012 at 04:38 PM
@Rich I'm not aware of there being any mercury in the water. Here's a list of some of the contaminants found in the Fair Lawn Well Field http://scorecard.goodguide.com/env-releases/land/site.tcl?epa_id=NJD980654107#threats

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