Last week the DEP had a private meeting for Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRPs) on proposed changes to groundwater and vapor intrusion standards when it comes to toxic sites. The proposed changes are a major roll back in environmental protections and public health standards for people who would be living and working on contaminated properties. The stakeholder process for this change has been dominated by industry developers and their hired consultants. This is the first major change in standards since the LSRP program has been put in place.
This is a sneak attack on public health. The rollback of protective standards on environmental cleanups is a giveaway to developers and polluters at the expense of the people of New Jersey. These changes are not based on science; they are based on political science. This is the Christie administration’s ongoing attack on the environment.
Having strict groundwater and vapor standards are critically important in a state like New Jersey with over 20,000 contaminated sites. The clean up or remediation of these sites affects not only the people that end up living or working on top of them, but adjoining properties as well. By weakening cleanup standards, it enriches the developers and polluters by costing them less to clean up and remediate at the expense of the environment and public health. While the responsible parties and developers save money on cleanup costs the people who live and work in these areas will be spending more on health care.
Of the proposed changes to groundwater standards, 27 of them weaken protections, increasing the amount of toxic chemicals that are allowed to stay in groundwater. There are only 8 changes were they actually decrease the amount of pollution allowed and those are mostly based on changes in federal standards. We are weakening where we can and only strengthening where required to do so by EPA.
For vapor and soils in non-residential development, including parks and play grounds, we are weakening standards and increasing the amount of pollution for 69 chemicals and only decreasing amount of pollution for 6. For vapor and soil in residential we are weakening standards for 23 chemicals while strengthening standards in 18. The better protections again can be attributed to updated EPA standards.
Many of these chemicals that we are weakening standards for have been studied by the state with science on why we need to be more restrictive and decrease the amount of chemicals. Yet they are proposing standards to increase the amount of toxic chemicals in the environment.
The chemicals in groundwater end up under people’s homes or in their basements and they end up breathing them in as they evaporate and become vapors. That is why having vapor and groundwater standard are so important; they are one of the leading causes of ingestion of toxic chemicals that have major health consequences. For instance there is a higher rate than normal of lung cancer in Jersey City as people breathe in chromium vapors as studied by the NJ Department of Health. The weakening of these standards and adding more toxins into our homes has a direct impact on public health, especially children, whether it is in their home or playing on their lawns.
New Jersey is supposed to be a million to one cancer risk for exposure to toxic chemicals. It is not only in our drinking water legislation but it is in our toxic site cleanup legislation as well. We believe with a lot of these changes we are weakening those scientific health based standards. Instead we are setting in place standards that are there to benefit polluter and developers.
By weakening and politicizing science and stacking boards with polluters that have a conflict of interest you get around New Jersey’s protective, science and health based laws. There has not been any peer reviewed, scientific evidence or papers for the reductions of these standards. Just the opposite, the original standards were set by peer reviewed scientific research that was protective of human health.
They are weakening standards for acetone which is a carcinogen and neurotoxin, carbon tetrachlorine which affects the kidney and nervous system and is a carcinogen, dichlorolbenzene which bioaccumlates in our fatty tissue and is a carcinogen, and trichloroethane which affects the central nervous system and is linked to birth defects. These are just some of the proposed roll backs.
At a time when the science is showing smaller and smaller concentrations of chemicals have a bigger impact to health and the dangers from vapor intrusion, we are actually weakening standards instead of increasing health protections.
These changes will impact toxic sites across the state from Pompton Lakes and Lodi to Garfield, Newark, Bridgewater, Mantua, and Camden.
This change in standards is part of the ongoing attack by the Christie administration on the environment and sound science; now standards that are supposed to be protective of the public health are under attack. They are siding with industry and special interests over the people of New Jersey. This is part of the Governor’s Executive Order 2, allowing no rule stricter than federal standards. The Governor has downgraded the DEP Division of Science to an Office run by a political appointee instead of scientist. He has stacked the DEP Science Advisory Board with industry representatives and is now trying to stack the Drinking Water Quality Institute. The head of the Drinking Water Quality Institute resigned in protest and they have not met in two years.
When we have industry writing standards and regulating themselves this is part of the outcome. They get to weaken standards, write their cleanup plans, oversee the cleanup and sign off that the site is clean.