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In December, more than 200 families in southern New Jersey were evacuated after a train carrying highly toxic vinyl chloride derailed from a bridge and fell into a creek near Paulsboro. One of the train cars released 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, which formed a cloud of toxic gas that drifted into the community. Hundreds of families were forced to evacuate their homes, and dozens were hospitalized. The residents have formed the Paulsboro Community Action Committee to voice their concerns. The group has drafted a petition asking the local government to include the residents in evaluating what went wrong and how to avoid the problems that occurred following the accident. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against Conrail and CSX for damages. One group is asking for medical screening for early detection of life threatening medical conditions linked to vinyl chloride.
Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes have been campaigning for EPA to cleanup contaminated groundwater caused by the DuPont manufacturing plant for years. The contaminated groundwater has spread to the neighboring community and infiltrated basements of nearby homes. After twenty years of inaction, the community decided to ask the state to place the site on the federal Superfund list and delivered over 10,000 names on a petition asking Governor Chris Christie to request that EPA do this. DuPont has resisted making the site a Superfund site in order to control the cleanup efforts which have frustrated local residents.
Hurricane Irene battered the East Coast last August causing massive flooding that included the toxic waste chemical lagoons at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s American Cyanamid Superfund Site in Bridgewater along the Raritan River. EPA was left with no choice but to release the standing water into the adjacent Raritan. Before the hurricane hit, a group of environmental organizations led by the Edison Wetlands Association (EWA) pressured EPA to force Pfizer to take emergency measures to secure the leaking toxic waste chemical lagoons to no avail. EWA and others were concerned that the lagoons were already leaking benzene and other toxic chemicals into the Raritan River at levels more than 20,000 times the cleanup standard raising concerns over what would happen when the hurricane hit the site.
A lawsuit filed last year by the Eastern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Ironbound Community Corp. against Covanta Energy was settled recently. Covanta’s “energy from- waste plant” in Newark, which has committed hundreds of violations for releasing sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and fine particulates under the federal Clean Air Act, will install new air pollution control equipment to limit their emissions. They have also agreed to provide $875,000 for green space recreation projects in the Ironbound section of Newark and to commission a study to examine waste deliveries at the incinerator that will recommend improvements to existing inspection programs. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has indicated that the incinerator emits more mercury than any other trash burning facility in the state.
Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes (CCPL) with support from Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) have succeeded in convincing DuPont to allow residents in the Pompton Lakes area to hire their own contractors to test the air in their homes and to install a remediation system that would prevent toxic vapors from entering their homes. Over 400 homes were affected by trichloroethylene (TCE) and other chemicals leaking from the nearby DuPont plant. These volatile chemicals got into the groundwater and are evaporating through a process called vapor intrusion into homes built above the groundwater. This is a major victory for the people in the area known as the “Plume.” Prior to this decision, residents were only allowed to use contractors that DuPont provided them.
Citizens for Clean Pompton Lakes (CCPL) criticized a recent study by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that found no evidence that vapor mitigation systems installed in homes are polluting the outdoor air. The systems are used to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that had evaporated from contaminated groundwater and seeped into homes. The residents, however, are worried that the toxic vapors are just being transferred to their yards instead. The DuPont company is responsible for the contamination of the groundwater beneath all the houses, which occurred in the 1980s and is currently emitting hazardous vapors including TCE and PCE; cleanup still continues. CCPL is asking for continuous monitoring on a better sample of houses, stating that the eight houses chosen for the study are not “representative of the area,” especially since only 185 of the 439 homes in the valley have vapor systems installed so far.
The Arthur Kill Watershed Alliance formed to oppose the construction of an experimental coal and chemical plant proposed for Linden. The PurGen coal project would build a coal power plant that would use new carbon sequestration technology. The plant would heat coal to generate electricity and fertilizer. The resulting carbon dioxide emissions would be piped miles away where they would be buried under the ocean floor. This experimental technology poses serious health and environmental safety concerns including the potential of an accident. PurGen claims the weight of the bedrock will seal in the carbon dioxide, but this is pure speculation since a project of this magnitude and scope has never been attempted. Any leak would release the carbon dioxide which could harm marine life and acidify ocean waters. A leak at the plant could kill hundreds living in the metropolitan NY/NJ area. More than 25 groups in NJ have signed on opposed to this project.
The USEPA working with the state Department of Environmental Protection told the residents of Pompton Lakes that they will no longer be restricted to using a contractor selected by DuPont to install vapor mitigation systems in their homes. This is a major victory for Citizens for Clean Pomptom Lakes (CCPL) who has been fighting for EPA to take over the cleanup. High levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) have been found evaporating into more than 450 homes from contaminated groundwater coming from a nearby DuPont manufacturing facility. “This is amazing news,” said Lisa Riggiola, a former borough councilwoman and a leader of CCPL. “I hope this is the first step towards getting our neighborhood cleaned up.” The decision comes less than a week after EPA Region I Administrator Judith Enck responded to CLPL’s demand to get involved.
Residents in the Ironbound section of Newark have been living with the pollution from the largest garbage incinerator in the state for 18 years and it’s not getting any easier despite claims by Covanta Energy that it’s “a soldier in the war against global warming.” Residents feel that their concerns about health risks continue to be ignored. “Is there anything we can say to get them to do something?…We are breathing more and more lead, dioxin and other pollutants,” said Ana Baptista of the Ironbound Community Corporation. Records acquired from the state by the group show that plant emissions of particulates, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide violated Covanta’s permit more than 900 times in the past 5 years. Covanta has now applied to renew its permit and the community is gearing up to stop them.
Citizens for Clean Pompton Lakes (CCPL) formed last year when they learned that over 400 homes in their neighborhood were built on top of groundwater contaminated with volatile organic compounds including trichloroethylene (TCE). The source of the contamination is a nearby DuPont plant that manufactured explosives and used TCE as an industrial solvent. Although DuPont has begun installing vapor mitigation systems to remove volatile chemicals from inside the homes, many residents are unhappy with how these systems are being installed and feel that many will not work properly. CCPL is looking at strategies to hold DuPont accountable.
Three environmental advocacy groups, Edison Wetlands Association, NY/NJ Baykeeper, and Raritan Riverkeeper recently filed letters of intent to sue National Lead, along with several state agencies, for violating both the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act by polluting Raritan Bay. A study by EPA detected high levels of lead contamination—up to 198,000 parts per million (ppm)—in soil samples along the bay, far exceeding the state standard of 1,200 ppm. Another study found the same contaminants in mussels and fish. The agency has since ordered the closure of three coastal sites along the bay, and formally recommended Raritan Bay to be a Superfund site. The groups are hoping to pressure the agency into finally addressing the contamination of the bay.
New Jersey Environmental Federation continues to organize with residents of Lacey Township against the relicensing of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, the oldest operating nuclear plant in the nation. Built in the 1960’s with outdated safety technologies, the facility has had a terrible environmental and safety record. Stop the Relicensing of Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant Coalition (STROC), a coalition of citizen groups, has had several legal victories, including a ruling by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board that faulted AmerGen—the company in ownership of the plant—for intentionally using poor science to establish the “safe infrastructure” at the station. STROC has begun a campaign to get Congress to rewrite the nation’s radiation exposure standards which fail to include vulnerable populations such as infants, pregnant women, and the elderly.
The efforts of residents in Ringwood were validated when a Superfund official publicly admitted that the EPA “blew it” by failing to ensure the proper cleanup of Ford’s former industrial dumping sites in their community. Walter Mugdan confessed that the EPA had failed to compel Ford Motor Company to complete a proper cleanup before it deleted the site from Superfund’s National Priorities List in 1994. While Mugdan’s admission reassured audience members that the EPA is committed to finishing remediation of the site, no words can undo the harm done to residents of the polluted areas, who have suffered adverse health effects while the EPA refused to acknowledge a problem. Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, of the group New Jersey Together, spoke to this effect: “For 26 years, Ford has failed to accept responsibility…They’ve been allowed to do endless studies and spin while an entire generation has grown to adulthood on this site.”
The Edison Wetlands Association (EWA) held a protest in December to bring attention to contamination leaking from the Akzo Nobel/Basell industrial site in Edison. EWA is concerned that chemicals from the site are leaking into the Raritan River. Testing done by the group found several carcinogens including benzene at levels 860 times state standards. The group plans to continue its protests until the state takes action to stop the pollution.
The Fort Monmouth Earth Renaissance Peace Alliance (FMERPA) is concerned that the US Army may not be doing enough to clean up several contaminated areas as part of the Army’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. Forty-three sites on military property were identified as potential contaminated sites and 21 of these sites were targeted for sampling to determine the extent of contamination on these sites. A review of the site assessments by CHEJ science staff identified vapor intrusion from contaminated groundwater as a major issue to address. FMERPA is following up on this recommendation.
The 33rd Annual Clearwater Festival was held in Asbury Park this past September. The festival, sponsored by the Monmouth County Friends of Clearwater, included live music, speakers, and displays. This year’s focus was on environmental justice and featured CHEJ’s Los Gibbs. Folk singer Pete Seeger founded the Clearwater environmental group in 1967 on the Hudson River in New York.
The Ringwood Neighborhood Action Association remains vigilant in its efforts to get the EPA to cleanup the Ringwood Mines Superfund site, first listed on the EPA’s National Priorities List 25 years ago. At a meeting last May, EPA officials promised to review a previously “cleaned up” area at the site when activist Robert Spiegel showed them a box full of sludge collected from the area, known as Sludge Hill. That meeting was only the latest in a series of meetings, litigation efforts, and outcry from community members and state and local officials about the persistent pollution left by the Ford Motor Company on the 500-acre site. Local residents, including the Ramapough Indian Nation, are concerned that their health problems stem from the site.
Residents of Haledon are unhappy with a neighboring cement plant and are organizing to get their voices heard. Residents want the cement-mixing plant to become a better and respectful neighbor. They want operating hours to be reasonable; aesthetic barriers built between their homes and the plant; and a better dust management plan. They are meeting with city leaders to present a proposal for making this plant a better neighbor. Local organizers expect to get what they want because they are working together with a consistent message and persistent effort.