For the record, I am Robert Spiegel, Director of the Edison Wetlands Association, a group dedicated to the preservation and cleanup of the environment in Central New Jersey. I live in Edison New Jersey. As a New Jersey resident and director of a environmental organization, I am familiar with Superfund's highs and lows. New Jersey has 116 sites on the National priority list, more than any other state in the nation. My town alone has three sites.
However, I am here to tell you that I am pleased about the EPA's Superfund presence in Edison, New Jersey. I know that this sounds a little strange, let me explain why. Edison has 90 contaminated sites listed by the State of New Jersey. Of these, only 3 are Superfund: Kin-Buc Landfill, The Chemical Insecticide Site and the Renora Site. I have been involved with both the identification and remediation of many of these sites, both EPA and State lead, and I must tell you that EPA lead cleanups are far superior to the State Department of Environmental Protection cleanups.
In looking at the difference between EPA and State lead cleanups it breaks down to two major differences. The first is thoroughness of investigation and cleanup, the second is public participation. EPA investigations and cleanups examine in detail on site contamination and are open to investigating and cleaning up off-site and ground water contamination. State lead sites rely on the polluter to submit data and the State rarely, if ever, challenges the data. State lead sites often ignore off-site contamination believing in the "magic fence theory" which states that contamination stops at the fence line. Only in extremely rare circumstances will the State force the polluter to investigate off-site contamination or ground water pollution. The EPA has been aggressively pursuing public input and has an aggressive outreach program for the cleanups at their sites. At State lead sites, you are lucky if you can get one of the project managers on the phone and if you want to review records the State has, it will cost you $100.
I am here today to talk about a EPA Superfund Site "success story" and how it might be effected by the S. 8 Superfund Reauthorization Bill. My involvement with Superfund started in 1989 with a site called the Chemical Insecticide Superfund Site, also known as CIC in Edison New Jersey. Chemical Insecticide manufactured pesticides, herbicides and fungicides including military defoliants such as Agent Orange. The site operated from 1954 through 1971. As a result of CIC operation, the site became contaminated due to poor management and the disposal of chemicals in unlined lagoons on the property. Two streams also became so contaminated that in 1969 several cows died of arsenic poisoning a mile down stream after drinking from the stream that ran near the site. We became involved with this site after one of our members pointed out that there were green streams running off the site into residential neighborhoods and children were playing in the streams. Our concern was that contaminants running off the site posed an unacceptable health threat to the residents who live in the area and children who played in the streams.
After EPA confirmed that the runoff had indeed leached from this site, we decided to form a community working group to work with EPA. From 1991 to 1993 we had a very difficult time working with the EPA. It quickly became an "us against them attitude". We battled constantly in the press. The cleanup was stalled and it seemed that we were getting nowhere fast. In 1993 something happened that changed the cleanup at this site. The EPA encouraged us to apply for a Technical Assistance Grant, also known as TAG. We applied and received a Technical Assistance Grant from the EPA. A TAG is a grant the EPA makes available to citizen groups around Superfund Sites. The Grant was used to hire Dr. Stephen Penningroth, a senior research Scientist from Cornell University. Dr. Penningroth's job was to help our citizen's group review complex technical data generated during the investigation of the site, to help us interpret the data, as well as help us understand the complexities of cleaning up the site.
Since 1993 this site was turned from one of the biggest public relations disasters into a model EPA should use for all its cleanups! EPA has not just developed a community relation plan, but has actively developed a community relationship at this site. It was in no small part due to the TAG program. It helped us to understand that the Superfund program is a complicated answer to a complex problem. We had found that most of the problems stem more from lack of understanding about the nature of environmental pollution and remediation, and the unrealistic expectation that Superfund can be a quick fix to these problems.
I am happy to say that the off-site cleanup of residential neighborhoods around the site is complete and restoration of the Mill Brook is mostly complete. EPA has not only cleaned up the off-site areas ahead of schedule, but has done it 2 million dollars under budget. EPA is working towards an on-site Treatability Study using Soil Washing which if successful will wash the chemicals from the soil. This will allow the soil once cleaned to be returned to the site having only contaminated waste water to treat and dispose of.
What is interesting to note about the EPA cleanup is that by going through a full public process, and by being responsive to our concerns, EPA probably ended up slowing down the pace of the cleanup somewhat, but ultimately ended up doing a much better and less disruptive job.
There are many troubling aspects of Bill S.8 which I feel would hurt the citizens of the United States, such as the default approval of polluter-written cleanup plans, the Mandatory PRP lead, how cleanup standards would be set, Health and Risk Assessment as well as many others. I am going to focus on the specific provisions that I feel qualified to address due to my experience with Superfund. This bill, as written, appears to be an attempt to significantly weaken and partially disable the current Superfund Laws. Provisions such as the Voluntary Cleanup Provisions and authorizing only 15 million dollars for the TAG program through the year 2002 (this breaks down to $11500 per site) and will weaken public involvement in the cleanup process. S.8 puts polluters in control of cleanups, allowing them to write their own cleanup plans, and allowing EPA only 180 days to review them. If EPA can't, too bad, and the plan gets approved by default. The polluters can petition the EPA to reopen and weaken cleanups, substituting exposure controls for actual cleanups. The public apparently has no voice in this process. S.8 Promotes the illusion of cleanups at Superfund Sites. Provisions in the bill would allow highly contaminated hot-spots, like the CIC, to remain contaminated by allowing, "institutional and engineering controls," such as fences and deed restriction to be deemed as actual cleanup.
Groundwater at the CIC under this bill does not have to be cleaned up unless it is identified as a source of drinking water even though both the shallow and deep bed rock aquifers are contaminated. Since the demand for drinking water is growing, Middlesex County could end up having to upgrade water treatment plants (at their own expense) rather than being able to pump clean water. The contaminated off-site areas downstream from the CIC Site could have been left under this S.8 because S.8 does not protect highly exposed or unusually sensitive groups (such as asthmatics and children), given the way the bill tilts risk assessments by the use of central estimates.
S.8 dumps toxic pollution on communities and is a bailout for polluters. The government should be looking for ways to strengthen Superfund instead of weakening it. Provisions that would pierce the corporate veil need to be included in any new reauthorization bill. The owner of the CIC Site has escaped liability by hiding behind the corporate veil. He has contaminated four sites, two are Superfund sites. We need to hold individuals responsible for toxic waste pollution both civil and criminally. Currently laws allow people to move from one site to another with virtual impunity. We need to expand the TAG program making it easier for citizens groups to apply for and use the TAG program, expanding the narrowly defined use of the money to include allowing sampling of contaminated areas. The current risk assessment system needs to be revised and replaced with a tiered risk assessment which would take into account synergistic effects of multiple contaminates. High risk groups need to be given special consideration which currently they don't get.
We need a strong Superfund program one that goes after polluters, protects the public and identifies and cleans up contaminated sites. S.8 is not this bill! Detractors of Superfund would like to frame the argument about Superfund as the Eco-zelots against the poor industry who are just trying to survive in this competitive world. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that we know industry is necessary, everything we do, use and have is due to industry in one form or another. We however, refuse to accept that we have to allow polluters to poison our air, water and land and then allow them to walk away without liability. Superfund is our safety net against this. I hope you will go back and revise this Bill for it does not protect the American people against what is perhaps one the greatest threats to our national security, the poisoning of our citizens and their land, water and air. Superfund is not perfect, but it is the only game in town. Thank you