Statement of Senator Jon S. Corzine
Environment and Public Works Committee
July 31, 2002
Thank you, Madame Chairman. I want to thank you for your commitment and leadership on Superfund. I also want to welcome our colleagues to the committee, particularly Senator Torricelli. Senator Torricelli has been fighting to clean up New Jersey’s Superfund sites his whole career in Congress. It’s been an honor for me to join him in that effort.
Madame Chairman, it’s an unfortunate fact that you’re never far from a Superfund site in New Jersey. We have more sites than any other state, and I have visited many of these sites already in my first term.
When you talk to the people who live around these sites, you hear about cancer clusters. You hear about contaminated streams, and rabbits that have turned green from exposure to chemicals. And you hear the frustration of people who can’t get a straight answer from EPA about when a site is going to be cleaned up.
Madame Chairman, I share my constituents’ frustration, because I can’t seem to get a straight answer out of EPA either. It’s been almost four months since our last hearing on this issue. At that time, I asked EPA about whether cleanup of the Chemical Insecticide Corporation site in Edison, New Jersey would be funded this year. The answer I got was “we don’t know and we can’t tell you.”
THE CHEMICAL INSECTICIDE CORPORATION SITE
Madame Chairman, you have alluded to the Chemical Insecticide Corporation site in your testimony already, but I think it’s worth talking about in a bit more detail. From 1954 to 1972, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, including Agent Orange, were manufactured there. After the owner went bankrupt, the residents of Edison were left with a vacant lot with heavily polluted soil and groundwater. Contaminants at the site include arsenic, heavy metals, pesticides, and dioxins. Many of these are known carcinogens. The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry examined the site and declared it a “Public Health Hazard.”
This site was added to the Superfund list in 1990—twelve years ago. But not much happened at the site until local residents got actively involved. In April, one of these people, Bob Spiegel, testified before the Environment and Public Works committee about the site. I won’t read the full testimony, but I want to quote his description of his first encounter with the site. Mr. Spiegel said, quote:
“In the spring of 1991, a friend asked if I wanted to see "green” rabbits. Armed with a video camera, we took a short ride to the Chemical Insecticide Superfund Site. The first thing that struck me was the smell -- the smell of death and decay. Nothing grew on the property except a strange florescent green moss. Small animal carcasses littered the area, and there were, indeed, “green” rabbits living there. The rabbits had developed an abnormal greenish yellow undercoat that I would later discover was the result of Dinoseb, a pesticide disposed of in large quantities throughout the site.
We followed a trail of yellow liquid draining from the back of the site downstream past a neighboring industrial bakery and into the Edison Glen and Edison Woods residential developments. There we video taped a child playing in the poisoned stream who told us
it was a good place to hang out and look for frogs and turtles. I subsequently found out that the vacant CIC lot was a playground for local children, the chemical lagoons were their wading pools, and adults routinely scavenged materials from the site.”
Madame Chairman, this site has taken a toll on the community. Several people who live near the site or worked near the site have died of cancer that they believed was linked to the pollution. One of the families affected was that of a local police officer, who developed a rare blood disease, and whose wife developed reproductive problems. Property values have been hit hard as well.
With the prodding of local residents like Mr. Spiegel, some progress has been made at the site through the Superfund program. EPA has cleaned up some areas in nearby residential developments. In addition, EPA has put a liner on top of the site to keep contaminants from continuing to wash off of the site. And they have decided what they need to do to clean up the site. In January of this year, the end appeared to be in sight, when an EPA employee told residents at a public meeting that cleanup would begin in November. But EPA has since said that they don’t think cleanup may not go forward due to lack of funding.
EPA HAS NOT BEEN FORTHCOMING WITH INFORMATION
As I mentioned earlier, I asked EPA at our last hearing about whether the CIC site would be cleaned up. EPA told me that they didn’t know and couldn’t say. Several weeks later, the EPA Inspector General released a report showing that cleanup at 33 sites in 19 states are not going forward because of funding shortfalls. Five New Jersey sites were on this list, including the CIC site.
According to the IG report, the EPA Region 2 office requested $28.5 million for this fiscal year to begin final cleanup at CIC, but no funds have yet been provided. And according to information on EPA’s website today, EPA has still not committed any FY ’02 funds to cleaning up this site.
Madame Chairman, this is unacceptable. We have EPA information to suggest that among Superfund sites where cleanup is not going forward, the CIC site is one of the most hazardous to human health. We also know from people who live near the site that the temporary remedy—a tarp placed over the site—is failing, and that toxins are once again washing off of the site when it rains. How can EPA possibly continue to justify not cleaning up this site, Madame Chairman?
Madame Chairman, I expect answers today about that site, and about how the funding process works at EPA. Because the story of the Chemical Insecticide site is the story of just one Superfund site. I have focused on it because it is one of the most dangerous sites in the country, and it is not being dealt with. But similar stories could be told about many other sites in New Jersey and in states across the country. It is our duty to ensure that these sites get cleaned up, and we need much better cooperation from EPA so that we can understand what is going on in the program.
We also need to address the macro issue of funding. We know from the Inspector General report that there is a funding shortfall of more than $200 million in FY ’02 alone. We also know that the Superfund is nearly bankrupt.
When the Superfund tax expired in 1995, the Superfund had a balance of $3.6 billion dollars. Since that time, the balance of the fund has steadily dropped. According to the president’s FY’03 budget, the fund will have only $28 million left at the end of the next fiscal year. That’s not even enough to fully clean up the one site that I have been talking about in New Jersey.
So when the Superfund runs dry at the end of the next fiscal year, the entire Superfund budget—which has been $1.3 billion per year in recent years—will be paid out of general revenues. As we all know, we’re in deficits now, so that money will be coming out of the Social Security Trust Fund.
That’s just not fair. It’s not fair to ask the people of Edison, NJ to pay to clean up the Chemical Insecticide Corporation site. And it ’s not fair anywhere else in this country. The polluters ought to pay. That’s why we need to reinstate the tax. And we need better cooperation and more transparency out of EPA.
Thank you, Madame Chairman.