Hearings - Testimony
 
Subcommittee on Superfund and Waste Management
Oversight Hearing on the Superfund Program
Thursday, June 15, 2006
 
Mr. Robert Spiegel
Edison Wetlands Association

Thank you for the opportunity to testify here before you. I am here to tell the committee about how the funding shortfall in the federal Superfund program is putting people in danger and hurting our shared environment. Since 1989, I have worked as the founder and Executive Director of Edison Wetlands Association (EWA), the only non-profit organization in New Jersey working to get toxic sites cleaned up in a thorough and timely manner. I personally have worked actively to ensure the remediation of over 75 toxic sites in New Jersey, including over 20 federal Superfund sites. With EWA’s increasing success, we have also been brought in to help on toxic sites in other states, including New York, Nebraska and California.

 

As you know, funds have all but dried up for Orphan Sites, or sites that lack a viable Responsible Party. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) publicly states that their cleanups are on track, it is clear at many sites I work on that work is proceeding at a far slower pace or not at all. This is especially troubling because many of New Jersey’s Superfund sites are located in densely populated residential areas, and thus their impacts to public health and the environment are immediate and direct.

The residential factor makes the Superfund program all the more vital. As home to the industrial corridor that helped build the entire nation, New Jersey holds approximately one-eighth of all federal Superfund sites, despite being the fourth smallest state in the nation. In fact, we can claim a number of unfortunate titles. New Jersey is number one in its 18,000 known contaminated sites, number one in population density, and number one in the prevalence of cancer. As a parent and lifelong resident of New Jersey, I cannot help but wonder how much these factors are related.

To illustrate the problem at hand, I would like to talk about one site in particular, less than a mile from my home: the Cornell-Dubilier Superfund Site in South Plainfield, New Jersey. On the USEPA’s own website, Cornell-Dubilier is listed as a site where public exposure is not under control. Now called Hamilton Industrial Park and home to approximately 15 active businesses, the site is approximately 26 acres and sits in a working-class residential and industrial area.

From 1936 to 1962, Cornell-Dubilier manufactured electrical components and capacitors, and they allegedly dumped PCB-containing materials directly onsite. In addition to PCBs, there are still 26 other contaminants of concern onsite, including metals and trichloroethene. The contamination impacts on-site soil, groundwater both on-site and offsite, and stream sediments in the Bound Brook, which flows into the Raritan River and ultimately Raritan Bay. PCB capacitors labeled “Cornell-Dubilier” were also found buried in the nearby Woodbrook Road dumpsite, which is now a separate National Priority List Superfund Site.

Even in the state with more contaminated sites than any other, Cornell-Dubilier stands out. The U.S. EPA’s own risk assessment found a cancer risk in excess of 3 out of 100. At public meetings for this site, we are constantly approached by residents living nearby who ask how they can get cancer studies for their neighborhoods, which have very high prevalence of cancer and other illnesses. Likewise, some of the highest levels of PCBs in the state are found in fish caught in the Bound Brook adjacent to the site. Many local residents still unknowingly fish these waters, primarily low-income residents who fish to feed their families. Some cannot read the few signs warning of the dangers of fish consumption, which are posted in English only.

EWA first got involved at this site after we received a phone call that children were riding their bikes around the disposal areas in the rear of the property. We also learned that a truck driving school was operating on one of the site’s most contaminated areas, creating toxic dust clouds that moved through the adjacent community. What amazed us is that it seemed to be common knowledge by the site owners, elected officials and regulators that this area was highly contaminated. Yet no one seemed willing to take the lead to protect the children or relocate the truck driving school.

We walked the site with USEPA personnel, who recognized the site’s public exposure and wanted to work with us to have a fence installed and urge the Township to relocate the truck driving school. Yet 21 years after USEPA first got involved with the site, the scope of the contamination remains staggering. Following are some of the current exposures at the site:

· People still work inside the contaminated onsite buildings, including women of child-bearing age. Dust inside the building is contaminated with high levels of PCBs, lead and other chemicals. The USEPA calculated the Hazard Index for PCBs alone at 150. To give you an idea of what that means, anything above 1 requires USEPA action – and PCBs alone are 150!

 

· Local families continue to consume fish caught from the adjacent Bound Brook, even though they contain the some of the highest levels of PCBs in the state of New Jersey.

· Children continue to trespass on the site regularly, due to poor site security and a lack of adequate sign postings.

· Groundwater remains highly contaminated with chlorinated solvents, PCBs and many other chemicals. USEPA still does not know the extent of the groundwater plume, its direction or how much of an impact it has on public health.

· Homes around the site still contain unacceptable levels of PCB and require additional testing and remediation. Daycare centers and other buildings around the site were found to be contaminated enough to require remediation.

These public health risks are even more sobering when you realize that the USEPA has had 21 years to address them. Yet after all this time, the best plan USEPA could come up with was to leave the majority of PCB contamination onsite, while ignoring large amounts of soil that New Jersey considers a residential hazard. We believe the USEPA has refrained from planning a more comprehensive cleanup because of their lack of funds.

 

Our engineering expert, Richard Chapin of Chapin Engineering, holds over 25 years experience in remediating contaminated sites. On our behalf, he has reviewed USEPA plans and the underlying contamination issues at this site. His review of the Agency’s Record of Decision (ROD) has noted the following problems:

* The ROD addresses approximately 278,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated onsite soil. Yet the only soil that will definitely be removed is 7,500 cubic yards of soil with PCBs at greater than 500 parts per million. Less than one-half of the balance will be treated, if possible, to reduce the PCB level to below 500 parts per million. The overwhelming majority of the soil will simply be left on-site under a “cap.” Since the estimated cost of this “cleanup” is over $90 million, it certainly seems like a lot of money to do little more than covering the site.

* The ROD assumes the cap will be maintained for a 30-year period by an undefined person or corporation, and assumes that entity will readily take responsibility for a massive deposit of PCB contamination. After that 30-year period is over, the site simply falls into an undefined void. In essence, the USEPA is creating a major PCB landfill.

* Site buildings are highly contaminated with PCBs, and demolition and off-site disposal is the preferred long-term solution. Yet nothing has been done to clean up the immediate hazards to current workers in the buildings.

* Highly contaminated groundwater is not delineated and off-site contamination of the Bound Brook has yet to be addressed. Given the potential magnitude of these problems, an additional $50 million could easily be required to complete the cleanup.

Rather than wait indefinitely for the USEPA’s next action, EWA recently tested the Bound Brook both upstream and downstream of Cornell-Dubilier. Our findings were alarming, to say the least. While no PCBs or volatile organic compounds were found in surface water upstream, TCE was found in surface water downstream of the site at over 200 times the New Jersey Surface Water Quality criteria. Cornell-Dubilier’s contaminated groundwater is uncontrolled and apparently discharging significant amounts of TCE into the Bound Brook. Finally, we also found PCBs in the soil of a publicly accessible bank of the Bound Brook downstream of the site at a concentration exceeding State criteria. This area is not even addressed by USEPA’s proposed cleanup.

While USEPA maintains that the cleanup is moving forward, this illusion is just a house of cards ready to collapse. As the following concerns indicate, the Agency is making a promise they cannot deliver.

· The remediation of the onsite soils and building alone is estimated to cost $90 to $100 million dollars. With the site cleanup in final design, the USEPA has publicly stated that they expect to begin work this fall, and that funding is available to cover the costs. Yet the Potential Responsible Parties have already indicated to the Agency that they do not have such funds. So where will the funds come from to begin a nearly $100 million dollar cleanup? Privately, the USEPA acknowledges that they are unsure where those funds will come from, let alone the additional millions needed to address the groundwater and off-site contamination

· USEPA and their sister agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Research (ATSDR), continue to allow people work in the onsite buildings despite the extremely high levels of contaminated dust in the building. If the cleanup must be delayed, USEPA and ATSDR should at least protect public health by immediately closing down the building.

· Instead of this common-sense solution, USEPA has relied on cheap, unregulated institutional controls, putting the health of the workers and their families at risk by letting operations continue in these toxic buildings. USEPA’s lone action to address the public health concerns was to direct the property owner to have the workers wash their hands and clean their shoes before leaving the buildings. They implemented no oversight, and to this day, the Agency has not checked with the tenants to ensure their recommendations are being followed. As a result, USEPA is continuing to allow unsuspecting workers to track toxic dust out of the buildings to potentially contaminate their homes.

· With USEPA’s glaring lack of transparency about the funding for Cornell-Dubilier’s cleanup, we can only wonder how many communities around the country are being led to believe there is funding available, when the Agency clearly knows funds are scarce.

My organization is not sitting back and waiting for USEPA to win a $100 million lottery so the cleanup of Cornell-Dubilier can begin. We are closely monitoring the cleanup process for this disgusting nightmare of a site, and working with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, local community groups and other non-profits like the Work Environment Council to ensure USEPA protects public health here, as we do at other sites across New Jersey. At the Ringwood Mines/Landfill Superfund Site, we have been successful in jump-starting the cleanup and re-listing of this Ramapough Mountain Indian Tribe community and a State Park where Ford Motor Company dumped toxic lead paint sludge, but this only occurred because Ford is a viable Potential Responsible Party. And at the former Chemical Insecticide Corp. Superfund Site (CIC) in Edison, where children once played in contaminated creeks and “green rabbits” once roamed with fur tinged green by a herbicide manufactured onsite, our advocacy and a successful USEPA cleanup now has the site so clean it is slated to become a community park.

The CIC cleanup, I should note, occurred just before the Superfund ran dry. Since then, we have noticed an alarming trend within USEPA for slower and less protective cleanups, along with fundamental and institutional changes within the Agency. Among them are:

· A Shroud of Secrecy: USEPA appears to have gone into a bunker mentality when it comes to limiting public access to documents with information that impacts public health. My organization submitted a Freedom of Information request for a list of sites in Region 2 where exposure is not under control, but USEPA failed to comply. While USEPA continues to mislead the public about the funding shortfall that is affecting sites across New Jersey and the nation, my organization works to protect health around other Superfund sites, such as Imperial Oil in Marlborough, Martin Aaron in Camden, and Horseshoe Road in Sayreville. But with so many other Superfund sites across the state, we simply cannot serve as watchdog for all of them.

· Institutional Failure: USEPA insiders have told us that, except under the most egregious situations, the Agency no longer utilizes interim remedies at Superfund sites. While interim remedies often protect human and environmental health in the short-term, USEPA fears that taking an interim action will lower their chances of receiving funding for their final remedies. In addition, no matter how bad the contamination levels or the public exposure, USEPA no longer finds an imminent health threat on their sites, as that would force immediate remediation for which there is no real funding.

· Misleading the Public: As the Cornell-Dubilier case indicates, Agency’s public stance has become one solely based on crisis management. From speaking to a number of USEPA case managers, while they say whatever is necessary to pacify members of the public and elected officials, privately they admit that the funding source for all of these pending site cleanups is one giant question mark.

While we look at the vast array of environmental problems like global warming and overdevelopment, we must not forget another inconvenient truth. Without the Superfund tax reinstated, there will not be funding available to clean up all the Cornell-Dubiliers, and the Ringwoods, and the Omaha Leads, in the United States. I invite you to join us in touring these sites to see their first-hand impact on children and families, or even to tour similar Superfund sites in your state.

It is a real shame that in a country as wealthy as the United States, we cannot protect the health of our children, our most valuable resource. With the recent record profits for the ultra-wealthy chemical and oil industries, it is not asking too much for polluters to pay for the cleanups of their contamination.

Superfund was a promise the federal government made to clean up toxic nightmares left by industry. I come before you today to ask that you keep that promise. Without that tax and a strong commitment from you, our nation’s trusted leaders, the promise is broken again and again – one community at a time.

 

 

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