For more than a month now the EPA has said that the recent superstorm didn’t cause significant problems at any of the 247 Superfund toxic waste sites it’s monitoring in New York and New Jersey. But no actual testing of the soil and water has been done.
The EPA did a handful of tests after the storm, but couldn’t provide details or locations of any recent testing when asked last week. New Jersey officials point out that federally designated Superfund sites are EPA’s responsibility.
The Superfund Law of 1980 gave the EPA the power to order cleanups of abandoned, spilled and illegally dumped hazardous wastes that threaten human health or the environment. The sites can involve long-term or short-term cleanups.
Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey, says officials haven’t done enough to ensure there is no contamination from Superfund sites. He’s worried toxins could leach into groundwater and the ocean.
“It’s really serious and I think the EPA and the state of New Jersey have not done due diligence to make sure these sites have not created problems,” Tittel said.
Last month the EPA said that none of the Superfund sites it monitors in New York or New Jersey sustained significant damage, but that it has done follow-up sampling at the Gowanus Canal site in Brooklyn, the Newtown Creek site on the border of Queens and Brooklyn, and the Raritan Bay Slag site, all of which flooded during the storm.
EPA spokeswoman Stacy Kika didn’t respond to questions about whether any soil or water tests have been done at the other 243 Superfund sites. The agency hasn’t said exactly how many of the sites flooded.
But politicians have been asking the same questions. On Nov. 29, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., wrote to the EPA to ask for “an additional assessment” of Sandy’s impact on Superfund sites in the state.
The EPA took four samples from the site after Superstorm Sandy: two from a fenced-off beach area and two from a nearby public playground. One of the beach samples tested above the recreational limit for lead. In early November, the EPA said it was taking additional samples “to get a more detailed picture of how the material might have shifted” and will “take appropriate steps to prevent public exposure” at the site, according to a bulletin posted on its website. But six weeks later, the agency couldn’t provide more details of what has been found.
Gabriel Fillippeli, director of the Center for Urban Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said lead tends to stay in the soil once it is deposited but can be moved around by stormwaters or winds. Arsenic, which has been found in the surface water at the site, can leach into the water table, Fillippeli said.
“My concern is twofold. One is, a storm like that surely moved some of that material physically to other places, I would think,” Fillippeli said. “If they don’t cap that or seal it or clean it up, arsenic will continue to make its way slowly into groundwater and lead will be distributed around the neighborhood.”
The lack of testing is upsetting the residents. “I think it brought a lot of crud in from what’s out there,” said Elise Pelletier, whose small bungalow sits on a hill overlooking the Raritan Bay Slag site. “You don’t know what came in from the water.” Her street did not flood because it is up high, but she worries about a park below where people go fishing and walk their dogs. She would like to see more testing done.
Yet officials in both New Jersey and New York say they are monitoring the area, and haven’t found any major problems. Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency has done visual inspections of major brownfield sites and also alerted towns and cities to be on the lookout for problems. Ragonese said they just aren’t getting calls voicing such concerns.
Back at the Raritan Bay slag site, some residents want more information. And they want the toxic soil, which has sat here for years, out.