DuPont’s legacy in Pompton Lakes, NJ looms large for homeowners in one area of town. Polluted groundwater emits toxic vapors that led to elevated levels of kidney cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma in the “plume” neighborhood. The vapors were seeping into homes through their basements. Now vents have been installed in about 330 of these homes to enable the vapors to escape directly into the atmosphere rather than accumulate inside.
Real estate values have plunged dramatically in this neighborhood according to NorthJersey.com. Buyers are understandably reluctant to purchase a home with a vent running from the basement up the side of the house. The neighborhood of about 450 homes is more than 10% of the single family homes in the town. (The 576 acre DuPont site itself is an additional 28% of Pompton’s land area of almost 3 square miles, and is mostly unoccupied at this time. The VOC contaminants were dumped in three large unlined pools in the southeastern portion of the DuPont site. We can find no information about what portion of this site has contaminated groundwater underneath.)
There is ongoing work to clean the groundwater by pumping water out of the aquifer, cleaning it, and then returning it to the ground. DuPont/Chemours reports this as success because contamination is being reduced; however, the amount of water to be cleaned is massive and there is no “clean” end in sight. The treatment is presently limited to the DuPont site, but DuPont/Chemours reports that it has allowed the plume to become less contaminated as cleaner water flows into it. There is no plan to install similar treatment in the plume neighborhood.
Overall, the approach is better described as adaptation rather than remediation. At least the vent adaptations can protect residents against carcinogens accumulating inside their homes. There is a separate issue being address simultaneously that has removed or is removing heavy metal contamination (mercury and lead) along the Acid Brook and the Pompton Lake itself.
The only additional plan for the toxic groundwater is a pilot project to to increase flow of the groundwater at the shallowest levels of the plume to minimize vapors and flush some of the pollution out to the lake. Residents are concerned that the high pressure pumping involved will raise the water table and flood basements. The project work plan states that models prove it won’t happen, but offers no insurance or assumption of liability — leaving homeowners on their own if things don’t work as projected. It is important to understand that flooded basements would disable vapor mitigations systems and expose residents again to evaporating carcinogens in their homes.
Some homeowners have demanded that the site become part of the EPA Superfund, but current developments at the EPA have changed their minds. Now some have hope that Governor Murphy and his new NJDEP Commissioner McCabe will step up and help, especially after the northjersey.com four part, in-depth special Toxic Secrets. Many residents support any delay, afraid of further damage to the neighborhood.
Almost all NJ public officials have accepted the “adapt” approach as the best that can be done. This is especially true of the Mayor and all on the City Council but one. The thinking is that negative public attention will further lower real estate values in the entire community. In the past, Governor Christie was adamant that he was happy with progress. Passaic County Freeholders, Congressman Frelinghuysen, Senator Booker, and Senator Menendez have been mostly silent and uninvolved.
Should Pompton Lakes have to accept virtually permanent groundwater pollution that emits carcinogenic vapors under more than 10% of their homes? It has been 10 years since DuPont acknowledged responsibility and admitted to the existence of the plume — although the problem first came to light in the 1980s. There is no plan for a definitive cleanup. One wonders if it is considered impossible. Both the EPA and the NJDEP have been critical of DuPont over the years, but no penalties have been assessed.
Some suggest that the pollution will migrate under the lake into Wayne. There is anecdotal evidence, but nothing definitive has been documented . Would that prompt public officials to act?
Others say that the only solution that is fair to residents over the plume is a buyout or compensation for any plume related depreciation in their homes’ value when they sell. But that leaves the plume in place. What do you think?
(updated June 24)