Environmerentalists, locals decry cuts to EPA budget

| 16 Sep 2017 | 09:30

By Debra-Ann Kretschmer
— Environmentalists and a local official toured the Mansfield Trail Dump Superfund site in Byram on Tuesday and called on Congress and, in particular, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11), to stand up against the Trump administration’s proposal to cut funding for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, including a 30 percent cut to the agency’s Superfund program.
“EPA is building a water line to protect drinking water for residents in Byram, but this may not happen under President Trump,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
The federal agency’s plan is to construct a water line which would allow 18 nearby residents to hookup to a permanent clean drinking water supply. These residences currently use private wells with water treatment systems that were installed during the earlier stages of the EPA site cleanup.
Tittel said that, even though EPA has proposed an $8.7 million clean-up at the site, the funding may not materialize because of the proposed rollbacks.
“We need Congressman Frelinghuysen to stand up against Trump for people in Byram and throughout the country,” Tittel said. “Frelinghuysen needs to support a Superfund Tax to ensure we have a permanent source of funding so these sites no longer threaten public health and the environment.”
The Superfund site — a wooded area near the intersection of the Mansfield bike path and Stanhope-Sparta Road — was used as a dump for septic wastes from the late 1950s through at least the early 1970s, according to the EPA. Sludge-like waste was dumped in trenches in the area and contaminated the groundwater with volatile organic compounds, which are chemicals that easily become vapors or gases.
The vapors from the contaminated groundwater underneath some nearby homes has seeped into basements, and samples taken by the Sussex County Department of Health in 2005 identified trichloroethylene (TCE) — an organic solvent used in industrial processes — in residential drinking water wells along Brookwood and Ross Roads in Byram.
Testing done by the state Department of Environmental Protection in March 2006 indicated the presence of TCE concentrations that ranged from 3.9 to 70 micrograms per liter (µg/L). Exposure to TCE and other contaminants found at the site can have serious health impacts, including damage to the liver, impairing the nervous system or increasing the risk of cancer.
Due to the levels of TCE found, between 2005 and 2006, the EPA installed carbon water filtration and treatment systems at the impacted properties to remove contaminants from their drinking water. In addition, NJDEP installed systems to reduce the intrusion of chemical vapors into the basements of five of the homes that tested positive for air pollutants. Then in 2012, the EPA removed 11,700 tons of contaminated material from the dump areas. The EPA has completed the first phase of the investigation into the nature and extent of the groundwater contamination, and evaluated various options for an alternative water supply. Adding the water line for residents would be part of the second phase of the EPA’s cleanup.
Byram Councilman Scott Olson said the “Trump administration’s senseless attempts at defunding the EPA have serious implications for the health and well-being of the residents” in the 18 homes affected by the Superfund site in Byram, “and in any other location impacted by Superfund sites throughout the country.”
Representatives from the Sierra Club, Environment New Jersey, BlueWaveNJ, NJ 11th For Change and Clean Water Action pressured Frelinghuysen, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and whose district includes Byram and the Mansfield site, to fight to restore EPA funding. They carried signs saying “Rodney, I can’t hear you!” and “Rodney, fund the EPA.”
“Without funding the Superfund program and the EPA, there will be more pollution in the ground impacting communities around the sites like Byram," Tittel said. "With Trump’s rollbacks, polluters will be let off the hook. New Jersey will be the most impacted state to deal with these cuts because we have the most Superfund sites in the nation.”
Olson pointed out that it wasn’t Frelinghuysen but the “anti-environmental, anti-regulation Trump administration” that was attacking the EPA with budget cuts. He noted that Frelinghuysen had worked in Congress to reduce those proposed cuts from 30 percent to 7 percent — although what the final budget figures will be have yet to be determined — and as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Frelinghuysen was in a key position to fight for further restoration of funds.
“He has actually restored some of the funding cuts of the EPA budget proposed by the Trump administration – not as much as I personally would like to have seen, however,” Olson said. “I certainly would also like to see him – as well as other members of the NJ delegation, like Congressman Lance – be more vocal and more publicly opposed to these draconian cuts. Environmental stewardship is not Democrat or Republican thing – it's a health and welfare issue for all NJ residents, regardless of party affiliation.”
Frelinghuysen did not return calls for comment on the Mansfield site tour. Olson said that the congressman would be touring the site himself on Sept. 19.
The activists and Olson called on the public to support the EPA, the restoration of its funding and the cleanup of contaminated sites. They urged people to contact Frelinghuysen and other government officials and voice their concerns.