Philadelphia Inquirer (pg. B1), August 16, 2006

DEP TO RETURN ALL TAINTED SITES TAKEN OFF ITS LIST

Hundreds, Including a Franklin Twp. Factory, Had Been Dropped.

By Troy Graham and Sam Wood, Inquirer Staff Writers

The list of 1,846 sites dropped from New Jersey's record of contaminated properties includes landfills, chemical companies, airports, and a perplexing array of homes, restaurants and schools.

"This list raises much more questions than it answers," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. "But on face value, most would have to have further investigation."The sites were dropped from the Department of Environmental Protection list of about 14,000 known and suspected contaminated sites near the end of the previous administration -- possibly in 2005.

The list came to light after a DEP inspector discovered a day-care center had opened on one of the dropped sites -- an abandoned thermometer factory in Franklin Township, Gloucester County.

Testing found high levels of mercury in the ground and air, and Kiddie Kollege closed on July 28.

More than 60 children and staff members were tested for mercury. Although about one-third had elevated levels, they shouldn't suffer any long-term effects, state health officials have said.

The DEP released the list late yesterday. It includes 88 sites in Burlington County, 77 in Camden County, and 45 in Gloucester County.

All 1,846 sites will be restored to the list, Tittel said, adding that he had spoken about the matter to DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson.

"Many of the sites are companies that the DEP should be suing to force a cleanup, or cleaning up themselves and then billing the polluter," Tittel said. "Taking those sites off the list is one of the worst instances of government malpractice I've ever seen."

Jackson said in an interview last week she did not know why the sites had been dropped, because her predecessor, Bradley M. Campbell, had made the decision. Jackson took office in February.

Campbell said that "there was never any directive to reduce the list" of known contaminated sites, and that the decision was up to the department's professional staff, not officials at his level.

Removing the Franklin Township site, he said, was "a serious error and shouldn't have occurred."

Jackson said last week that the Franklin Township thermometer factory was still on the list in 2004 when it was converted to a day-care center. She said dropping the site from the list had been a mistake but had nothing to do with Kiddie Kollege.

"I agree with the judgment that until a place is cleaned, it should remain on the list," she said.

Jackson said no work was being done on any of the sites so the DEP was reevaluating each. That was how the Kiddie Kollege situation was discovered, she said.

"We were doing the reassessment we said we'd do," she said.

Bill Wolfe, New Jersey field director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said he was "shocked" by the list of once-deleted properties.

"I was expecting homes with leaky oil tanks and mom-and-pop shops," Wolfe said. "For landfills and chemical plants to be taken off the list is just reckless and irresponsible."

About 50 landfills and 100 chemical plants will go back on the list. The roster also now includes Bader Field Airport in Atlantic City, a former Nike missile base in Evesham, Interstate Industrial Park in Bellmawr, Camden Iron & Metal Inc., Penn Jersey Rubber & Waste Co. in Camden, Vanguard Vinyl Siding Inc. of Gloucester City, MPC Industries in Pennsauken, Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Winslow Township, and Manhattan Electric Cable Corp. in Bridgeton.

Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 856-779-3893 or tgraham@phillynews.com.

For the list of deleted sites, go to http://go.philly.com/toxicsites

Copyright (c) 2006 The Philadelphia Inquirer