Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.) (pg. A1), August 16, 2006
DEP TO REVIEW 1,846 SITES DROPPED FROM CONTAMINATION LIST
By Tim Zatzariny Jr.
TRENTON -- The state Department of Environmental Protection will re-evaluate 1,846 sites that were removed from an agency list of known contaminated properties in New Jersey between 2002 and late 2005.
Among them are dozens of landfills, gas stations and manufacturing plants.
DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson on Tuesday ordered the review after the agency acknowledged last week that the deleted sites had previously been considered "inactive" or had not been assigned a case manager.
Because the sites were not listed, the public could not look them up to see if they were polluted.
That means developers may have built homes on or near contaminated sites, environmental activists said.
"It's created a huge uncertainty and it never should have occurred," said Bill Wolfe, a former DEP senior staff member who is director of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The DEP late Tuesday posted on its Web site the list of sites under review. The move comes in the midst of a criminal investigation by the state Attorney General's Office to determine how Kiddie Kollege, a day-care center in Franklin, was allowed to operate on the site of a former thermometer factory.
"All of these sites will be re-evaluated with site inspections, working with the counties and local officials," said agency spokeswoman Elaine Makatura.
New Jersey has roughly 14,000 known contaminated sites.
Included in that list is Accutherm Inc., the former thermometer factory in Franklin that shut down in 1994 when the company went bankrupt. The DEP ordered the company to clean up mercury contamination on the site, but it never complied.
Although local, county state and federal officials were all aware of the site's history of contamination, a day-care center was allowed to open on the property in January 2004. And late last year, the site disappeared from the DEP's list of contaminated properties. DEP officials acknowledged the site should not have been removed.
The center closed July 28 after testing found high levels of mercury inside the building. Testing of roughly 60 children and nine adults found a third had elevated levels of mercury. None was considered acute.
In an interview Tuesday, Bradley M. Campbell, the DEP commissioner from 2002 to the end of 2005, said he ordered a review of inactive and unassigned cases to determine whether they belonged on a public list of contaminated sites.
"There was never any intention to remove contaminated sites from a public listing if they indeed were contaminated sites," said Campbell.
"The objective was to take these sites out of what was essentially a bureaucratic limbo, determine whether there was contamination there and if there was contamination, to include them on the contaminated sites list."
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, applauded the DEP for making the list public.
"Just because you take a site off the list," he said, "doesn't mean the toxins aren't getting into our air, our water and into our communities."
Reach Tim Zatzariny Jr. at (856) 251-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Franklin Township Committee will hold a special meeting at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Community Center. The committee will discuss the Kiddie Kollege situation.
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