By Andrew Herrera
The Bergen Record’s recent exposé, “Toxic Secrets,” has turned the heads of many readers who might not have been familiar with the ongoing groundwater contamination issue in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. But the Record is not the only entity trying to shed light on a problem that has been plaguing residents for decades. A class of seniors at Ramapo College of New Jersey are also researching the issue, as a service to clients from Pompton Lakes who want to see a thorough environmental assessment of the contamination under their community.
Between 1902 and 1994, the DuPont corporation operated a munitions factory in Pompton Lakes, which caused multiple kinds of contamination. Lead and mercury from the manufacturing process washed into the local Acid Brook, which feeds into Pompton Lake, once a popular spot for recreational activities. DuPont cleaned up the Brook in the 1990s, but DuPont did not disclose to residents the full extent of pollution of groundwater beneath a 400-home area, a hidden seepage of chemicals that became known as the Plume.
In unlined ponds on the company’s property uphill from the residential area, workers detonated malfunctioning artillery and explosives. Chemical solvents from those munitions, PCE and TCE, seeped groundwater. As that contaminated water evaporated, it infiltrated the basements of the homes in the Plume. Many of the residents of those homes above the polluted areas have been afflicted with rare cancers and other diseases. Although the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection informed DuPont about the vapor problem in 2001, DuPont nor the DEP did not warn residents until 2008, after many homeowners had signed agreements that prevented them from suing DuPont for any other damages.
With “Toxic Secrets” alerting North Jersey to the problem, the public will hopefully stay tuned to the publication of the Ramapo students’ environmental assessment of the contamination and cleanup. That document will contain pertinent information on the similarities between the Pompton Lakes issue and the controversy of Ford’s massive dumping of contaminated paint sludge in Ringwood near the homes of Ramapough Lenape community members.
As part of their research, the students recently met with homeowners in the Plume neighborhood in Pompton Lakes. DuPont was required to provide vapor mitigation systems to homeowners after the revelation came out in 2008, so the students met with people in the Plume area to get their perspective. What they learned was troubling. A local community group had to get the help of their district’s Congress member and both of the state’s Senators in order to persuade DuPont to allow affected residents to hire a contractor other than DuPont’s to install and maintain their vapor mitigation system.
Unfortunately, it seems as though funding for the maintenance of the vapor mitigation system, which was supposed to be provided by DuPont, is not coming in, residents said. One resident’s system readings seemed to be off, which may indicate other problems. Other residents chose not to wait for the long process of securing the right to choose a contractor, and accepted DuPont’s preferred firm.
The contamination of Pompton Lake and the groundwater in the area may hold deeper implications for the health of the Wanaque Reservoir, which gets some of its water supply from Pompton Lake. The Wanaque Reservoir system provides drinking water for much of North Jersey. This is an issue that will be raised in the Ramapo students’ final report.
Andrew Herrera is currently a senior at Ramapo College studying Environmental Studies with a minor in Public Policy. Andrew is also the current treasurer of 1STEP (Students Together for Environmental Progress) Club. As part of his senior capstone course, Andrew is collaborating with fellow Environmental Studies students to assess the groundwater contamination in the Borough of Pompton Lakes, NJ.