By Michael Hill
A fence at Laurence Harbor separates the potential memory making moments at the beach from the warning of the hazards of what lies beneath — lead. Lead from a paint company that’s challenging the EPA’s order to clean it up and haul it away at a cost of $80 million, versus leaving it where it is and putting a cap on it.
“We’re still waiting for a plan. At some point, we have to have the EPA decide whether or not national lead is in non-compliance,” said Chairman of Citizens Advisory Group George Millett.
For now, families stroll the shore while kids only have visions of what could be.
“They would love to be able to play, to build sandcastles, to have a place where they be here, have their maybe pizza or ice cream cone and be able to play in the sand like my son did before we knew anything,” said Resident Kathleen Millett.
In the 1980s, this was a popular beach for the locals. Now, one man, who wants to remain anonymous, wonders if the pollution then led to him developing bladder cancer years later.
“I wouldn’t recommend for children to go in the water or eat fish out of this bay,” he said.
In 2009, the EPA declared this a Superfund site, now one of 114 in New Jersey. The state has the highest number of sites eligible for federal dollars for cleanup. It’s one of the major programs under an agency formed nearly five decades ago by then President Richard Nixon.
Over the years, environmentalist have criticized the EPA for not doing enough in some situations. They also recognize in those 47 years that there are reasons to compliment the agency as well.
And especially now, says Congressman Frank Pallone and others as they stood near the contaminated beach bemoaning the Trump administration proposing to slash the EPA’s budget by nearly a third and not replacing EPA employees who take buyouts.
“Maybe you get the money to actually do the cleanup, but if you don’t have personnel within the EPA that will actually effectuate the cleanup, than even having the money per se may not do you any good because there’s no money to carry out the law,” said Pallone.
“One third cuts to the Superfund program at EPA will make a huge significant impact in New Jersey,” said Executive Director of NY/NJ Baykeeper Debbie Mans.
“That’s the whole problem with this president, it’s all about tweeting and not about leading,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Jeff Tittel.
Environmentalists say the defunding of the EPA has what they call the “science-doubter-in-chief’s” fingerprints all over it, based on what he’s said and tweeted, such as, “We should be focused on clean and beautiful air, not expensive and business closing global warming — a total hoax.”
“We are at that critical time. This is probably the most important time in 47 years for the future of the environment in this country for the future of the EPA and they are all hand and glove together. And when you look at the attacks. they are talking about eliminating 50 percent of the scientists in EPA. So the only science that President Trump will follow is Koch brothers political science, I mean that’s the danger,” said Tittel.
Environmentalists say bipartisanship helped create the EPA, but the lack of it today threatens the environment and funding for the agency.
“Right now, our congressional delegation on the Republican side has been silent on this issue. They have been unwilling to come out and say they are going to stand up against the EPA budget cuts. And really that’s what we’re asking,” said Director of Environment New Jersey Doug O’Malley.
Environmentalists say when former Superfunds sights are restored to clean air, water or land it paves the way for economic growth and they hope to prove that here as well.