By Michael Hill
Three decades ago, they learned the groundwater beneath their houses is a threat to their health — toxic vapor intrusions, one of the worst sites for it in America.
“The only real fix for this is a full and proper residential cleanup,” said Lisa Riggiola, executive director of Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes.
There’s no disputing the contaminants or their source: cancer-causing TCE and PCE from the old DuPont plant where munitions were made for the military.
“Not only did they do it so the servicemen could protect our freedom, as they were trying to protect our freedom they’re killing the people in the town where they were manufacturing it,” said homeowner Michele Belfiore.
“Obviously there is that link and sad, but true is I actually lost my father from cancer,” said homeowner Cheryl Rubino.
The contamination has created another problem: property values plummeting, foreclosures skyrocketing.
“We can’t really sell our homes, and if we can we’re selling them at a ridiculously reduced rate,” said Jefferson LaSala.
“initially it was owed $264,000, the bank foreclosed on the owner and then it was sold for $130,000,” said community advisory group member Joseph Intintola.
In the late ’80s, the state DEP urged DuPont to speed up the cleanup. In the ’90s, the vapors were detected in basements. In 2008, DuPont supplied the mitigation systems to collect the vapors and disperse them in the air.
Testing shows the effort has a long way to go to address pollution concerns. So, the EPA is about to run two pilot tests: one to pump water in the ground to flush or dilute the contamination.
“There’s no flood insurance to protect these people either and that’s the big issue,” said Rubino.
The other test: pump chemicals in the ground to neutralize the solvents.
A brook that runs through what is now Chemours property carried the toxins to the Pompton Lakes. This spring, the EPA will oversee a $43 million project to remove nearly 11,000 trucks of the Mercury-laced sediment from part of the lake.
“It’s not even a good bandaid. What they’re doing is they’re looking at a little over 20 percent of the lake where they’re going to scrape it, not really dredge it, and take away chemicals with no level of clean being measured afterward,” said homeowner George Popov.
The residents’ environmental consultant echos that.
“The EPA won’t set up cleanup targets for the sentiment, so that means they don’t have a specific level that they’re trying to get down to or concentration in sentiment,” said Environmental Consultant for the Pompton Lakes Community Advisory Group Rachel Farnum.
“We believe that the actions we’re going to take out there are protective of human health and ecological resources,” said Perry Kats, project manager, EPA Region 2.
For now, they’re watching, waiting and wondering when — and if — their neighborhood will ever be free of the pollution.
“It may be too late for us, because we grew up in it. A lot of us we lived in it. It’s in our bodies already, but why not save the next person,” said Riggiola.