Primary Source Report-MT

Name: Matthew Trochim

Project Site: Pohatcong Valley Superfund Site

Title: Out of Sight, Out of Mind: How the Public Awareness of Contamination Affected Cleanup Efforts in the Pohatcong Valley Groundwater Superfund Site from 1978 to 2020

Source 1: The New Jersey Private Well Testing Act (2001-2002)

Location: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2000/Bills/PL01/40_.PDF obtained from https://www.state.nj.us/dep/watersupply/pw_pwta.html

The part I’m referring to is under Subchapter 4. Notification Process

  • This law is central to my argument, because its enforcement greatly changed the dynamic between how my site was treated before 2002 and after. The part of the law I’m interested in requires a home with a private well to be tested for contaminants before it can be sold, and it also allows public health authorities to notify the surrounding neighbors that contaminants were discovered in a nearby well, if any are found. At this point it’s worth noting that many of the people living within the bounds of my site used private wells. This increase in public awareness correlates with an increase in both the EPA’s activity and intensity in cleanup efforts.

Source 2: Private Well Testing Act Tracks Contaminates in Warren County Water

Location: https://www.nj.com/warrenreporter/2012/07/private_well_testing_act_revea.html

  • This source is a news article from 2012 that discusses data related to private wells tested in accordance with the law from the previous source in Warren County, where my site is located. However that’s not the main use of this source. The most valuable thing to my research from this source is a single quote, “Before the legislation was passed, there ‘wasn’t really anything’ regulating private wells, Hajna said”. This is from an interview the journalist did for the article and it quotes a person familiar with NJ law stating how prior to the previously cited law there wasn’t an official mechanism for testing or tracking contamination in private wells.

Source 3: Notification of Well Contamination from Warren County Health Department  

Location: Physical copy in my possession 

  • This is a letter that my household received and is dated as March 13, 2003. The letter is a notification that a well nearby to our house at the time had tested over the acceptable limit of TCE. The letter is useful because it explicitly states in the first sentence that the law sourced above is the reason this letter was sent, bolstering the argument that the Private Well Testing Act was important in making the public aware of the problem.

Source 4: Pohatcong Valley Groundwater Superfund Site/Former American National Can Facility: 191 Route 31 North, Washington Borough, and 199 Route 31 North, Washington Township, Warren County, N.J.

Location: https://www.nj.com/politics/2018/08/murphy_administration_files_six_lawsuits_environme.html

I’m not using the article itself, I’m using the fourth picture from the top as this source. I haven’t been able to find a better location to cite for this picture. 

  • This picture is useful for a few things regarding my project. It shows a physical representation of one of the communities under which the groundwater is contaminated. Since it was taken in 2018 it stands as a recent representation of the type of communities located within my site. It also stands as evidence of how close one of the sources of contamination was to the community, this picture includes houses and a middle school all within several blocks of the factory responsible for releasing TCE. This picture can be contrasted with earlier images of the community to show how the community developed within the last 50 years since the contamination was discovered. 

Source 5: Community Update February 2009

Location: Physical copy in my possession 

  • This source is an update from the EPA addressed to community members about the work they have been doing and what some of their future plans are. This isn’t the only update they gave. The earliest version I’ve been able to find is this 2009 copy and they produced additional updates in 2012, 2015, and 2017. The actual content of the update isn’t as important to my project as what can be inferred about their production. The relative abundance of these updates starting in 2009 compared to their complete absence prior demonstrates how public awareness was not a priority for the EPA for most of the site’s history, and later it became important enough to at least warrant some updates.

Primary Source Analysis: 

Source: The New Jersey Private Well Testing Act

The main focus of this law is in regulating the sale and use of properties containing a private well. It stipulates that in order to close the sale of a property containing a private well the well must be tested for contaminants and both parties must state in writing that they received and reviewed the test. Additionally, should contamination be found the lab that conducted the test must notify the local health authority and the law gives the health authority the right to notify the public surrounding the property where the contamination was found. As most of the drinking water within the bounds of the Pohatcong Valley superfund site was obtained through the use of private wells accessing an underground aquifer, this law had a large effect on the awareness the public had regarding the contamination. What this source demonstrates about the time period is that prior to the passage of this law there wasn’t much public awareness of the problem and this law greatly increased the public awareness of the groundwater contamination.

The law is explicit in stating the order of operations should any contaminant be found. “The laboratory, within five business days after completion of the water test, shall also submit the water test results to the Department of Environmental Protection”, then, “The Department of Environmental Protection, within five business days after receiving any report of a water test failure in accordance with this act, shall provide notice thereof to the county health department, health agency, or designated health officer, as appropriate to each county in which the private well that failed the water test is located”, followed by, “The county health department, health agency, or designated health officer, as appropriate to each county, may issue a general notice to owners of real property served by private wells located in the vicinity of the real property experiencing the water test failure”. Because the exact wording of laws is important I decided to include direct quotations instead of summarizing. Notice the precise use of language, the lab “shall” notify the Department of Environmental Protection(DEP) and the DEP “shall” provide notice of any failed test to the local health authority. According to the law these communications aren’t optional, they must take place. Notice how the local health authority “may” notify the owners of adjacent properties of the contamination detected, however one of my sources above suggests that in the Pohatcong Valley, notifying the public has typically been the case. Secondarily, the law also calls for the creation of a publicly accessible collection of the test results in certain geographic areas, “The department shall make available to the public a general compilation of water test results data arranged or identified by county and municipality or appropriate geographic areas therein”. Again note the use of “shall”, the law leaves no ambiguity in whether this compilation will be produced or not. This further cements this law as a driving force behind the local community within the Pohatcong Valley superfund site becoming more aware of the contamination of the groundwater. 

Keywords:

Water, Pollution, Toxics, Class, Community