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
My name is Matthew Trochim, and at the time of writing I’m an undergrad senior at NJIT studying history. I was born and raised in the town of Stewartsville, NJ, located in western Warren County. As for why I find myself attracted to this site, well, I’ve been living in it my entire life and I didn’t know it, so needless to say I felt a personal connection to the topic. It makes me wonder how many of my neighbors and friends have had no knowledge of the contamination under their feet and it makes me want to spread the word and to encourage people living outside my community to become aware of any current or potential future environmental problems around them.
Project Site Description:
The Pohatcong Valley is a geographic term rather than a political one. Within the official bounds of the superfund site lie several communities, including Washington township, Washington borough, Franklin Township, and Greenwich township. Taken together these communities are relatively wealthy, majority white, and mostly suburban. The groundwater under these communities is contaminated with two different chemicals, trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE). This contamination, discovered by the EPA in 1978 and 1979, but lingering even to this day, can be traced back to two locations. The first, a former American National Can facility, was responsible for the release of TCE. The second, a former location of a company known as Tung-Sol Tubing, was responsible for the release of PCE. So if all of this was known in the late 70s, why was the site not labeled a priority by the EPA until 1989? Why were early efforts so limited in scope, for example in 1989 the only effort taken to protect the community involved sealing some private wells and connecting those properties to public water. Why is it that proper cleanup took decades to get under way? Why is it that communication with the public was so limited for so long? The fact that this lackluster cleanup and communication effort took place in privileged communities means every American community is at risk of being exposed to toxic materials without their knowledge. I want to look into how the official response changed when the majority of the public within my site became aware of the contamination. By shedding light on the attitudes and behaviors of authorities before and after they had wider public attention, I want to show how public awareness of an environmental problem is always better for the community. While it doesn’t always result in the problem being fixed, I believe that transparency on part of environmental authorities and local companies is a prerequisite for producing more just environmental policies and responses everywhere, and I believe this site demonstrates that.
Water, Pollution, Toxics, Class, Community