To the Editor:
The Town Topics story on environmental hazards at the former hospital site (“Test Results Give Green Light to AvalonBay,” Sept. 30, page one) may have given the impression that the site received a clean bill of health. It did not. The site is contaminated and must be remediated. AvalonBay proposes to “cap” the site, perform biennial inspections, and advise in the deed that the site is contaminated and under continuing NJ-DEP scrutiny. Is this a green light? “Jersey yellow” would seem more apt.
Here is the background: AvalonBay hired a contractor to haul away stockpiled debris known as “Reworked Site Materials,” a demolition amalgam of crushed concrete, asphalt, and soil. The contractor had the amalgam tested, PCBs and PAHs were found, and a New Jersey DEP case file was opened. Because AvalonBay had spread Reworked Site Material as fill throughout the site, detailed testing was performed, not just on the stockpiled materials but on samples from fill material buried onsite. Results showed no problematic PCBs. However, PAH levels exceeded residential exposure levels in almost 75 percent of the samples and even exceeded industrial standards in some. The PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) involved are compounds that have been identified as causing cancer, genetic mutations, and birth defects. The tests also found levels of arsenic, nickel, and vanadium above residential standards and mercury levels that exceeded groundwater impact standards.
AvalonBay’s consultant EcolSciences, Inc., a licensed site remediation company, performed the tests and recommended capping in various ways, including one to two feet of clean fill in open areas and either concrete or special materials in other areas, such as the playground. EcolSciences proposes no further evaluation of potential groundwater hazards.
This is not a feel good story. During the hearing process, community members and their experts raised repeated concerns about environmental hazards. Thanks to community pressure, Princeton’s Council included its own consultant’s recommended testing requirements for soil and crushed concrete in the final Developer’s Agreement. But, AvalonBay sued, arguing that it was being asked to do more than legally required. The suit led to a settlement approved by Princeton’s Council that dropped the testing requirements but added another dust monitor.
The upshot: Thanks to a developer’s aggressive opposition to testing, a site in a residential neighborhood within walking and breathing distance of three public schools is now contaminated. The capping remedy ignores the problematic mercury findings and proposes to handle issues with utilities buried in contaminated fill by relying on monitoring when repairs are needed.
In my opinion, AvalonBay should be asked to excavate and remove the contaminated material. Residents should not be asked to live with a toxic repository next door. The value of capping depends on consistent and reliable monitoring, and New Jersey does not have a good track record with monitoring. Having resisted testing, AvalonBay surely assumed the risks that follow from failure to test. Our elected officials should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that this site is cleaned up, not covered up.