Thursday, January 25, 2007

Democracy Works: Senator Crisco's Proposed Residential Soil Standards

We have always felt that the Newhall Community was fortunate to have gifted legislators, men who not only served us and our neighbors, but also the broader public interest.

Never has this been more clear than now. Indeed, our legislators have just initiated several new bills that, when passed into law, are going to mean very positive changes not only for Newhall, but for the State of Connecticut as a whole.

At the beginning of January, Senator Joe Crisco put forward a remarkable set of bills in the Connecticut General Assembly to revise the state's soil standards. He has proposed that Connecticut adopt the EPA standard for lead in soil (1200 mg/kg) and set the acceptable level for carcinogens in soil at the point where the lifetime risk of getting cancer from your soil is less that 1 in 20,000 (the general lifetime risk of cancer is about 1 in 2). Senator Crisco, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney and State Represenative Peter Villano have also put forward legislation demanding that the CT DEP take the recommendations of our community into account and that funds be earmarked to address structural problems in several homes. Our legislators have also set a firm 90-day deadline for the finalization of a DEP clean-up plan for Newhall. After years of delays and suffering on the part of Newhall residents, it is hard to imagine a package of environmental legislation that would better serve our community and our State.

All of these steps are tremendously positive. Those of you who have followed the prior discussion of the soil standards on our site will surely see just how beneficial the new residential soil standards will be. For those new to the topic, we thought it might be helpful to provide the following:

Three reasons to support Senator Crisco's proposed residential soil standards

Reason 1: It's good policy

As pointed out in an op-ed piece by Yale Professor Keith Darden in the Hartford Courant last September, the current soil standards are so strict that ordinary residential soils that pose no risk to public health are classified as "waste" requiring removal or cleanup. In fact, the current lead standard used by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (500 mg/kg) is below the average levels found in typical neighborhoods in Connecticut. If the law were applied, hundreds of thousands of Connecticut homes would require costly soil cleanup. Indeed, full and consistent enforcement of the existing law would have cost trillions of dollars (soil removal and remediation are very costly) and produced no appreciable improvement in public health. There is no question that the current regulation is flawed.

In practice, this meant that even a simple cleanup like Hamden's Newhall site rapidly became prohibitively costly and unlimited, expanding into new neighborhoods with safe soils and no prior history of any dumping or contamination. For years, this project has drawn down DEP's scarce financial resources and occupied personnel that are needed to tackle the real environmental problems that we face. The law clearly needs to change. The reasonable standards proposed in Senator Crisco's bill on carcinogens in soil will protect us from any risks greater than the prospect that we will be killed by lightning (also a 1 in 20,000 lifetime risk). And the EPA's lead guidelines are based on decades of careful research and are already considered to be quite strict. By adopting these new rules, the State will now be able to focus on those sites that are truly contaminated and present a risk. In this way, paradoxically, a less strict standard will mean a much improved environment, since we won't be wasting our time and money "cleaning up" ordinary harmless dirt. Even better, the new law can actually be implemented and enforced, cleanup will be feasible, and the DEP can devote its resources where they are most needed. That's good policy.

Reason 2: It's good law.

One of the central foundations of any society based on the rule of law is that all are equal before the law and that "like cases should be treated alike." Under the current law, that just can't happen. Because the current Connecticut soil standards are so extreme, nearly every neighborhood in Connecticut is in violation (they just don't know it yet because they haven't been tested). But since our state does not have the means to test the soil in every yard in Connecticut, nor does it have the capacity to pay for enforcing the law with so many in violation, the DEP can only enforce the law selectively. Under the current system, any neighborhood where the DEP choses to test the soil will be saddled with a multi-million dollar cleanup, whether it truly needs one or not. In such unlucky neighborhoods, homeowners must live with the stigma of "contamination," find themselves unable to sell their homes for their genuine value, and, ultimately, be evicted from their homes for the months when the soil from their yards is physically removed. Most significantly, because virtually every neighborhood was in violation of the Connecticut environmental regulations, the arbitrary selection of one neighborhood for testing is an act of injustice. With such overly-strict standards, "like" neighborhoods could not possibly be treated "alike": To do so, we'd have to spend trillions of dollars to remove most of the residential topsoil in Connecticut.

When only a few neighborhoods are targeted for multimillion dollar remediations projects, there has been a real danger that the selection of neighborhoods will be based on criteria other than public health or environmental need. As pointed out earlier on this site, Bushnell Park up in Hartford is probably more polluted than Mill Rock Park in Hamden and poses a greater risk to public health, but no one talks about digging it up and evicting the Governor and Legislators from their offices for the duration of the cleanup. The danger that strict soil regulations will be abused to stigmatize and seize the land of people less wealthy or powerful is very real. Newhall is really the first residential neighborhood where the law has been enforced, and it has been a disaster. We have seen how corrupt state environmental contractors can use arbitrary or selective enforcement of the current flawed law to pad their pockets with lucrative investigation and remediation contracts. This is what happened on Prospect Hill. The proposed legislation, because it creates laws that can be enforced fairly and equally, will insure that all homeowners are treated equally under the law.

Reason #3: It's good for the Newhall Neighborhood

As we have pointed out repeatedly, the adoption of more reasonable soil standards is precisely what Newhall needs to move forward. With the new standards, we can focus on cleaning those few areas of the neighborhood that really do have contamination as a result of historical dumping. By setting reasonable standards, we can clean the neighborhood fully, quickly, and at much lower cost. This will mean that no land use restrictions will be necessary, the neighborhood will not be destroyed, and the genuine threat of pollution from trucks and dust will be kept to a minimum. Changing the state soil standards also provides the glue to unite the plans put forward by Dr. Hamid and Dr. Darden. Hamid's plan called for the full remedation of all soil that does not meet the state standard. Darden's plan called for the full remediation of all soil to the EPA lead standard and the "lightning standard" (1 in 20,000). By changing the state standards to reflect the EPA and a more reasonable risk level, Darden and Hamid now support the same plan.

The Perfect Solution for Connecticut and a Model for the Nation

What Senator Crisco has proposed is truly positive, innovative legislation and will place Connecticut in the vanguard of environmental protection nationally. We will be a model for others. Environmentalists like ourselves are pleased that resources currently being wasted to clean up harmless soil will now be channeled to the pressing task of cleaning our air and water, and soils that genuinely pose a risk to public health and the environment. Communities and developers can be pleased that as a result of this legislation, thousands of acres of contaminated land can now be cleaned without prohibitive cost, making new areas available for residential development in a state that has a crisis in affordable housing.

We strongly support our Senators and hope that these proposed bills will move rapidly through the environment committee to the floor of the Connecticut General Assembly.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The People v. Loureiro Engineering Associates (Part I)

After keeping its report safely in bureaucratic limbo for the past eight months, the CT Department of Environmental Protection has finally released the official findings of its internal investigation on the soil investigation of the Prospect Hill neighborhood in Hamden, CT. The report, which examines the attempted eastward expansion of the Newhall site by the DEP’s lead Newhall contractor, Loureiro Engineering Associates, was written by Diane Duva and edited by Bureau Chief Betsey Wingfield and others in the DEP before its official release. The internal investigation was handed to Duva after Commissioner Gina McCarthy refused requests from our legislators to have LEA's work audited by an external environmental auditor, even one of her own choosing. For obvious reasons, Commissioner McCarthy wanted to keep the investigation of her department's lead contractor within the agency and under her direct control.

An Internal Investigation

Yet despite working under these considerable constraints, Diane Duva has delivered some remarkable findings. Like many works written under the censor’s gaze, Duva’s report has been carefully crafted; it reveals as much from what it does not say as from its stated findings. Even so, the report is damning. Most important, it shows that there are some people within the DEP who, at potential cost to themselves, still have the integrity to report findings that reveal actionable information about their agency and its powerful contractors. Commissioner McCarthy may not know it, but Diane Duva has given us the gift of truth.


Far and away the most important finding in the DEP’s internal report was that the massive, overly-costly soil investigation done by Loureiro Engineering Associates outside of the Newhall Consent Order was not designed to identify landfill or industrial wastes of the type found in some parts of the Newhall neighborhood. Instead, it was targeted to pick up the low-level “contamination”—lead paint chips, old pesticide usage, the occasional old rusty nail—typical of ordinary urban and suburban soil conditions and no different from what one would find in any older residential neighborhood. The soil investigation done by Loureiro Engineering Associates’ was rigged to target ordinary properties for a multi-million dollar remediation, a remediation which LEA knew it would be overseeing for the State of Connecticut.

What does this mean? It means that LEA should now be prosecuted by the State on a number of counts. Loureiro Engineering Associates was contracted by the State of Connecticut to look for landfill using EPA-accepted methods. When LEA instead sampled soil along the driplines of older homes and reported to DEP that they had found contaminated lead “waste” on these properties, they broke their contract with the State of Connecticut. By rigging its investigation, Loureiro Engineering Associates also violated the legal agreement that gave them access to private land, which only allowed LEA to look for landfill. In a gross violation of law and contract, LEA lied to homeowners both about what they were doing on their land and what they had “found.”

Needless to say, all of this reveals a very serious problem with Loureiro Engineering Associates, which continues to serve as the DEP's lead Newhall contractor. Contrary to public statements coming out of the DEP’s Dennis Schain, Diane Duva’s report reveals that there were significant problems with the entire perimeter investigation—an investigation that was designed, conducted, and reported by Loureiro Engineering Associates on behalf of the State of Connecticut. It is now a matter of record that Loureiro Engineering Associates not only botched its management of the remediation of Newhall in a way that is now patently obvious to our legislators, but they attempted a radical expansion of the site in 2005 through an investigation rigged to classify ordinary residential soils as contaminated waste. In doing so, they profited directly from the investigation of over a hundred properties and anticipated to gain from the illegitimate expansion of brownfield site that they knew would be placed under their management.

Indeed, despite what the summary of the DEP’s internal report says, Duva’s finding are NOT consistent with the State Auditor’s report. The Auditors knew how to follow the money, but they had no idea what a proper soil investigation should look like and didn’t hire any outside help…so they just said everything seemed fine and focused on the financial violations. Diane Duva’s report now makes it very clear that everything was not fine with LEA's perimeter investigation.

Diane Duva’s report suggests that LEA is either incompetent or corrupt. Either way, it is time for the Attorney General’s Office to intervene.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Is Gina McCarthy Dreaming of a Brown Christmas?

Well, dear friends, it's that holiday season again...time for the DEP to put coal (and trace amounts of slag, ash, and porcelain) in the stockings of our Prospect Hill neighbors for yet another year.

Yes, that's right. It's now been a whole year since the DEP first lied to the folks up on Prospect Hill, telling people whose homes were built on harmless native soil that they were living on contaminated waste...and sending their homes, lives, and families into turmoil just in time for the holidays.

And they're just about to do it again.

So if you live up on Prospect Hill and you were hoping your property would be cleared by this Christmas, you are going to be very disappointed. Why? Well, little Timmy, if Commissioner Gina McCarthy were going to do that, she would have done it long ago. She probably would have done it in the Spring when Diane Duva actually finished her report, or perhaps even last January when she realized the nefarious things that Elsie Patton and her friends at LEA had done.

No, we've known for quite some time that the Commissioner is good at making nice in public and kissing up to her superiors, but won't hesitate to crush the commoners once the cameras are put away. Neither she, nor Diane Duva, nor Pat Bowe, nor the rest of the gang up at DEP really think there is anything out of the ordinary with the soils on Prospect Hill, but they are not going to let science, the facts, or a few pesky members of the public get in the way of their bureaucratic power and privilege. Those are the hard facts. The DEP just hasn't wanted to tell you yet.

Why not? What are they waiting for? It's simple: They know you aren't going to be pleased with what they have to say, and it doesn't look good for them to be siding with their crony contractors over a community of decent and honest homeowners. And in politics, that kind of bad news has to be delivered very, very carefully. If you release it at the wrong time, important people might actually notice.

That's right, if you really want to stick it to someone as quietly as possible, there is no better time than the holidays. The Governor, State legislators, the AG, and the press are on vacation and don't want to be bothered with bad news. By the time they all come just isn't news anymore...and we're all so busy...and how was your vacation?...and, well...what do those implacable homeowners want with their crummy little properties anyway? This is the sort of thing that they pay Communications Director Dennis Schain for.

And let's not forget about our friends down in "Who-hallville," where that old Grinch Gina McCarthy is really stealing their trees this Christmas season...

It's not easy being green.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


You know that your state agencies have failed when the fact that lead doesn't cause cancer comes as news to a neighborhood.

It was a sign of just how irresponsible the DEP has been that Assistant Director Rob Bell's comment that "lead does not cause cancer" was received with stunned silence and a tangible sense of shock in the room at last night's meeting at the Keefe Center. Even so, the broader point that all of the health risks have been wildly overstated at Newhall failed to sink in. Indeed, those of us in attendance were treated to a bizarre, almost medieval ritual of residents attributing everything from lupus to allergies and canine cancer to the dirt that lies under their homes. Had a stranger walked in, he might have drawn the reasonable conclusion that what was needed here was not soil remediation, but perhaps exorcism or the careful and systematic application of leeches to the body. Had it been Cotton Mather running the meeting rather than Dr. Hamid, we probably would have found a witch to burn. In fact, small as Rob Bell's step was, it was nice to finally see a state employee have enough courage to admit that there was at least ONE bad thing that the soil in Newhall was probably not responsible for.

Why this sudden act of courage from Mr. Bell? After all, up until now the DEP has seen fit to keep the fears of contamination swirling, and even to stoke them. They've brought in the Love Canal activists. They've paid Elizabeth Hayes and the Newhall Coalition to stoke the fires of delusion. They've encouraged wild claims of groundskeepers disappearing into 20-foot-deep sinkholes and an apparent epidemic among dogs, all in an effort to whip up concerns in the neighborhood to the point where the DEP can say that "the people" demand remediation. Why the sudden change of heart? Why come clean now? Why start telling the truth?

Because the DEP is in a difficult position: It's not easy to have your cake and eat it too. They need to scare people enough so that they demand a multi-million dollar remediation and don't question the DEP's absurd standards, but not scare residents so much that they aren't willing to leave most of the landfill under their properties. The DEP also can't admit that any real harm was done to anyone's health, because then someone might sue them for having waited over 20 years after their first environmental assessment before doing anything about the problem. You have to scare the people, but not so much that they can hold you responsible. That's a fine line.

It's also despicable. The role of a responsible state agency is to tell people what the real risks are. If the DEP had spent its millions of dollars in public involvement doing that, we wouldn't be here. We wouldn't be on the verge of losing our neighborhood. The Town of Hamden wouldn't be on the verge of a massive transfer of wealth to a few well-connected contractors who get paid to move dirt. We and our neighbors wouldn't be the first guinea pigs in a new generation of residential "brownfield redevelopment" that will keep the DEP and its contractors in business for decades to come. We wouldn't be living in fear. No, without the wild distortions and exaggeration of risks, we'd just be the same old folks who have to worry about eating too much, drinking too much, driving too fast, global warming, getting old, Dr. Hamid's efforts to construct a radical Islamic Madrasah in the neighborhood and all of the real things that might harm us before we die.

But who could make any money off of that?

Happy Halloween! Boooooooooooooooooo!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


On October 30, 2007, the members of our community will finally have a chance to express their opinions on what should be done with their homes.

That's right, matters have finally been taken out of the hands of the self-appointed community spokespeople, DEP lackeys, paid consultants, and others who claim to represent the neighborhood. On October 30th, at 7pm at the Keefe Center, the proponents of the three main plans for the neighborhood will have to make their case to the community...and the COMMUNITY WILL HAVE A CHANCE TO VOTE.

The Three Plans currently in the running are:

1. The DEP Plan:
In the spirit of fair competition, we wanted to make sure that the DEP had a second chance to make their case for saddling 137 homes in the neighborhood with Land Use Restrictions.

2. The Abdul Hamid Plan:
This plan proposes to remove all fill from the neighborhood regardless of how contaminated it is...including all of the structures on top of that fill. This would mean the demolition of the old middle school, many years of excavation, and the destruction of over 100 homes.

3. The Community Plan:
This plan, outlined previously on this site, proposes to remove all contaminated material from the site. Our neighborhood would be cleaned to the EPA's lead standards and to the point where the cancer risk was more remote than the risk of being killed by lightning.

It's your home, and it's your choice. Decide for yourself...

And stand up and be counted. Come to the Keefe Center at 11 Pine St. in Hamden at 7pm on October 30. If you go to only one meeting this year, let it be this one.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Newhall Advisory Committee's Letter to Governor Rell

At long last, Newhall is finally seeing a little bit of public involvement...

Make no mistake. We're not talking about the kind of "public involvement" that the DEP has been trying to buy with the hundreds of thousands of dollars in bond funds that they have spent on PR. The DEP's own efforts to organize public participation in the past month continue to be an utter failure and a waste of our state bond funds: In the DEP's four hour open house at the Keefe Center only 30 people showed up over the entire course of the evening, which meant that the members of the community were nearly outnumbered by DEP staff and contractors.

The NAC Steps Up

No, we're talking about genuine participation, the kind where people from the neighborhood actually participate. The kind which comes at no cost to the taxpayer. In fact, the Community has gotten more involved in order to prevent further waste of the state bond funds, as reflected in the Op-Ed article in the Hartford Courant last week by one of the NAC members. Indeed, the Newhall Advisory Committee, our volunteer community board, has finally stepped out from under the DEP's tutelage and has taken some critical steps forward.

Much has happened on the Newhall Advisory Committee in the last month, but here are the highlights:

1. In a vote of 10-1, with one abstention, the Newhall Advisory Committee voted to reject the DEP's plan unconditionally and in its entirety. With a total rejection of the DEP's plan by the community it was ostensibly intended to serve, the DEP's plan is now off the table.

2. In a unanimous vote, the Newhall Advisory Committee voted to end the services of its "facilitator", Ms. Kathleen Conway, a subcontractor of Loureiro Engineering Associates. We also learned that Community Mediation, a corporation in which Ms. Conway serves as the Vice President, was partnering up on an EPA grant application for Newhall without informing the community or the NAC. More on this later...

3. After many hours spent drafting, discussing, and refining the letter, the Newhall Advisory Committee sent a letter to Governor Jodi Rell informing her of our community's rejection of the DEP's plan "and the failure of the flawed process that created it -- a process in which we were given only the illusion of involvement." The letter is printed in its entirety below.

It speaks for itself.

September 18, 2006

Honorable M. Jodi Rell
Governor of Connecticut
State Capitol
Hartford, Connecticut 06106

Dear Governor Rell:

On August 17, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released its proposed cleanup plan for our neighborhood, the Newhall Remediation site in Southern Hamden. On August 31, we, the members of the Newhall Advisory Committee, a body formed by the DEP as a pillar of the State-mandated public involvement campaign, voted with near unanimity to reject the DEP’s proposed plan unconditionally, and in its entirety. We are writing to you at this time to explain why, after waiting patiently for many years for the DEP to put forward its proposed plan, we have taken this course of action.

First and foremost, as a body created to represent our community, we had a responsibility to act on the evident wish of the vast majority of residents in the neighborhood. As was readily apparent to all in attendance, the DEP’s proposed plan was broadly rejected by our neighbors at the August 17 meeting; not one voice was raised in support of the plan. The sense of dismay with what the DEP put forward was also expressed to us by the many unable to attend the Commissioner’s staged meeting. In summary, our community has made it quite clear that the proposed plan was unacceptable, and we would have been remiss in our duties if we had not rejected it.

Moreover, as residents who have studied the matter carefully over the years, we also felt our own impetus to put an end to a plan that, if implemented, would have done permanent damage to our community and would not have addressed the problems it was intended to solve. What the DEP has offered is at best a temporary solution to a small part of the problem, one that would disrupt our lives tremendously and is likely to permanently lower the value of the homes in our area.

It is absolutely essential that following the implementation of any remedy, each one of us will be living in a home that is safe, and on a property that is clean and has been legally cleared of any environmental restrictions on its purchase, sale, and use. The current proposed plan does not achieve this outcome. We have many concerns, but several stood out in our decision to reject the DEP’s proposed plan.

Our community has consistently asked for full cleanup, and the DEP has repeatedly committed to providing a complete and final resolution, yet the DEP’s proposed plan will not provide a full and permanent solution. Instead, Commissioner McCarthy’s plan proposes to replace the top four feet of soil in our yards and to put legal restrictions on how 137 of our neighbors can use their properties (an environmental land use restriction/ELUR). In this respect, the DEP’s proposed plan is the worst of all possible options. According to this plan, many homes with significant contamination at a depth of greater than four feet will not have this matter resolved and will permanently bear the scarlet letter and lingering fear and stigma of contamination (ELURs).

We cannot accept a plan that leaves significant contamination below four feet in place, destroying the value of our properties and potentially putting our health and homes at risk.

In addition, after promising for many years to address the problem, and after allocating substantial state funds to study and assess it, the DEP’s plan was silent on the pressing issue of how to deal with the steady and impending collapse of many of our homes. There are several people in this neighborhood who currently live in homes that have suffered severe settlement from the instability of the underlying landfill. Some of these homes are now in a state of collapse. Commissioner McCarthy, in her ceremonial walk through the neighborhood over a year ago, visited many of these homes and promised to make matters right. Yet when the time has come to act, she now claims that the problem is not her responsibility. For a community that has invested great time and effort on this issue, the Commissioner’s reversal was taken as a betrayal and an affront. Any remedy must solve this problem as its first order of business. In some cases, immediate action must be taken, even before the development of a plan.

Given how long we had to wait for its arrival, we were not eager to reject the proposed plan when it finally appeared, but Commissioner McCarthy left us no choice. After an unjustifiably long delay since the Department wrote its preliminary assessment of the Newhall site, they have failed to deliver a workable plan.

The Process

The failure of the proposed plan is also a failure of the flawed process that created it—a process in which we were given only the illusion of involvement.

In principle, and by State mandate, our community was to play an important role in resolving the problems stemming from the fact that large parts of our neighborhood were built on a landfill. Indeed, according to the “modifying” criteria set out by State and Federal guidelines, no plan can move forward without our support. With our participation in mind, the State Bond Commission, under your guidance and direction, allocated close to four million dollars to the Newhall remediation, with much of it earmarked for “public involvement.” Since 2003 alone, the DEP has spent more than $600,000 on public relations at Newhall, approximately $2000 per property. We, as members of the NAC, have devoted countless hours to meetings and reviews of documents. We have written letters and provided suggestions and recommendations. In short, without any compensation whatsoever, we have devoted a substantial portion of our lives to act as citizens in the service of our community.

With the development and release of its proposed plan, however, the DEP confirmed that it sees our community’s role as nothing more than empty ceremony, a mere formality. The proposed plan was put forward without any consideration given to the required modifying criteria. As they developed the plan, the Department’s staff refused to share even the broadest outlines of what they were considering. The proposed plan itself was only delivered to our homes just hours before the meeting took place, allowing us no time whatsoever to review it in advance of a meeting that was initially intended to be an opportunity to answer questions on a plan that could have been distributed weeks in advance. And despite the fact that we requested that the community be given several weeks advanced notice of the meeting, residents in our area received word of the meeting in the mail only a few days before it was scheduled to take place, allowing us little time to adjust our schedules so that we could attend.

It is disheartening to think of how easily the valid concerns with the central elements of the proposed plan could have been aired early on, and the plan revised, if there had been a genuine process of engagement with the community. Instead, the DEP chose to cloister themselves with their contractors up in Hartford, and to unveil a proposal that was not only patently flawed, but which disregarded virtually every recommendation or request made over the past years by our community. In this respect, the plan bore the marks of its creators. Like so much in DEP’s management of the Newhall site, it benefits their contractors but not our community.

For our part, we have continually strived to make our participation in the process more active and meaningful, only to be rebuffed. On the grounds that funds are not available, Commissioner McCarthy has repeatedly denied our requests for an independent scientific advisor to help us to make more informed decisions, and yet she has insisted on subcontracting $74,420 for a highly-paid lawyer to “facilitate” the monthly meetings of our small community board.

Moreover, when we learned of significant problems with the management, contracting, and misallocation of state funds at the site, we brought this to the attention of the appropriate authorities. Many millions of dollars in State Bond funds earmarked for this community have found their way into the hands of a few select state contractors, generally using uncompetitive contracts, a matter that is now being pursued by the Attorney General’s office. We believe that the current environmental consultants are entirely inappropriate for the largest residential remediation in Connecticut’s history, and hope that this can be resolved before any more remediation funds are spent needlessly.

In the past, we have also been gracious and patient with the DEP’s patronizing and, at times, contemptuous attitude towards our community. Unfortunately, our patience appears to have been perceived as passivity, and has met with no good ends. It has become clear that the DEP has never felt that they needed any input or information from this community, or that we had anything valuable to add to the process. Sadly, yet predictably, the process has been impoverished by our exclusion from it.

Moving Forward: A Community Plan

Given the failure of the DEP’s proposed plan to find support from the community it was ostensibly intended to aid, or from the taxpayers and elected representatives who are expected to fund it, our community has taken matters into our own hands and, with the help of independent consultants, is in the process of building consensus on an alternative plan. The DEP has had many years to resolve the problem, and they have failed. We hope that you will give us an opportunity to have our turn at the wheel and to put forward our own solution. If our community succeeds in the endeavor, as we expect to, we hope that we will find you among our strongest supporters.

Sincerely yours,

The Members of the Newhall Advisory Committee

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The EPA Lead Standard: 1200 ppm

Ever since we learned that the DEP had set an artificially strict lead standard for the soils at the Newhall site, there has been considerable discussion with the DEP, our legislators, and neighbors about what should be done to remedy this problem. That discussion is still ongoing, but here are five reasons to adopt 1200 parts per million (ppm) as the lead standard for the Newhall site:

1. Because it is what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends

The EPA's lead hazard regulation “establishes the following standards for bare residential soil: a hazard standard of 400 ppm by weight in play areas based on the play area bare soil sample and an average of 1,200 ppm in bare soil in the remainder of the yard, based on an average of all other samples collected.” (see the Federal Register, January 5, 2001, p.1211: "Lead; Identification of Dangerous Levels of Lead; Final Rule")

The DEP continues to mislead us, our legislators, the Governor, and the State Auditors by claiming that the artificial lead level of 400 ppm (which it applies to all soil samples, regardless of location or depth) was selected because it is the EPA’s standard. To confirm that we are telling the truth, just type in “EPA soil lead standard” in Google and you will find yourself at the EPA’s own Lead Hazard web page. On that page, you will find confirmation of the EPA standards and also a link to the Federal Register so that you can see the full legal document for yourself. As that Federal record makes clear, the EPA only added the 400 ppm caveat for bare soil in children’s play areas if such areas were clearly marked—like a playground—and could be readily identified. The EPA is quite explicit that 400 ppm should not be applied to the whole yard and that the samples should be averaged.

2. Because a 1200 ppm standard already goes well beyond what is necessary to protect our health and the health of our children

Even the current levels of lead in the soil—without any remediation at all—have not led to any lead contamination in Newhall. Extensive tests have shown that blood lead levels in children (and adults) in Newhall are well below the minimum risk levels set by the EPA. In fact, in the thirty years since the Quinnipiack Valley Health District began testing the lead levels of blood in the residents of our area, only three children have ever shown blood lead levels above the minimum. Two of those children had recently been moved to homes in the Newhall neighborhood as part of a lead decontamination program, and their blood lead levels dropped dramatically after they moved to Newhall from lead contaminated homes in New Haven. The third child had suffered contamination from lead paint within the home. All children in Connecticut are now screened for lead, and there are proportionately fewer cases of lead contamination in Newhall than there are in the rest of Hamden, or in most cities in the State (see the DPH data here). There is now overwhelming evidence that the relatively low lead concentrations in the soils of our neighborhood have not, and do not, pose any risk to our health. In light of this, even 1200 appears an excessive standard if public health is our concern. A 1200 ppm standard is more than safe.

3. Because the DEP's artificial standard is set below the average soil lead levels in the Northeastern U.S.

The EPA has studied the problem of health risks from soil lead for decades and they have reams of data on lead levels in residential soils. During the extensive research and analysis that went into developing the 1200 ppm lead standard, the EPA determined that the average soil lead concentration
for all homes of this age in the Northeastern United States were 542 ppm for homes built prior to 1940 and 573 ppm for homes built between 1940 and 1959. If the artificial standards that the DEP applied in this case were applied throughout the Northeast, the vast majority of homes built prior to 1959 would be classified as lying on contaminated waste and slated for remediation.

4. Because using the EPA standard will allow us to clean up all of the contamination in Newhall while saving many millions of dollars, and leave us and our properties with a clean bill of health and no land use restrictions.

By adopting the EPA’s 1200 standard, the vast majority of homes currently slated for remediation would be cleared. Most homes have been labeled as "contaminated" falsely, due to the artificial standard. As a result, by setting the EPA standard of 1200 ppm we would be left with an affordable, manageable, and non-intrusive cleanup. There are better ways to spend $72 million on this community than digging up clean soils that have been shown to be harmless through repeated testing over many decades.

5. Because it's the right thing to do, and the Commissioner can do it easily.

The Commissioner has already set an arbitrary site-specific standard of 400 ppm, claiming that she did so on the grounds that 400 is the standard used by the EPA. We are simply asking her to adopt the true EPA standard. If she had the authority to adopt a false standard, she surely has the authority to adopt the real thing. In fact, she is not the only one who can make the change. The Commissioner has extended the authority to set “site-specific standards" to the Director of Remediation, a post currently occupied by Patrick Bowe. The Connecticut Remediation Standard Regulations even explain, on page 15, how to request the Commissioner’s approval of “Alternative Soil Criteria.” It can be done today.

To our elected representatives:

It is rare in politics that we are presented with good solutions without significant tradeoffs. By simply adopting the EPA’s recommended standard, we—as a state, town, and community—will save millions of dollars, prevent many people from being turned out of their homes, protect the health of ourselves and our children, and solve the problem fully and finally.

Governor, we are hoping that you, in particular, will take up our cause. Please help us turn this around before more damage is done. At this point, only a few million dollars in State funds have been lost, and the disruption of our lives and the damage to our neighborhood is nothing compared to what will happen if you do not act soon. Please ask the Commissioner to adopt the EPA’s lead standard for our site.