The rankings were supposed to ensure that the most dangerous sites remained a priority even as the state gave private companies a bigger role in cleanups. Today, there are nearly 14,000 contamination sites across New Jersey and still no sign of the mandated rankings.
For decades, New Jersey’s chemical plants, textile mills and metal factories helped power America.
That came at a price.
Byproducts like dioxin from the manufacture of the herbicide Agent Orange fouled the Passaic River, making fish and crab toxic. Dye and paint companies dumped waste in illegal landfills in Toms River, polluting the groundwater for decades. Carcinogenic vapors migrated to homes from Pompton Lakes factories making war ammunition and nonstick pans.
New Jersey eventually passed some of the strongest environmental laws in the country, including the precursor to the federal Superfund law, and the state has made strides in cleaning up contamination.
But don’t ask what the state’s priorities are.
A decade after legislators mandated that the Department of Environmental Protection rank every contaminated site in order of urgency and severity, the agency has yet to act.