CSG Law Alert: Just When You Thought Your Cleanup Was Done-NJDEP Issues New Guidance on Contaminants of Emerging Concern

On August 5, 2021, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) issued updated guidance on how remediating parties and Licensed Site Remediation Professionals need to address Contaminants of Emerging Concern (“CECs”). The guidance documents address timeframes for addressing CECs, include frequently asked questions regarding CECs, and provide a list from the EPA of industry sectors believed to have used perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  NJDEP also updated its CEC web page.

NJDEP, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“USEPA”), and other agencies are constantly evaluating the risks to the public from chemical substances in the environment.  As risks become known, chemicals are added to the list of substances that are required to be evaluated during the remediation process.  NJDEP calls these CECs.  The August 5th  NJDEP update specifically addresses 4 CECs, PFAS, 1,4-dioxane, 1,2,3-trichloropropane, and perchlorate.

The requirements to address CECs apply to any site currently undergoing remediation in NJ and significantly to sites that have previously completed the remediation process if there is restricted use remediation –i.e., a site where there is a Deed Notice or engineering control in place.  For sites still in the remediation process, the Licensed Site Remediation Professional for the site is required to evaluate whether one or more of the CECs is a contaminant of concern at the site.  This can be done by evaluating evidence of potential use at the site (including reviewing the list of industries that may have used PFAS provided on the NJDEP update. If there was potential use sampling is required.  If a CEC is found at the site above the applicable standard, it may be treated as a new “case”.   The party conducting the remediation or the LSRP is required to notify the NJDEP hotline.  A separate case number will be assigned, and a new timeframe established just for the CEC.  The other contaminants at the site will still be addressed by the existing time frame.

Perhaps more significantly, for sites that have already been remediated but are subject to biennial reporting obligations according to a Deed Notice or Remedial Action Permit, evaluation of CECs is required at the next time a report is due to NJDEP.  The LSRP preparing the report is required to do the same evaluation of the potential for CECs to be present as if the site was still undergoing remediation.  If it is determined that CECs may be present, sampling will be necessary.  If CECs are present above a standard, further investigation and remediation will be necessary.  At sites where there was unrestricted use remediation, CECs are to be evaluated at the next triggering event.

It is not clear from the guidance how remediation of CECs if present will be addressed.  The technologies to investigate and remediate the contaminants is not certain, and PFAS compounds are difficult to sample and analyze.  An LSRP may be able to conclude that a remedy already in place is protective of human health and the environment and no further remediation is needed; however, this is far from clear and can only be determined on a site-by-site basis.  Also, PFAS compounds are very widespread and may be found at a site from upwind airborne distribution.

Parties with ongoing compliance obligations at a remediated site need to understand that a CEC evaluation will be part of the next site review.  Parties at sites undergoing remediation need to recognize that CECs must be evaluated before remediation is complete.  If CECs are present, responsible parties and LSRPs will need to consider their options to address these contaminants, including the consideration of whether other parties are contributing to the costs of addressing these CECs.

As noted above, as scientific knowledge continues to advance, regulatory agencies are likely to identify other CECs.  Regulated parties should consider this in transacting contaminated sites, in developing remedial approaches, and in deciding whether to obtain environmental insurance.

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