TRENTON, New Jersey, July 9, 2007 (ENS) – Hackettstown children played baseball and rode bicycles for years on mounds of toxic waste, but state officials who knew of the danger did nothing to warn or protect them, according to records released Friday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national association of workers in natural resources agencies.

For more than four years, officials of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, and Bergen Tool, Inc. have been negotiating cleanup requirements for a closed factory in Hackettstown while residents walked and played on the toxic waste piles. No warning signs were posted and no fences were erected to prevent people from entering the site.

The soil at the former Bergen Machine & Tool factory contains dangerous levels of a human carcinogen called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs, as well as polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, volatile organic compounds, lead, chromium, arsenic and other pollutants at levels above the DEP’s soil cleanup criteria.

The site is adjacent to a residential neighborhood, and children routinely enter to play on a ball field and ride bikes on the waste piles. Children can enter abandoned buildings on the site which is honeycombed with underground storage tanks and pipes.

“What part of environmental protection does DEP not understand?” asked New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, who brought the status of the site to light. “I wish this sort of debacle was an anomaly but it is one of a parade of horror stories showing how our toxic cleanup laws and policies are broken.”

Wolfe’s file review and June 23, 2007 site visit revealed that there were no hazard warnings or fences, and the DEP has taken no enforcement action to compel cleanup or informed the community about what is on the site.

The company claims that DEP approved “no further investigation” for the ball field.

For the past century, the site has been used for various heavy industrial manufacturing purposes. Since 1950, Bergen Machine & Tool operated its factory until it closed in 2003. Under state law, the company is supposed to submit a cleanup plan to DEP. But, after four years, the company has yet to complete a site characterization report – the first step in the cleanup process.

“Incredibly,” said Wolfe, “DEP let the company claim the toxic mounds were only ‘sand piles’ and that the PAHs were ‘due to the use of motorbikes on the piles.'”

In a letter, New Jersey PEER called upon DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson to take immediate steps to post warning signs and erect fences, test the ball field and other recreation areas, sample nearby residents’ yards and homes for off-site migration and begin to enforce toxic pollution laws so that the company conducts a full and permanent cleanup.

In response, a DEP case manager verbally informed Wolfe Thursday that DEP had ordered the company to post signs and put up fences.