New Jersey May Buy Homes Built on Contaminated Sites

By MICHAEL CATALINI | July 15, 2016

Homeowners whose property sits atop former industrial cesspools that leach chemicals into the ground and water and give off harmful vapors could have their houses purchased by the state.

New Jersey would be required to buy homes built on contaminated sites under a measure advancing in the Legislature.

A state Senate committee advanced legislation Monday requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to buy homes built on contaminated sites.

The Assembly passed the bill 60-13 last month. The legislation now goes to the Senate budget committee for consideration.

The idea for the legislation stems from Sayreville homes built on a former ironworking site that tested positive for contamination.

The pollutants went unnoticed by the state and developers until a 2011 earthquake resulted in water spewing into the basement of Sayreville resident Herve Blemur’s home.

The property tested positive for contaminants, including tetrachloroethylene, a chemical used by industrial businesses as a degreaser. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has linked the chemical to certain kinds of cancers.

Before it was a residential community, Scott Avenue in Sayreville was home to a toy store, which was not required to undergo a check for industrial contaminants because none were used there. But before it became the Melrose Toy Store, the property was home to a welding and ironworking company.

Under current law, the Department of Environmental Protection is required to help Blemur remediate the property and has spent about $500,000 removing soil and building a shed that houses water-treatment equipment.

Blemur, a father of six whose house is on the spot the chemicals had been dumped, testified before the Assembly in May that he’s concerned about the well-being of his children.

“I feel like I’m killing them slowly,” he said.

Lawmakers say the legislation is needed because it’s inefficient for the state to carry the burden of remediation indefinitely and unfair to residents like Blemur who will undoubtedly have trouble selling a contaminated home.

“He has an environmental dead end a financial dead end,” said Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who sponsored the bill.

It’s unclear how many homes would be affected by the legislation, but the DEP said in a letter dated Friday that it opposed the legislation and cited the cost of buying homes as burdensome.

A fiscal estimate prepared by the Democrat-led Legislature’s Office of Legislative Services said the Department of Environmental Protection estimates it could be hundreds of homes annually.

But the agency said that it disagreed and that the number of homes purchased would vary annually. It estimated the average home price to be $397,500 and suggested that if 40 homes were bought by the state, that would cost $15.9 million.

The legislation would require the state to tap into the Spill Fund, an account set up in 1976 for cleaning up contaminated sites. For the current fiscal year, the fund has $28.4 million.

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