Highland Lakes

Country Club and Community Association

No truth to unsubstantiated assertions about toluene in Highland Lakes

Uninformed people associated with the Vernon Environmental Commission decided on their own to purportedly test groundwater and soil in Highland Lakes to support their claims that toluene from TGP may have leaked/leached into the main lake. They claim to have funded the testing themselves, and their testing was supposedly performed by a lab whose name/info wasn’t provided. Local newspapers wrote stories about these tests without performing any fact checking, and it resulted in a wave of concern from members in our community. TGP and our independent consultant reviewed the “lab” data and determined that it was scientifically implausible and, even if possible, still came in below accepted federal and state standards.

Club President Jeanne Jameson offers the following comments:

You may be aware of recent articles in the AIM Vernon and the Advertiser News newspapers reporting on the August 27th presentation by Vernon’s Environmental Commission to the Vernon Town Council that expressed deep concerns about “toxic pillows” placed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline in its work area. The comments suggested that the pillows were placed to absorb “petroleum products”, and raised concerns about the contamination of our main lake with a chemical they labeled as toluene, allegedly found through sampling conducted on lands owned by the Newark Watershed.

I would like to say up front that these conclusions as to the purpose of the pillows and logs are not founded in scientific fact. It is important to note that I have been letting you know since last year that the floc logs (not “lock logs” as described by these concerned citizens and cited in the news articles), installed across from the south end of the main lake by TGP, were placed to contain silt in the stormwater runoff from the heavy rains of Hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee last August and September, not toluene.

When we noticed a large plume of muddy water at the south end of the lake last year, we alerted TGP and engaged our environmental consultant, Princeton Hydro, to inspect the situation and make recommendations for immediate action. TGP worked closely with Princeton Hydro, installed the floc logs and silt absorption pillows suggested by Princeton Hydro on its work site at its expense. TGP compensated the Club for the installation of the floating sediment curtain (the yellow boom) recommended by Princeton Hydro at the south end of the lake to trap the silt. As soon as the lake began to freeze last winter, the floating sediment curtain was removed and then reinstalled last spring. Additionally, Princeton Hydro (at TGP’s expense) has monitored turbidity and related measures in the lake periodically to ensure the adequacy of these measures.

The recent outcry reported in the newspapers results from “findings” by Vernon Environmental Commission members Beverly Budz and Diane Wexler who had tests conducted in April, 2012 on Newark watershed lands at their personal expense. It also appears they incorrectly concluded (at least according to the news reports) that the sediment barrier may be in place to contain toluene. Of course, these results from the adjacent Newark wetlands were not shared with our community, no permission was requested by anyone to conduct tests on Highland Lakes property, and we are unaware of any other tests conducted.

Their assertion is that there is a danger from toluene flowing into the lake from the construction site. I have received a number of emails regarding the damaging effects of toluene on pregnant women, small children, animals, the environment and the like. Toluene is commonly found in gasoline, nail polish remover, paints and solvents that we use in our daily routine. It is also not surprising that toluene, found in every gallon of gasoline, would be found in wetlands adjacent to Canistear Road which has drained into these wetlands for fifty years or more.

The Club was concerned with each and every assertion made by representatives of the environmental commission to the town council, and Ms. Budz and Ms. Wexler are also members of the group which seems to be feeding them information – the North Jersey Pipeline Walkers. It should be noted that no contact was ever made to anyone at the Club office or any board member by either the environmental commission or this group to express their deep concerns for our water quality. We did not even learn of the April, 2012 private tests until late August after the newspaper articles. To properly investigate these testing results and claims of toxic pollution on behalf of the board and members of our community, the Club asked Princeton Hydro, a firm specializing in water quality matters, to provide an opinion on this subject. Dr. Steve Souza, Ph.D., and his staff examined the selective test results paid for by Ms. Budz and Ms. Wexler of the environmental commission and the North Jersey Pipeline Walkers group, the newspaper articles, and reviewed NJDEP soil, groundwater and surface water standards pertaining to toluene.

Princeton’s report concludes that there are no plausible reasons to conduct any further testing that would only result in the waste of members’ money. Dr. Souza also commented: “Toluene is present in a variety of widely used household products including electrical tape, finger nail polish remover, glue, ink and polyurethane foam.” Lastly, the report concluded: “Overall, what these results show, if anything, that if there is any toluene present at the location that was sampled (Newark watershed lands), which was down stream of Lake 2, that it is present at extremely low concentrations; concentrations far less than any NJDEP action level. Again given the ubiquitous nature of this chemical, and its presence in gasoline, the fact that it was detected, albeit at very low levels, is not overly surprising. As I noted earlier, this data is not reflective of a condition that threatens the quality of Highland Lake or, as supported by the NJDEP standards, poses a threat to the community.”

But is toluene dangerous to the environment? Not according to the USEPA which states: “Toluene by itself is not likely to cause environmental harm at levels normally found in the environment.” According to what we have learned, toluene was allegedly measured at 26 parts per billion in three samples, and we note that these three tests resulted in precisely the same measurement. The only context we can place these results is in the standards of both the USEPA and NJDEP’s for drinking water: 1,000 ppb, or 2.6% of what would be permissible in your drinking water.

We wonder what the reactions have been from NJDEP and other regulatory agencies regarding these observations and conclusions. Of course, we don’t know because these concerns, these tests, etc. have never been shared with us. The matter is closed, no matter what is said by the Vernon Environmental Commission.

Jeanne Jameson, President



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