Letters: Environmental Issues at Hospital Site Need Further Review

To the Editor:

Princeton citizens, caring about the health of our community, should know the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC), in a October 4 memo to the Princeton Planning Board and the Site Plan Review Advisory Board, has asked for “proof of remediation “of “recognized environmental conditions” listed in a Phase I environmental study by Avalon’s consultant EcolSciences (or an explanation as to why the recommendations are invalid).  This study recommends further investigations at the old hospital site (September 2011).

Prompted by research conducted by Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, the PEC concluded at its meeting of October 1 that AvalonBay should provide the Phase II environmental investigations recommended by Ecolscience. Attorneys for AvalonBay and Princeton HealthCare said at the meeting that they did not know whether these investigation had been performed. PEC Commissioner Victoria Hamilton remarked that it would be strange if Avalon had not followed the recommendations of its consultant Ecolsciences to investigate further, and said if these investigations had not been performed, the Planning Board should follow up because it could be a problem. An independent environmental investigation, paid for by the applicant, was proposed by PCSN attorney Aaron Kleinbaum, due to the conflicting nature of three environmental reports that are known to exist on the old hospital site.

The EcolSciences Report was only released by Avalon after attorney Kleinbaum wrote a letter to municipal authorities. EcolSciences recommends soil boring near the four active underground tank systems on the property, soil and groundwater investigations for possible releases of laboratory solvents and other chemicals from the sewer lines and the former septic system, and a geophysical survey for unknown buried tanks.. It also recommends all hazardous materials should be transferred offsite or disposed under prior manifest. Nuclear Regulatory Commission clearance of proper decommissioning of X-ray equipment and linear acceleration radiation therapy unit within the cancer ward should be documented. Lead-lined doors must be properly disposed of during demolition.

AvalonBay initially did not  submit the EcolSciences to the Planning Board and instead submitted an Environmental Impact Statement by another firm it hired, Maser (June 6, 2012), which summarized EcolSciences in one sentence:  “Site specific investigations performed for the property by EcolSciences regarding the presence of underground tanks and possible contamination revealed that no underground tanks or contamination were found in the property” (p. 10).   Borough Engineer Jack West stated at the PEC meeting that the AvalonBay/Maser EIS was “inadequate” and would need to be “updated.”  His subsequent technical review states that “The Environmental Impact Statement should be amended to address all of the findings of the EcolSciences Phase I …”

The EcolSciences Report was issued without access to “at least eight of the Medical Center’s environmental documents,” according to Mr. Kleinbaum, who cited from his letter to PEC (October 1, 2012, online at www.Facebook.PrincetonCitizensFor). According to Mr. Kleinbaum, “An independent investigator would not tolerate the absence of this information before making any conclusions.” The PEC consequently asked also for a report on these documents in their memo.

“The Princeton Environmental Commission must recommend that the (AvalonBay) application not move forward until further independent environmental due diligence is conducted,.” concluded Attorney Kleinbaum.

Robert Dodge