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Hurricane Sandy’s impact on EPA sites unclear

OLD BRIDGE, N.J. — For more than a month, the US Environmental Protection Agency has said that Hurricane Sandy did not cause significant problems at any of the 247 Superfund toxic waste sites it is monitoring in New York and New Jersey.

But in many cases, no tests of soil or water are being conducted, just visual inspections.

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The EPA conducted a handful of tests right after the storm, but could not provide details or locations of any recent testing when asked this week. New Jersey officials point out that federally designated Superfund sites are EPA’s responsibility.

The 1980 Superfund law gave EPA the power to order cleanups of abandoned, spilled, and illegally dumped hazardous wastes that threaten human health or the environment. The sites can involve long-term or short-term cleanups.

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey, said officials have not done enough to ensure there is no contamination from Superfund sites. He is worried toxins could leach into ground water and the ocean.

The EPA said last month that none of the Superfund sites it monitors in New York or New Jersey sustained significant damage, but that it has done follow-up sampling at the Gowanus Canal site in Brooklyn, the Newtown Creek site on the border of Queens and Brooklyn, and the Raritan Bay Slag site, all of which flooded during the storm.

But last week EPA spokeswoman Stacy Kika did not respond to questions about whether any soil or water tests have been done at the other Superfund sites. The agency has not said exactly how many of the sites flooded.

On Nov. 29, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey wrote to the EPA to ask for ‘‘an additional assessment’’ of Sandy’s impact on Superfund sites in the state.

Elevated levels of lead, antimony, arsenic, and copper have been found at the Raritan Bay Slag site, a Superfund site since 2009. Blast furnaces dumped lead there in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and lead slag was used to construct a sea wall and jetty.

The EPA found lead levels as high as 142,000 parts per million at Raritan Bay in 2007. Natural soil levels for lead range from 50 to 400 parts per million.

The EPA took four samples from the site after Sandy.

In early November the EPA said it is taking additional samples ‘‘to get a more detailed picture of how the material might have shifted’’ and will take steps to protect the public. But six weeks later, the agency could not provide more details of what has been found.

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