The Roche Vitamins Community Advisory Panel convened at 7:00 p.m. on July 24, 2001. Ten members of the CAP were present: Chairman Doug Smyth, Jane Bullis, Judy Chamberlain, Peter Grogan, Andrew Mark, Gary Meddaugh, Claude Mitchell, Totsy Phillips, Dave Pritchard, Roy Uhlman, and Gary Wassel. In addition, five guests were in attendance: Mayor Walter Menegus, Cindy Snyder and Lisa Jacob of White Township; Dr. Clifford Weisel of the Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety Institute (EOHSI) operated by Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; and Paul Minehart of Hoffmann-LaRoche. Present from Roche Vitamins were Duane Campbell and Jim Brandl. The meeting was facilitated by Steve Ross of Holt & Ross, Inc.

Approval of June Meeting Summary

The June meeting summary was approved, and is now available for public review and distribution.

Next CAP Meeting

At the request of Steve Ross, the CAP agreed to reschedule its next meeting for Thursday, August 16, 2001. The CAP letterhead will be revised to reflect the current membership.

Membership Status

In view of recent resignations by Tony Amato, John Negri and Roy Uhlman, and the request by Mayor Menegus that new members be added from his community, the CAP agreed to discuss the need for additional members, and the criteria for selecting and/or recruiting new members, at its August 16 meeting.

RVI Compliance Status Report

Duane Campbell reported that Roche’s methanol emissions will be below the level accepted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) thanks to additional pollution prevention and control measures taken by RVI. With respect to chloroform emissions, Roche is installing a $680,000 ethanol scrubber in September that will enhance the efficiency of the facility’s chloroform removal, with the goal of meeting the low chloroform emissions level allowed by Roche’s permit. This new equipment is being added independent of the ongoing negotiations with the NJDEP regarding the Administrative Consent Order. As for toluene, the facility’s emissions have been reduced by 50% since January 2001, well below the permitted level.

Further information about the status of Roche’s environmental compliance program is attached to this meeting summary.

Supplemental Environmental Projects

Jim Brandl provided a status report on the Supplemental Environmental Projects that Roche has proposed to the NJDEP for funding from the fine that Roche has agreed to pay as part of the Administrative Consent Order, which is now expected to be issued in the fall of this year. He explained that fine money could be used to fund no more than 80% of the cost of any SEP, with the balance to be paid directly by Roche. All of the SEPs that Roche proposed to the DEP had been recommended by the CAP.

Jim noted that a news article published in the Easton Express-Times on June 21, 2001, erroneously reported that there were difficulties in Roche’s negotiations with the NJDEP which might lead to litigation. This is not correct and in point of fact there are no impediments whatever to an Administrative Consent Agreement between Roche and DEP.

Jim reported that the DEP has conceptually approved the installation of a Warren County air monitoring station for sulfur dioxide and toxic organic pollutants. The station would be operated and maintained by a third party, not Roche, and the CAP would oversee the data that is collected. Roche would like the monitoring station to be at a sensitive community location, such as a school, while the DEP would like it to be installed at a high-altitude location. Dr. Weisel agreed that a ground-level monitoring station would be preferable as part of a health effects monitoring program. This facility will cost $250,000-$400,000, 80% of which will be funded by the fine Roche pays.

In response to a question from the CAP, Jim said that PPL also wants to install a monitoring station so they can show that Warren County actually meets the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for sulfur dioxide, despite the operations of power plants in Pennsylvania. The CAP was aware of several PPL monitoring stations at various locations in Warren County, but those facilities may be abandoned.

In addition to the air monitoring station, the DEP has taken under advisement three other SEPs recommended by the CAP and proposed by Roche:

  1. An epidemiology study to correlate air pollutant concentrations with pediatric asthma rates in Belvidere and White Twp. Jim Brandl pointed out that this SEP would require the CAP to play a central role in communicating with the community to maximize participation in the program and to explain the results. The CAP agreed it strongly supports this proposed SEP and it requested Chairman Doug Smyth to communicate that support to the community’s state legislators.
  2. Area-wide notification system, to alert residents with asthma or at high risk when air quality reaches unhealthy levels. This system, budgeted at $100,000-$200,000, would tie in with the Community Alert Network now being developed for operation by the Warren County Emergency Management agency, which the Merrill Creek Reservoir will also be utilizing, as may other industrial facilities in the area. The CAP reiterated its support for this SEP as well.
  3. Airshed-Wide Community Advisory Panel, with representatives from industry, government and concerned citizens, budgeted at $150,000-$200,000. Pete Grogan noted that the Roche CAP was already considering evolving into such a group and that the NJDEP’s approval would not be necessary for this to happen. Doug Smyth noted that the community was asking for this kind of expanded focus on airshed-wide issues and therefore this SEP was a good idea. The CAP agreed.

Jim Brandl concluded by reiterating that the NJDEP had conceptually approved the air monitoring station and had agreed to consider all three of these proposed SEPs. However, the DEP had rejected a fifth proposed SEP, involving toxicity testing of the mixture of ambient air contaminants, including those emitted by Roche and nearby power plants, notably mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ozone. The CAP reaffirmed its support for all of the SEPs now under review by the DEP.

Further information about each of these SEPs is attached to this meeting summary.

Status of Community Health Surveys

Mayor Menegus introduced the discussion of the status of White Township’s planned community health survey by saying that he wanted his town’s study to be consistent with the CAP’s preferences and with the study done by Belvidere. In that spirit, Dr. Weisel then made a series of suggestions and observations:

  • It is very difficult to get good survey information on cancers, which is a very complicated subject, and the White survey’s question on that should be reconsidered.
  • In general, the format of the survey has been changed in response to previous comments by Dr. Weisel and the CAP, but the items themselves have not been changed, despite the suggestions he has made
  • As a general matter, unless you know what use you will make of a question’s response, you shouldn’t include it, because such questions complicate a survey, reduce the response rate and make data processing, analysis and interpretation very difficult.
  • In the case of White’s survey, some questions are confusing and difficult to answer (e.g., do you have a "chronic cough," do you have "non-cancerous tumors"), and as a result responses from residents are likely to be inconsistent and unreliable as accurate indicators of the prevalence of such conditions.
  • The survey combines questions about the prevalence of conditions with questions about possible causes (e.g., do you smoke"), but it would be better to focus first on prevalence and then, based on those results, address possible causes in a subsequent study.
  • Despite the cover letter’s focus on environmental causes of health problems, the survey won’t be able to identify any causes, environmental or otherwise, for the conditions it identifies.
  • To avoid bias, all residents should be urged to complete the questionnaire rather than asked to volunteer their participation, since the people most likely to volunteer are those with illnesses, while healthy people are less likely to volunteer.
  • The focus on pets and livestock adds an additional topic that introduces additional confusion, complexity and difficulty in interpreting results.

The CAP then expressed concerns about the survey’s cover letter, which seemed likely to bias the responses by pointing to environmental problems as the cause of health problems before identifying whether any unusual prevalence of health problems exists. Several suggestions were made for revisions to the letter and Mayor Menegus agreed to incorporate them into the final version that will accompany the survey. He also agreed to provide the CAP with a presentation of the survey results before publicizing those results, as had the Belvidere Environmental Commission with their survey results.

Jim Brandl said that Roche had agreed to pay for the postage involved in mailing out the White Twp. survey, just as it had in the case of Belvidere’s survey. However, Roche was not sponsoring either survey.

Community Forum

The CAP agreed to resume discussion of the community forum it is planning on sponsoring, tentatively scheduled for October 6, at its August meeting. The NJDEP’s participation in that forum will be important, and DEP would not be able to participate until the Administrative Consent Order is issued. Hopefully, this will occur prior to the October forum; if not, the forum may have to be rescheduled.

The meeting concluded at 9:45 p.m.