A 2011 earthquake in Virginia caused only minor damage in New Jersey, but led to water frequently infiltrating the basement of a Sayreville home — and the discovery that the property had long ago been contaminated by industrial chemicals.

Since then, the state has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to clean the site.

Those efforts and expenses continue.

The homeowner, Herve Blemur, wants to sell but can’t and says it would have been better if the state had just bought him out in the first place, like he wanted.

“At that point, it would have cost them $400,000. That’s the market value. But I’m so desperate, I was willing to take less,” Blemur said. “But I was told that’s not what they are there for. They are there to clean up, mitigate the situation.”

A water treatment system was built outside Blemur’s home, with pumps operating round-the-clock treating water before it reaches the sewer. The project also includes a depressurization system that vents chemical vapors from volatile organic compounds into the environment.

Blemur estimates the state has spent upwards of $750,000 on remediation efforts and that he’s received indications a third round of clean-up may be tried to remove soil under his rebuilt deck. The state says the cost was more than $400,000 a year ago. Blemur says that ignores earlier, failed cleanups.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Lawrence Hajna said the remediation action has succeeded and that the state couldn’t afford to use its cleanup funds to buy out contaminated homes.

“This is really a case of: Where do you draw the line in terms of relocating people?” Hajna said.

“It would just be impractical and not cost-effective for the state,” Hajna said. “I don’t know where the state would come up with the funds to relocate everyone who has an environmental problem that can be addressed through the tried and true means.”

Blemur said his situation is different than others in that despite the cleanup efforts, he still has chemicals in his yard.

“I even have a letter that says that lead was found at a certain depth in the yard,” Blemur said. “I asked them what happens if the kids want to go outside; they said, well, the level that it’s in, it’s safe as long as we don’t disturb the soil. I kid you not.”

Hajna said that in an emergency situation in which someone was exposed to harmful contaminants, the state would work to temporarily relocate people while remediation work was completed.

Members of the Blemur family have a variety of medical issues, including cancer. Doctors from the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center say the family should move. Blemur said he can’t afford to just walk away and has the home on the market – but would-be buyers walk away when they learn about the soil, water and indoor air contamination.

The DEP last month provided Blemur a letter assuring buyers the state had successfully “abated any current health concerns” and commits to the ongoing work.

“We have the house for sale. People come. They love it until the letter that DEP said to give to any potential buyer,” Blemur said. “But once they see it, that’s it.”

Last year, the Assembly passed a bill that would authorize the state to start buying out contaminated homes. The Senate environment committee advanced it without recommending its passage, after the DEP testified in opposition, and the bill has stalled in the Senate budget committee.

Hajna said that without identifying a funding source to help the state afford the buyouts, the proposal would quickly consume the money in the Spill Compensation Fund.

Meanwhile, friends of Blemur established a GoFundMe page four weeks ago to try to raise $250,000 to help the family afford to buy another home so it can walk away from its current one.

As of Thursday, it had attracted $4,772 in pledges.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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