Feds Push for Cleanup of Lower Hackensack River Leading Into Newark Bay

“No community deserves to have contaminated sites near where they live, work, play and go to school,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “Nearly [two] out of [three] of the sites being proposed or added to the priorities list are in overburdened or underserved communities.”

The federal Superfund list includes sites where releases of contamination pose significant human health and environmental risks.

The Lower Hackensack River site, identified as an 18.75-mile stretch of the river between the Oradell Dam and near the mouth of the river in Newark Bay, and its surrounding wetlands, bore the brunt of industrial activities for more than 200 years. 

As a result, decades of sewage and industrial discharges into the river and its tributaries contaminated river sediments. Due to the elevated contamination levels in fish throughout the Newark Bay Complex, including the tidal Hackensack River, state environmental officials placed multiple advisories on the river’s recreational and fishing activities.

The main culprits of the contamination, officials said, are several processing facilities along the water that discharged harmful toxins into the water for years. 

Some of these companies included the Ventron/Velsicol site in Carlstadt and Wood-Ridge, a mercury-processing facility that operated from 1923-1974; Universal Oil Products in East Rutherford, which processed chemicals from 1930-1979; and Standard Chlorine in Kearny, which manufactured and processed various chemical products such as mothballs and lead-acid batteries from 1916-1993. 

As a Superfund site, the Lower Hackensack River would join the EPA’s National Priorities List as an area to receive federal resources the state doesn’t have. In doing so, officials said they hope rehabilitation efforts will help restore the river and benefit the communities it borders, both environmentally and economically.

“Today’s announcement that the Lower Hackensack River will be added to the National Priorities List means that EPA will now have additional tools and resources at its disposal to clean and restore one of New Jersey’s treasured waterways,” said U.S. Sen Cory Booker, a former Newark mayor. “As the state with the most Superfund sites in the nation, New Jersey has been especially harmed by legacy pollution. I am optimistic that with renewed funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, EPA is on the right track to remediating more toxic sites in America – particularly in Black, brown, and low-income communities that disproportionately bear the brunt of toxic air, soil, and water.”

In Newark, the Passaic River’s lower reach has experienced a similar history of contamination caused by major industrialization. 

As the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, northern New Jersey led the charge with manufacturing and processing companies lined up along major rivers in Hudson, Bergen and Essex counties.

Years later, that legacy of industry would eventually take its toll on the surrounding areas and environment.

Manufacturing left behind layers of dioxin, mercury, and many other toxic contaminants in the river's sediments. In the 1950s and 60s, Agent Orange was manufactured at a facility on the banks of the Lower Passaic River, causing toxic byproducts to be released into the estuary.

Today, multiple areas along the river are home to multiple Superfund sites. To date, two cleanups of the river have already been completed.

Now, state environmental officials fear polluted areas directly linked to Superfund sites could thwart ongoing remediation efforts.

In August 2021, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette joined state and community leaders at Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus to advocate for the Lower Hackensack River to be designated as a Superfund site.

LaTourette told TAPinto Newark at the gathering that the river's cleanup was crucial to ensuring remediation in the Passaic River isn’t set back. 

“It’s all connected,” LaTourette told TAPinto Newark. “If we don’t control what’s in here - whatever’s not sufficiently bound up in the sediment - it gets transported out to [Newark Bay]. Let's clean the whole damn thing up."

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-03-18 03:28:59 -0700