Feds unveil plan to deal with the Passaic River’s toxic mud

Posted Apr 14, 2021

The lower reaches of the Passaic River are toxic.

Heavy industrial pollution through the 19th and 20th centuries left the river-bottom laced with hazardous substances, including carcinogens like dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

It’s a history of pollution that has robbed residents in Newark and surrounding towns of the chance to fully enjoy the river, a fact that once led U.S. Sen. Cory Booker to call the river “New Jersey’s biggest crime scene.” To this day, people are warned against eating any fish or crabs pulled from the Passaic.

Federal efforts to clean up this section of the river, known as the Diamond Alkali Superfund site, have been underway for decades. Now, the next chapter of that work is set to begin.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday plans to dredge 387,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments from the bottom of a nine-mile stretch of the Passaic River, roughly between the Dundee Dam in Garfield and Kearny.

Not all of the pollution will be dredged and removed in the proposed plan. Some will be left behind, and buried underneath a cap to prevent it from spreading.

The EPA said dealing with this section of the river is critical to keeping pollution from spreading downstream, into areas where other cleanup work is already underway.

“This proposed interim action will address highly contaminated sediment located just upriver of the lower eight miles that is an ongoing source of contamination in the target area and acts as a reservoir for potential contaminant migration,” said Walter Mugdan, the acting regional administrator of EPA Region 2.

The new EPA plan has the support of Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.

“This cleanup will improve water quality and benefit communities throughout the Passaic River Basin and will help New Jersey to further the promise of environmental justice by remedying a Superfund site that affects overburdened communities along the Passaic River,” said Shawn LaTourette, the acting commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The new cleanup is expected to cost $441 million and take over 4 years to complete. It’s unclear when work would begin.

The nine-mile stretch affected by the new plan is just one part of the sprawling superfund site, which encompasses Newark Bay and the lower 17 miles of the Passaic River.

The former Diamond Alkali pesticide facility on Lister Avenue in Newark, a place where Agent Orange was once made and served as a major source of pollution, was deemed remediated in 2001.

The EPA announced in 2016 a $1.4 billion plan for dealing with toxic sediments in the Passaic between Newark Bay and river mile 8.3. That effort is still in progress.

It’s unclear how much work will be required to clean up the Newark Bay portion of the superfund site. The EPA is still studying the extent and nature of pollution in the bay.

Pending litigation will likely determine who will foot the bill for the new plan and other cleanups in the affected area. Under federal law, the parties responsible for the pollution are on the hook for Superfund cleanup costs. The EPA secured a $165 million settlement in 2016 from Occidental Chemical Corporation, just one of the polluters, to fund some of the work on the lower eight miles.

But getting other polluters to pay up has not been easy. The prime example is Maxus Energy Corp., the successor of Diamond Alkali.

Maxus is a subsidiary of Argentina’s state-owned oil company, YPF S.A. In 2016, YPF declared bankruptcy for Maxus in a move that lawmakers blasted as an attempt to dodge its share of cleanup costs.

New Jersey’s pension had $18 million invested in YPF as of 2018, when Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a bill that would have stopped the pension from investing in companies that declare bankruptcy as a possible way to evade Superfund cleanup and companies that hold substantial shares in those companies.

A 30-day public comment period for the new proposed plan will occur from April 15 to May 14. EPA will host a Virtual Public Meeting on April 27, 2021 at 6:00 p.m. To register for the public meeting, visit https://epa_proposed_plan_lprsa.eventbrite.com. To learn more about the public meeting, contact Shereen Kandil at [email protected] or 212-637-4333.

Written comments on the Proposed Plan should be e-mailed or postmarked no later than May 14 to [email protected] or Diane Salkie, Remedial Project Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 290 Broadway, 18th Floor, New York, New York 10007-1866.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-04-15 03:07:19 -0700