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EPA Passaic River Clean-Up Proposal Largest In History

Cynthia Cumming

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 • 3:04am

LIVINGSTON, NJ - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed plans to remove 4.3 million cubic yards of highly contaminated sediment from the lower eight miles of the Passaic River in New Jersey. According to the EPA, Passaic river sediment is “severely contaminated with dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, pesticides and other contaminants from more than a century of industrial activity”.

The lower eight miles of the Passaic is the most heavily contaminated section of the river, containing  90 percent of the volume of contaminated sediments. The EPA plans to employ “bank-to-bank dredging” in their largest effort to date under the EPA’s Superfund program, followed by capping of the river bottom. 

After seven years of focused feasibility studies the EPA, in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and representatives of the communities along the lower Passaic River, the proposal was developed. Contamination along the lower eight miles of the Passaic River was examined and options were analyzed to reduce the contaminant risks. The goal addresses the environmental health risks to the communities, wildlife, river, and land.

“High concentrations of dioxin, PCBs and other contaminants in the lower eight miles of the Passaic River are a serious threat to the people who eat fish and crabs from this river,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. “The EPA’s proposed cleanup plan will result in a cleaner river that protects people’s health and increases the productive use of one of New Jersey’s most important natural resources and creates jobs during the cleanup. Doing less is not good enough for this river or the people who live along it."

The EPA release cited the Diamond Alkali facility in Newark as a “major source of dioxin in the river, where the production of Agent Orange and pesticides during the 1960s generated dioxin that contaminated the land and the river.”

The release continued, “Approximately 100 companies are potentially responsible for generating and releasing dioxin, PCBs, heavy metals, pesticides and other contaminants into the river. Fish and shellfish in the lower Passaic, its tributaries and Newark Bay are highly contaminated with mercury, PCBs and dioxin. Fisheries along the river have long been closed due to the contamination. Catching crabs is prohibited and there are “Do Not Eat” advisories for all fish. Local plans for riverfront development have also been hindered because of sediment contamination. The site was added to the federal Superfund List in 1984.”

From 1983 through 2001, the lower 17 miles of the Passaic River stretching from Newark Bay to the Dundee Dam were the site of extensive cleanup work on land at the Diamond Alkali facility and around nearby homes and streets. Today’s proposed plan would address the lower eight miles of the river. 

Once public comments are received and considered, the EPA will finalize a cleanup plan by early 2015.

In 2012, the EPA oversaw dredging operations in the Passaic near the Diamond Alkali facility in Newark. About 40,000 cubic yards of dioxin contaminated sediment were removed, treated and transported to licensed disposal facilities.

In 2013, approximately 16,000 cubic yards of highly-contaminated sediment from a half-mile stretch of the Passaic running by Riverside County Park North in Lyndhurst, New Jersey was dredged.

The EPA searches out responsible parties and sources of contamination and charges them with the costs for remediation via the Superfund program.

The plan for the lower eight miles of the Passaic River is available HERE or HERE.

Public comments will be accepted by the EPA on their proposed plan from April 21 to June 20, and several public meetings describing the proposal will be held at the following locations: 

  •  May 7, at 7 p.m., Portuguese Sports Club, 55 Prospect Street,, Newark, New Jersey, 07105
  •  May in Kearny, date and location TBD.
  •  June in Belleville, date and location TBD.

Written comments via mail or email may be submitted to: Alice Yeh, Remedial Project Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 290 Broadway, New York, New York 10007-1866, (212) 637-4427, PassaicLower8MileComments.Region2@epa.gov.

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