Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

EPA Puts Cleanup Ahead of Schedule

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

EPA Puts Cleanup Ahead of Schedule

Article excerpt

Federal officials plan to act quickly to remove highly contaminated sediment this summer from a Superfund site in East Rutherford because they are worried that storm runoff and tidal action could spread the contamination over a wider area.

The sediment -- contaminated with extremely high levels of mercury, chromium and cancer-causing PCBs -- lies adjacent to a rail spur that connects Secaucus Junction with the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

Officials are so concerned about the high contamination levels that they have decided to remove the sediment this year, even before they complete a study to determine how best to clean up a larger portion of the 74-acre Superfund site, which was once owned by Universal Oil Products.

Removing the sediment will cost $14 million, officials said.

"The contamination levels are very high in these areas, and the soft sediment has the potential to move, so we thought we should move quickly to get rid of the contaminants that might be mobile," said Doug Tomchuk, the Environmental Protection Agency's project manager for the site. The property lies just east of the Lowe's home improvement store on Route 17.

The EPA took on cleanup oversight of the site from the state in 2009 after an inspector general report by the agency sharply criticized state and federal environmental officials for causing "unnecessary delays" in cleaning up seven of the worst toxic sites in New Jersey, including the Universal Oil Products site.

Testing uncovered contamination levels as high as 5,810 parts per million of PCBs. To put that in context, the state's minimal soil cleanup standard for PCBs on a non-residential site is one part per million. The sediment has mercury levels as high as 643 parts per million; the state cleanup standard is 65 parts per million. Chromium is present at levels as high as 49,800 parts per million; the current state trigger for soil cleanup involving hexavalent chromium is 20 parts per million.

Full removal planned

The EPA evaluated whether to make Honeywell, the responsible party for the cleanup, cap the contaminated sediment with clean fill or remove the contamination. EPA decided in this case for full removal, which increased the cost of the project by $4 million.

"In this case, removal would be a more permanent cleanup option. With a cap, you'd still have to worry about biota digging into the material," Tomchuk said. Snapping turtles live in the wetlands around the site. Full removal would also give EPA more flexibility when deciding how best to clean up a larger wetlands area on the site, Tomchuk said.

Bill Sheehan of the Hackensack Riverkeeper environmental advocacy group supports full removal over capping. "They needed to address the most hazardous part of the site first," he said. "Removal is the best thing to do, especially on a site with so much wetlands around it. …

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