Dredging of Pompton Lake Finally Begins

By James M O'neill | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), September 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Dredging of Pompton Lake Finally Begins


James M O'neill, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


An excavator dipped its huge claw into the water of Pompton Lake on Wednesday, pulled up a load of black, mucky sediment, let it drain briefly, then swiveled and dumped the load onto a patch of asphalt on the shoreline.

Then it repeated the process.

It was the first day of a long anticipated three-year dredging operation to remove about 130,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the lake bottom after years of studies, reports, delays and conflicts involving the federal government, local residents and DuPont, the company responsible for the pollution.

"The biggest thing that residents here tell us is they want to see action, and we're finally at the point to do that, after a lot of hard work by many people," said Pat Seppi, the project's community involvement coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the nearly $50 million cleanup.

The mercury, lead and other pollutants in the sediment and shoreline soil come from the former DuPont munitions facility in Pompton Lakes and Wanaque. The pollution was carried to the lake by Acid Brook, which runs through the former industrial site. The DuPont facility operated from 1902 to 1994, making blasting caps, metal wires and aluminum and copper ammunition shells the United States used in the two World Wars and other military conflicts.

The EPA wants the sediment removed because a toxic form of mercury can build up in fish, posing a health risk to humans who eat them. Exposure to mercury can damage nervous systems and harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.

The 200-acre Pompton Lake, bordered by Pompton Lakes, Wayne and Oakland, is a backup source to replenish a key reservoir that supplies drinking water to towns in Bergen and Passaic counties. The lake is used by residents for skiing, boating and fishing, though it is so contaminated that fishermen are warned not to eat their catch.

The mechanical dredging that started Wednesday will create a shallow channel through the lake muck so a barge, loaded with dredging equipment and scows to carry dredged material, can float out to several small areas of the lake that total about 3 acres for cleanup there.

The channel was a new wrinkle in the project -- officials had not anticipated one would be needed, said Perry Katz, the EPA's project manager. The cleanup is the responsibility of Chemours, a DuPont spinoff company.

In the past two months, cleanup efforts have focused on removing contaminated soil along the lake shoreline. Nearly 500 truckloads of soil have been removed to a landfill in Pennsylvania, Katz said.

The decontaminated area, which borders a soccer field at Lakeside Middle School, has been covered with liners and paved with asphalt, and will be used as a temporary staging area for the larger dredging operation. The area also is bordered by a sheet pile wall driven into the sediment. In addition, a long line of orange booms have been installed on the lake surface at the perimeter of the work area, and turbidity curtains hang from them down into the water, to keep any disturbed sediment from floating into the cleaner areas of the lake. …

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