Some cancer-causing waste that lies for 9 miles along the bottom of the Passaic River in Essex, Bergen and Passaic counties would be removed while some contaminated sediment would be left and capped beneath a barrier, according to a $441 million cleanup plan unveiled Wednesday by federal environmental officials.
The plan, which still needs final approval, would dredge 387,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment laced with cancer-causing dioxin, PCBs and heavy metals from North Arlington to the Dundee Dam, which lies across the river between Clifton and Garfield.
The plan by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is smaller than the $1.4 billion plan to partially dredge the river’s lower 8 miles from bank to bank in Newark and Hudson County. The new plan targets hot spots in the river where dioxin and other pollutants have been detected.
The dredged material would be processed at nearby sediment processing facilities for off-site disposal at licensed facilities, according to the plan.
Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club of New Jersey, have said the river needs to be completely dredged, and that leaving pollution under a barrier will just pass the problem on to another generation.
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Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration supports the EPA’s plan.
“This cleanup will improve water quality and benefit communities throughout the Passaic River Basin,” said Shawn M. LaTourette, acting commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection. Murphy on Wednesday nominated LaTourette to be the next DEP commissioner.
The plan announced Wednesday was the second-most-expensive under consideration, slightly cheaper than another dredge-and-cap proposal, costing $468 million, that would have lowered concentrations slightly more than the preferred plan.
The pollution dates to at least the 1960s, when workers at the former Diamond Alkali plant in Newark dumped large quantities of dioxin — a byproduct of Agent Orange, the infamous Vietnam-era herbicide — into the river.
Because the Passaic River, which flows into Newark Bay, is tidal, pollution from the lower part of the river was spread up and down the riverbed with the tides over time.
After decades marked by studies, pushback by polluters and smaller cleanups, the EPA announced a $1.4 billion plan in 2016 to remove 3.5 million cubic yards of polluted sediment from the Passaic’s lower 8 miles.
A start date for the cleanup of the next 9 miles is not yet known. EPA officials have wanted the work to be done concurrently with the $1.4 billion cleanup of the lower river to minimize disruptions, such as the opening of bridges, barge traffic and use of heavy machinery, including excavators.
While the dioxin contamination isn’t as extensive as it is in the lower 8 industrial miles, the next 9 miles are used much more extensively for recreation. More people have a greater chance to come into direct contact with dioxin, including high school and college crew teams using that part of the river for training and competition.
The public weighs in
A public comment period on the proposed cleanup plan begins Thursday and lasts until May 14.
“EPA looks forward to advancing work at the site and continuing our engagement with the community as we explain how studies support an adaptive, multiphase approach to addressing contamination in this case,” said Walter Mugdan, the EPA’s acting regional administrator.
Written comments 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, NY 10007-1866
A virtual public meeting will be held on April 27 from 6 to 8 p.m.
To register in advance of the meeting, go to: https://epa_proposed_plan_lprsa.eventbrite.com
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A number of municipalities in three counties lie along the stretch of the Passaic River set for cleanup.
- East Rutherford
- North Arlington
Scott Fallon covers the environment for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about how New Jersey’s environment affects your health and well-being, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Email: [email protected]