EPA Proposes $1.7 Billion Cleanup Plan For Lower Passaic River in New Jersey

By Lorraine McCarthy  

April 11 --The Environmental Protection Agency will dredge the lower eight miles of the Passaic River in New Jersey from bank to bank to remove contaminated sediment and then cap the river bottom with sand under a proposed $1.7 billion cleanup plan the agency characterized as the largest in its history.

The plan, which the EPA proposed for public comment April 11, is based on a seven-year feasibility study of the lower eight miles of the river that examined the contamination and analyzed options for reducing the risks to human health and the environment posed by the pollutants in this segment of the river.

The lower Passaic River has a layer of sediment 10 to 15 feet deep that is severely contaminated with dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, pesticides and other contaminants from more than a century of industrial activity.

The proposed plan calls for bank-to-bank dredging to remove 4.3 million cubic yards of sediment, one of the largest volumes ever to be dredged under the Superfund program, followed by installation of an engineered cap to stop the uncontrolled release and movement of contaminated sediments into Newark Bay and other parts of the estuary.

The cap, which will be monitored and maintained, will consist of two feet of sand, except along the shore where it will be one foot of sand and one foot of materials to support habitat for fish and plants.

State Supports EPA Plan

The proposed plan was developed in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with outreach to representatives of the communities along the lower Passaic River.

The EPA selected the remedy from among four alternatives that had been under consideration, and it is the one preferred by the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said in an April 11 statement.

Complete removal of all contaminated sediments would be ideal, but the state's position is that bank-to-bank capping will achieve virtually the same level of protection over time at lower cost, Martin said. He said the state advocated for sufficient dredging prior to installation of the cap to prevent flooding and to enable future navigational use of the lower 2.2 miles of the river.

“In addition, for any dredge material generated while implementing the capping remedy, the Christie Administration's position is that the only viable option, for environmental and public health and safety reasons, is off-site disposal so that the contaminated sediment is permanently removed from the community and properly secured in an appropriate facility,” Martin said.

In addition to off-site disposal, the EPA also is considering sending dredged material to a contained aquatic disposal site in Newark Bay.

Diamond Alkali Superfund Site

The proposed plan builds on dredging that was done in two smaller areas of the river with high concentrations of contaminants, including an area near the Diamond Alkali facility in Newark, N.J.

The facility produced Agent Orange and pesticides during the 1960s, generating dioxin that contaminated the land and the river.

In addition, about 100 companies are potentially responsible for generating and discharging dioxins, PCBs, heavy metals, pesticides and other pollutants into the river .

Fisheries along the river have long been closed because fish and shellfish in the lower Passaic, its tributaries and Newark Bay are highly contaminated. Local plans for riverfront development have also been hindered because of sediment contamination.

The Diamond Alkali site, which was added to the National Priorities List in 1984, includes the lower 17 miles of the Passaic River, of which the lower eight miles addressed in the EPA's proposed cleanup plan contains 90 percent of the volume of tainted sediments.

Extensive cleanup work was conducted on land at the Diamond Alkali facility and in the streets and homes near the facility from 1983 to 2001, mostly by parties responsible for the contamination.

The EPA said it is pursuing agreements to ensure that the proposed lower Passaic River cleanup will be carried out and paid for by those responsible for the contamination at the site. The EPA will hold two public meetings in May and one in June to explain the proposed plan and will accept public comments on the proposal from April 21 to June 20.

After considering comments from the public, the EPA will finalize a cleanup plan by early 2015, after which engineering and design work necessary to implement the plan will begin.


To contact the reporter on this story: Lorraine McCarthy in Philadelphia at lmccarthy@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

The proposed cleanup plan is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=smiy-9j3tgs.

Additional information about the Lower Passaic River Restoration Project is available at http://www.epa.gov/region02/passaicriver/.