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By Brian Dabbs
Oct. 5 — U.S. chemical manufacturer Occidental Chemical Corp. is set to shell out at least $165 million to design a remediation plan for New Jersey’s lower Passaic River Superfund site.
The Environmental Protection Agency struck a Sept. 30 agreement with Occidental to fund a study of the remediation design, which will include assessments of sampling and capping technology. Top EPA officials championed the pact as a critical milestone in its long-running quest to remediate the Diamond Alkali Superfund site.
Through an acquisition, Occidental absorbed environmental liability from the Diamond Alkali Co., which produced, among other chemicals, herbicides in Agent Orange, the defoliant sprayed by the U.S. military during the war in Vietnam. The Superfund site is laden with dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls, as well as metals and other pesticides.
In March, the EPA unveiled its $1.4 billion remediation plan, one of the largest in Superfund history, to clean up the lower 8.3 miles of the Passaic, spurring negotiations with Occidental. The Oct. 5 announcement marks the successful conclusion of those talks, said Judith Enck, EPA Region 2 administrator.
“Occidental has agreed to spend $165 million to do this work and in doing so is moving us a lot closer to a restored Passaic River,” Enck said, telling Bloomberg BNA the company is not technically admitting guilt over the hazardous discharges.
Eric Moses, Occidental spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA the company is pleased, and other groups involved in negotiations over the site cleanup also praised the development.
“I think it’s a really good first step,” Debbie Mans, NY/NJ Baykeeper executive director and a member of the site’s community advisory group, told Bloomberg BNA in an interview. “I can tell you that there is community consensus behind this proposed plan. It’s not perfect, but it does protect human health and the environment.”
The EPA expects the design phase to take four years, followed by six years of actual remediation.
The $1.4 billion overarching plan involves bank to bank capping following a dredging process. The 1.7-mile leg nearest the Newark Bay will be dredged at five to 15 feet, while the remaining 6.6 miles of the 8.3-mile stretch will undergo only roughly 2.5 feet of dredging.
The Sierra Club criticized the plan, alleging insufficient dredging will torpedo the project.
“Capping is cheap for a river that is tidal and floods; it is only a matter of time before it will fail,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, in a statement. ”The people living in Newark and along the Passaic River have waited 40 years for a real cleanup and it looks like we will be waiting more.”
Enck said the $165 million will be put toward assessing innovative dredging technologies, but Tittel told Bloomberg BNA that claim indicates EPA is uncertain of the effectiveness of its plan.
“I think they’ve punted to the next administration and maybe the one after,” said Tittel.
The EPA and other stakeholders stressed the need to still bring other potentially responsible parties to the table. Occidental is only one of more than 100 companies implicated, a list that includes BASF, DuPont and Chevron.
“The EPA is reserving all of its enforcement options to ensure that the record of decision is designed and implemented,” EPA Region 2 spokesman Elias Rodriguez told Bloomberg BNA, referring to possible agency unilateral action to force companies to pony up resources.
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