New York — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a plan to remove 4.3 million cubic yards of highly contaminated sediment from the lower eight miles of the Passaic River in New Jersey. The EPA is proposing bank-to-bank dredging — one of the largest volumes ever to be dredged under the EPA’s Superfund program — followed by capping of the river bottom.
The sediment in the Passaic River is severely contaminated with dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, pesticides and other contaminants from more than a century of industrial activity. The lower eight miles of the Passaic is the most heavily contaminated section of the river. Ninety percent of the volume of contaminated sediments in the lower Passaic are in the lower eight miles of the river.
The proposed plan is based on a seven-year study of the lower eight miles of the river, known as a focused feasibility study, and was developed in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and with outreach to representatives of the many communities along the lower Passaic River. The study examined the contamination and analyzed options for reducing the risks that the contaminants in this segment of the river pose to people’s health and the environment. The EPA will accept public comments on its proposed plan from April 21 to June 20.
“High concentrations of dioxin, PCBs and other contaminants in the lower eight miles of the Passaic River are a serious threat to the people who eat fish and crabs from this river,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The EPA’s proposed cleanup plan will result in a cleaner river that protects people’s health and increases the productive use of one of New Jersey’s most important natural resources and creates jobs during the cleanup. Doing less is not good enough for this river or the people who live along it.”
A major source of dioxin in the river was pollution from the Diamond Alkali facility in Newark, New Jersey, where the production of Agent Orange and pesticides during the 1960s generated dioxin that contaminated the land and the river. In addition, approximately 100 companies are potentially responsible for generating and releasing dioxin, PCBs, heavy metals, pesticides and other contaminants into the river. Fish and shellfish in the lower Passaic, its tributaries and Newark Bay are highly contaminated with mercury, PCBs and dioxin. Fisheries along the river have long been closed due to the contamination. Catching crabs is prohibited and there are “Do Not Eat” advisories for all fish. Local plans for riverfront development have also been hindered because of sediment contamination. The site was added to the federal Superfund List in 1984.
The lower 17 miles of the Passaic River, which stretches from its mouth at Newark Bay to the Dundee Dam, are part of the Diamond Alkali Superfund site. From 1983 to 2001 extensive cleanup work was conducted on land at the Diamond Alkali facility and in the streets and homes near it. The proposed cleanup plan announced today addresses the lower eight miles of the river portion of the site.
Because of the nature and complexity of the Passaic River contamination, the EPA divided the investigation and consideration of cleanup options into two studies – one of the entire 17-mile stretch of the Lower Passaic from its mouth to the Dundee Dam and the other focused on just the lower eight miles. The study of the lower eight miles was conducted by the EPA. A long-term study of contaminated sediment in the 17-mile stretch is ongoing. It is being conducted by a group of approximately 70 parties potentially responsible for the pollution, with the EPA oversight. Information gained from the 17-mile study was integrated into EPA’s proposal for the cleanup of the lower eight miles. A portion of Newark Bay is also being studied by one of the parties potentially responsible for the contamination.
In the lower Passaic River, there is an approximately 10-to-15-foot deep reservoir of contaminated fine-grained sediment in the lower eight miles of the river. Under this plan, about 4.3 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be dredged and removed from the Passaic River. Once the top layer of contaminated sediment is removed from the river, a protective cap will be placed over the area that was dredged. The cap 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. The cap will be monitored and maintained to ensure that the cleanup remains protective.
The proposed plan includes several options for managing the contaminated sediment after dredging. Air and water quality will be monitored during the work.
After receiving and considering comments from the public, the EPA will finalize a cleanup plan by early next year. Once a plan is finalized, engineering and design work necessary to carry out the plan will be done in the following years.
The proposed plan builds on dredging that has already occurred in two smaller areas with high concentrations of contaminants. In 2012, the EPA oversaw dredging in the Passaic near the Diamond Alkali facility in Newark. About 40,000 cubic yards of the most highly dioxin contaminated sediment were removed, treated and then transported by rail to licensed disposal facilities. In 2013, the EPA oversaw dredging of approximately 16,000 cubic yards of highly contaminated sediment from a half-mile stretch of the Passaic River that runs by Riverside County Park North in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. This area is located about 11 miles north of the river mouth and outside of the lower eight miles addressed in today’s proposed plan. The work, which is ongoing, was necessary because the EPA identified particularly high levels of contamination in the sediment in this portion of the river.
The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. The EPA searches for parties legally responsible for the contamination at sites that are placed on the Superfund list and seeks to hold those parties accountable for the costs of investigations and cleanups. Most of the work to-date to clean up the Passaic has been performed by parties responsible for the contamination. The EPA will similarly pursue agreements to ensure that the cleanup work proposed today be carried out and paid for by those responsible for the contamination at the site.