Lower Hackensack River will be added to the list of EPA Superfund sites
Someday years from now someone will pull a healthy blue claw crab from the lower Hackensack River and not think twice how tasty it will be. This same person may never realize how unrealistic the scenario seemed in 2022.
The lower Hackensack, long contaminated with chromium, mercury and other toxic materials that make eating anything there a health risk, should be added to the federal government’s list of Superfund sites.
This designation means the Environmental Protection Agency will begin the long and arduous process of cleaning up the river and making the polluters of the river pay.
The process, which includes corrective investigation/feasibility study, records of decision, corrective design/corrective actions and construction completion, can take years, and even then there is no has no guarantee that the site will be returned to perfect condition.
But the process and the wait are worth it for the likes of Hackensack River Guardian Bill Sheehan, who has noted the growing popularity of the 19-mile waterway that passes through 20 municipalities in Hudson and Bergen counties. , from northern Newark Bay to Oradell.
“(There are) over 10,000 people a year in our programs, our cleaning programs, our cruising programs, our paddling programs,” he said Thursday during a virtual press conference announcing the proposed designation. “Twenty-five years ago when I started as a river warden, a lot of knowledgeable people in this area thought the river was a dumping ground, and it wasn’t worth worrying about, and why was I making all this noise.
“Well, I proved them wrong and I proved people wanted it. And if they want it, they’ll want it clean.
There are currently 152 superfund sites in New Jersey, including five in Hudson County – Diamond Head Oil Refinery in Kearny; Standard Chlorine, also at Kearny, Syncon Resins, EPA listed as South Kearny; Grand Street Mercury in Hoboken; and PJP Landfill in Jersey City.
The proposal will have a 60-day public comment period, then another EPA review, and then a decision by the federal agency to move forward and designate the lower Hackensack as a Superfund site.
On Thursday, officials said the EPA had taken sediment samples from more than 20 sites and found the lower Hackensack River “suffered from widespread contamination and environmental degradation.” Due to the arsenic, lead, chromium, mercury, PAHs and PCBs in the river, “eating fish could pose a significant health risk,” says EPA toxicologist Michael Sivak. .
Harvesting crabs from the lower Hackensack River is illegal, and the state Department of Environmental Protection says people should eat no more than one to four fish caught from the river per year. depending on the type of fish.
“New Jersey’s past industrial activities helped build America, but they also left a legacy of contamination that unfairly burdens communities of color,” said EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. “By proposing to add the Lower Hackensack River to the National Priorities List, the EPA demonstrates its commitment to overstretched and underserved communities – no project is too big, and America’s natural resources are accessible to all.”
President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Act will accelerate the EPA’s work to help communities clean up these contaminated sites with a $3.5 billion investment in the Superfund remediation program and restores taxes. excise chemicals from the Superfund, making it one of the largest investments in American history to address legacy pollution. .
The DEP said the worst of the contamination is believed to have resulted from past discharges from four sites in the watershed that are being remediated under the EPA’s Superfund program:
- the Ventron/Velsicol site at Carlstadt and Wood-Ridge, a mercury processing facility that operated from 1929 to 1974;
- Universal Oil Products (Chemical Division) in East Rutherford, which handled chemicals from 1930 to 1979;
- Standard Chlorine in Kearny, which manufactured and processed various chemicals, including mothballs and lead acid batteries, from around 1916 to 1993;
- Scientific Chemical Processing in Carlstadt, where various chemical recovery, processing and storage activities took place from around 1941 to 1980.
A cleanup of the nearby Passaic River Superfund site has been underway for decades, slowed by legal battles over who is responsible for footing the bill. The cost of the cleanup is currently in the hundreds of millions of dollars and is expected to total over $1 billion.
The lower Hackensack River is different, officials say.
“We know who the responsible parties are and we’re not going to sit around for two decades like we did on the Passaic River,” said DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, who declined to name the companies that would be responsible for cleaning.
Officials said the EPA is so early in the cleanup process that they cannot put a figure on the cost, but reiterated that polluters would pay.
“We will seek financially viable responsible parties to help pay for remediation and cleanup,” Garcia said, “and in addition, Superfund status qualifies a site for federal funds that can also be used to initiate construction work. remediation if responsible parties do not act, in addition to state funding for this.
The Hackensack River is part of the New York Harbor and New Jersey estuary and is a habitat for over 30 species listed as endangered or threatened and is home to over 8,400 acres of wetlands.
“Cleaning up the lower Hackensack River is vital for communities, stakeholders and ecosystems in the watershed,” said Representative Albio Sires. “I urge the Lower Hackensack River to be rapidly reviewed and I advocate for its inclusion in the Superfund’s national priority list of sites, so that remediation can begin.”