The EPA's plan includes dredging 3.5 million cubic yards of sediment containing pollutants and toxic material from the Passaic River near Newark, NJ.
A Newark community group is defending the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s final plan to clean up the Passaic River, despite criticism by the New Jersey Sierra Club that the plan will fail to completely remove toxic chemicals in the severely contaminated waterway.
Jon Hurdle writes today in NJ Spotlight:
The EPA on Friday announced a $1.38 billion plan to remove 3.5 million cubic yards of sediment containing dioxin, PCBs, heavy metals, and some 100 other contaminants from the lower eight miles of the river, and then cap the riverbed with two feet of sand from bank to bank to contain remaining sediment.
The plan will be the country’s largest-ever environmental dredging project, said Judith Enck, the EPA’s Region 2 administrator, and follows years of analysis and discussion over how to clean up the badly polluted river after more than a century of industrial contamination.
The federal agency said the plan will improve water quality, protect public health, revitalize waterfront areas, and create hundreds of new jobs. “This plan is one of the most comprehensive in the nation and will help restore a badly damaged river,” said Enck, at an event attended by U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, as well as Bob Martin, commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection.
The river has been seriously damaged by decades of industrial pollution, notably from Newark’s Diamond Alkali factory which in the 1960s produced Agent Orange, a defoliant used in the Vietnam War. The operation resulted in contamination of the river and surrounding land with dioxin, a highly toxic substance.
The EPA’s program was immediately attacked by the New Jersey Sierra Club, whose director, Jeff Tittel, said it would not remove all the contaminants, so local residents would still be exposed to the cocktail of toxic chemicals that has contaminated fish and raised concerns about human health.
“The people in Newark and along the Passaic River have waited 40 years for a clean-up and now this toxic nightmare will continue,” Tittel said in a statement. “The EPA’s clean-up plan will not work because it will only cap the pollution.”
Tittel said the EPA should have chosen an earlier plan to dredge 8.3 miles to a depth of between 12 and 30 feet, which he said would have removed all the contaminants so that people could once again use the river for fishing and boating, as they did before the 1950s.
The EPA said there is a “reservoir of contaminated fine-grained sediment” approximately 10 feet to 15 feet deep in the lower eight miles of the river. Some 2.5 feet of that will be removed and then the riverbed will be capped with two feet of sand, except along the shoreline where the cap will consist of a foot of sand and a foot of material that will support habitat for fish and plants.
Tittel’s criticism was rejected by a community group that has contributed to the multi-year debate over how to clean up the river.
Debbie Mans, co-chair of the Community Advisory Group for the Passaic River Superfund Site, which backs the plan, called Tittel’s comments “frustrating” and claimed he was attacking the plan without understanding the issue.
“We’ve been meeting as a community group for six years and he has never come to any of our community meetings, never spoken with the community,” said Mans, who is also executive director of New York New Jersey Baykeeper, an environmental group that works to protect the harbor estuary. “The community is behind the proposal and I think it’s disappointing that a statewide group would try to step on top of them to say ‘we know what’s best’ when they haven’t spent the time in the community understanding it.”
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