CHRISTIE ADMINISTRATION’S PREFERRED REMEDIATION OPTION FOR THE
LOWER PASSAIC RIVER IS SELECTED BY FEDERAL EPA
Plan Calls for Capping and Dredging, and Shipping Tainted
Dredge Materials to a Hazardous
Waste Disposal Facility
(14/P25) TRENTON – The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has chosen the Christie Administration’s preferred remedy as its proposed remediation plan for the Lower Passaic River, a plan that could kick-start a long-overdue cleanup of a contaminated eight-mile section of this vital waterway that was once an economic engine for the state and nation, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.
Governor Christie, in a 2012 letter to EPA which is being made public today as part of the EPA’s review process, said New Jersey’s preference is bank-to-bank capping of the river bed, with sufficient dredging to prevent additional flooding and to enable future navigational use of the lower 2.2 miles of the river. Dredged materials would be taken for off-site treatment and disposal at a hazardous waste landfill.
“My Administration has worked tirelessly to ensure that New Jersey’s air, water, land and natural resources are protected for the public’s benefit, while simultaneously facilitating economic growth and sustainability in all business sectors,’’ Governor Christie stated in his letter. “The extreme level of contamination in sediments in the Lower Passaic River has long hindered our attainment of these objectives in that portion of the state. Not only will removal and stabilization of the uncontrolled sources substantially improve the environment, it will also spur economic growth and revitalization along the Passaic River and throughout Northern New Jersey. After 25 years of study, the time to act is now.’’
The EPA’s announcement of the proposed remedy came after years of study by EPA and its contractors, as well as detailed peer review by the EPA’s Contaminated Sediments Technical Advisory Group and its National Remedy Review Board, plus an independent team of modeling experts. A series of EPA public hearings on the proposed remedy will be held later this year.
The DEP has worked closely with and assisted the EPA in development of a Focused Feasibility Study (FFS) for the cleanup of the lower eight miles of the Passaic River. The goal of the state-preferred remedy is to reduce the ongoing threat to human health and the environment, while spurring economic growth and revitalization along the Passaic River and through northern New Jersey.
“Unfortunately, this environmental treasure was misused for several decades. It became a dumping ground for industrial toxins and pollutants,’’ said Commissioner Martin. “But it does not have to remain impaired. It can be brought back to life and returned to its role as an important environmental and economic resource for North Jersey. We’d like to start the cleanup process as soon as possible to make that revival happen.’’
While, ideally, the state would prefer complete removal of all contaminated sediments, as stated in Governor Christie’s letter, the state’s position is that the bank-to-bank capping remedy will achieve virtually the same level of protection over time as the full dredging remedy.
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. That position was reiterated in a March 12, 2014 letter from Commissioner Martin to current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
EPA will seek funding for the implementation of the preferred remedy, once a remedy has been formally approved, from the companies it deems responsible for the contamination.
The EPA evaluated several potential remedies: Alternative 1: No action. Alternative 2: Deep dredging of the entire eight miles. Alternative 3: Capping, with sufficient dredging of the entire eight miles to prevent additional flooding and allow navigation in the lower 2.2 miles. EPA later added and evaluated a fourth alternative, after the state had already made its preference known, for focused capping and dredging of select areas of the river bed, which the state did not support.
The state’s choice of the third alternative is based on many factors, among them the belief that any remedial action for the Passaic River must:
- Remove as much contaminated sediment as possible to reduce the ongoing threat to human health and the environment;
- Stop the uncontrolled release and movement of contaminated sediments into Newark Bay and other parts of the estuary;
- Be consistent with reasonable long-term future uses of the Passaic River and adjacent areas, particularly its use as a navigable waterway;
- Remove and treat contaminated sediments consistent with the state’s preference for remedies which permanently and significantly reduce volume, toxicity and mobility of hazardous substances;
- Provide for management of the waste in a manner that will not add further burden to the surrounding communities’ existing environmental issues;
The Passaic River was vital to America’s industrial engine for more than 100 years, helping to bring thousands of jobs and economic prosperity to northern New Jersey and an emerging nation. Running through one of the most densely populated areas of the state, it also served as an important natural and recreational resource.
Its sediments are now filled with dioxins generated by production of Agent Orange at a Newark site, which now makes the Lower Passaic River one of the most contaminated rivers in the nation.
EPA previously has conducted two “hot spot’’ sediment removal efforts on the Lower Passaic River. In 2012, it targeted removal of 40,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated adjacent to the Diamond Alkali Superfund site in the Ironbound section of Newark. In 2013, EPA required that responsible parties dredge the top 2 feet of dioxin-contaminated sediments in a half-mile of mudflats along the Passaic River in Lyndhurst and cap the remaining contamination.
To view Governor Christie’s and Commissioner Martin’s letters to the EPA, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/passaic-river-epa-letters.pdf
To view the details of EPA’s proposed remedy, and to view technical information regarding the need for the cleanup and different alternatives evaluated, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region02/passaicriver