By Desirée Taylor
A 750-foot stretch of the Passaic River in Newark is less toxic than it was a year ago. That’s because 40,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, specifically dioxin which can cause serious health problems including cancer, has been removed.
“It’s a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of cleaning up the river,” said Elizabeth Butler, EPA’s remedial project manager. “But it’s where the worst of the dioxin was and we had to start somewhere.”
The EPA placed this Superfund, known as the Diamond Alkali Site, on its National Priorities List in 1984. But it took decades to get the project started partly because it required extensive study. The source of the dioxin came from the Diamond Alkali Company, which manufactured chemicals, herbicides and pesticides from 1951 to 1969.
“Agent Orange was produced here as a defoliant. It was literally shoveled into the river,” said Debbie Mans, executive director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper. “And it’s toxic and it accumulates in the fish … and there is the pathway for human exposure.”
That’s why the entire Newark Bay region, including the Lower Passaic River, is under a fish and shellfish consumption advisory. The long-term goal is to restore a 17-mile stretch of the river, from Newark to Garfield. But that’s a monumental task that will be done in phases.
The first phase of cleanup of this site cost about $80 million. That’s nearly double the original estimate. A successor to the polluter paid for it. Seventy companies the EPA considers potential polluters have agreed to pay for an estimated $20 million project that calls for cleaning up a half mile stretch of the Passaic River in Lyndhurst. That project is expected to begin next spring.