Companies to Pay $1.4B to Clean Up Passaic River

By Michael Hill

As they overlooked the Passaic River, the EPA’s Regional Director Judith Enck declared, “This is a great day.”

The EPA announced it will get dozens of companies to pay $1.4 billion to clean up the toxic waste — dioxins to make Agent Orange, PCBs, mercury and more — that they dumped and poured into the Passaic River for decades.

An 8.3-mile clean-up stretches from the Newark-Belleville border to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission.

“This is the record of decision,” Enck said.

The plan calls for bank-to-bank dredging, two and half feet deep — deeper in some places — capping the river floor and sending the toxic mud out of state. But, the Sierra Club says the dredging should go deeper — 12 feet to remove all the toxins.

“For me, this is personal. My family is from the Ironbound. I had an aunt and uncle who lived four blocks from Diamond Alkali and they both died of liver cancer. We know what this has done,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Chapter Director Jeff Tittel.

“It’s a very minimal, minimal difference, almost statistically insignificant, between what’s being proposed by the EPA and a full dredge,” said NY/NJ Baykeeper Executive Director Debbie Mans.

The EPA, state DEP and others say a clean Passaic River will create jobs.

“The quality of life for the people who live along the river will be forever improved,” said NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin.

From now — getting the polluters to commit to pay and actually paying — to completing the cleanup and capping it could take 11 years.

Michael Turner represents the company that succeeded the maker of Agent Orange.

When asked if the company is going to fight this, Turner said, “Once again, we have been cooperating with the EPA in a very cooperative way for 20 years. So it remains to be seen depending upon what’s in this document how we’re going to respond. But, rest assured I don’t think we’re going to change our behavior now.”

Sen. Bob Menendez says those who shoveled their waste here won’t get away with shirking their responsibility.

“To those worried about the cost, I would advise them to think of it as a bill for the decades of frustration, of worry, of sickness that you have caused this comm unity. And the bill is long overdue,”  he said.

“And to the responsible parties we say shed the stigma of polluter and embrace the mantle of healer,” said Ironbound Community Corporation Executive Director Joseph Della Fave.

The plan finally coming to fruition dredges up a lot of emotions, perhaps none more forceful than Sen. Cory Booker’s. He called what the polluters did to the Passaic sinful, criminal and evil.

“This city’s main artery, the reason this city was founded, was the Passaic River. It was our life blood, it was recreation for our children, leisure for our elderly, health and well being for every citizen. It was stolen from us. This is a rape and pillage of the present and of the people of Newark that cannot be satisfied by $1.4 billion,” he said.

The EPA estimates it could take a year to get some of the Fortune 100 companies to pay up for one of the costliest environmental cleanups in history.