By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
One stretch of the Passaic River in Lyndhurst has high levels of PCBs, mercury and dioxin — utterly toxic and dangerous health hazards. That’s why the EPA made the cleanup project a priority.
“Today we’re here to announce that dredging work has begun to remove roughly 20,000 cubic yards of highly contaminated sediment from a half mile stretch of the Passaic River,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “EPA believes strongly that these actions will make the Passaic River a healthier place to live and towork.”
Once the sediment is removed, treated and sent out of state, a protective cap will be placed over the 5.6-acre excavated area. All work will be done from the barges on the river to minimize impact to the park and surrounding community. Air and water quality will be monitored during the work. The $20 million cleanup project is being paid for by 70 companies considered potentially responsible for the contamination. Ray Germann represents dozens of the accused polluters.
“It takes a holistic view to the lower Passaic because it includes both the dredging operation that you’re gonna see here today. In addition, a park improvement project,” Germann said.
But not all of the alleged polluters have agreed to pay, so additional litigation is on the table.
“We currently are going forward now in pursuing the last of the major principle parties that are responsible for this — Occidental Chemical. We want to hold them accountable for the future cleanup and removal costs and the damages to the state of New Jersey,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.
Congressman Bill Pascrell also believes polluters should pay, but he questioned why some of the settlement money was — in his words — being diverted to balance the state budget.
“I was disappointed that the governor’s budget calls for $40 million of these funds — almost a third of the total settlement amount — devoted to the state’s general fund,” Pascrell said.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond for comment. Meanwhile, environmentalists are urging the EPA to move forward with a long-term plan to clean up the entire lower Passaic River.
“It’s good to get these hot spots out and make sure they’re not available to the public, but what really needs to happen is a full dredge of the river,” said NY/NJ Baykeeper Executive Director Deborah Mans.
This project is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. That’s also when the EPA is expected to announce its plan to address the lower eight miles of the Passaic River, which are known to be the most contaminated.