USA: Lower Passaic River Cleanup Plan Unveiled

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has chosen the New Jersey Governor Chris 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 said.

Governor Christie, in a 2012 letter to EPA which is being made public last week 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.

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.

Press Release, April 14, 2014

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