EPA Award for Passaic River Group

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently bestowed its annual “Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement Award” on a community advisory group formed to raise awareness and solicit public input into the agency’s proposed $1.7 billion Superfund cleanup of the Passaic River.

The award, which recognizes a “significant contribution” to a Superfund cleanup, went to the Passaic River Community Advisory Group this year for its “excellence in engaging communities surrounding the Passaic River on the EPA’s proposal to clean up contaminated sediment in the lower Passaic River.”

Through its monthly meetings, the group is also credited with “encouraging more than 350 local Newark residents to provide feedback.”

This is a Superfund site in NJIT’s backyard that affects so many communities around us,” said Jay Meegoda, an NJIT professor of civil and environmental engineering, an authority on waste disposal who organized and participated in an all-day public forum at NJIT last year that brought together veteran environmental cleanup experts to answer questions about the EPA’s plan.

It’s important for members of the affected community to look at the proposal carefully, because there are technical aspects of the plan that lay audiences might not fully appreciate,” he noted.

The invited panelists included representatives from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Passaic River Coalition, among others.

The sediment in the Passaic is contaminated with dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, pesticides and other industrial pollutants deposited by manufacturers along the river over the past century.

The EPA notes that a major source of dioxin in the river is pollution from the Diamond Alkali facility in Newark, which produced Agent Orange and pesticides during the 1960s.

The contamination is well above accepted levels and poses a significant risk to people who eat fish from the river and to wildlife, the agency has said.

The EPA plans to dredge toxic sediment from an eight-mile stretch of the lower Passaic, removing about 4.3 million cubic yards for disposal offsite and capping sections of the riverbed. The cleanup is one of the largest in the agency’s history.