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Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Star-Ledger Staff
The first major step toward cleaning the most polluted stretch of one of New Jersey's most polluted waterways -- the lower Passaic River near Newark Bay -- will get under way next year with the dredging of 40,000 cubic yards of toxin-filled sediment, the Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday.

The $45 million project will start in a portion of the river in Newark next to the Lister Avenue site of the defunct Diamond Shamrock plant, also known as Diamond Alkali. The plant, a chemical manufacturing operation, developed, among other things, defoliants used in the Vietnam War and to clear power easements. It was the main by-product of that operation, the super-toxic substance known as dioxin, that was regularly dumped into the Passaic River in the 1950s and 1960s.

Former workers, called to testify in court battles that erupted in the 1980s over the pollution liability, told how they rowed a boat into the middle of the river at the end of each workday to chip down the mound of dioxin that would stick out of the water.

"This is definitely one of the hot spots, just a little bit south of the Diamond Alkali site in Newark and near the Harrison border. It's only a small stretch of the river, about 100 yards by 300 feet, but it's a start," said Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, which praised the cleanup effort.

"We had 30 years of pollution and then 10 years of talk. Now we're finally getting some action," he added.

The plan unveiled by the EPA further clarifies a June 2008 agreement it struck with two firms that inherited the cleanup liabilities of Diamond Shamrock -- Occidental Chemical Corp. and Tierra Solutions Inc. The companies agreed last summer to spend $80 million removing a total of 200,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the river in two phases.

The first phase, the EPA said, will take nine months to complete, and the proposed dredging is the best of four options considered, because it will minimize the amount of contamination dispersed from the worksite. Metal sheets will first be driven into the river bed around the dredge site, effectively walling it off. A scoop-like bucket operating from a barge will then lift the toxic soil onto other barges.

The barges will move to an undetermined site nearby where the dredged material will be excavated and processed. The EPA contends the bucket or scoop was selected because it can handle massive amounts of debris, from pieces of wood to car frames, that also line the riverbed.

"The devil will be in the details. We don't know yet exactly how or where they will process what they pull out, or how they will dispose of the water taken out of it. That will be determined in the next few months in the design phase. But it's going to be good to have shovels finally in the ground," said Deborah Mans, executive director of the New York/New Jersey Baykeepers, another environmental group monitoring the cleanup.

While people living around the site want to know exactly how contaminated materials will be moved from the scene, Mans said most are elated that a cleanup is finally about to get under way.

"Getting the Passaic River cleanup started is one of the proudest accomplishments of my tenure as EPA regional administrator," said the administrator, Alan J. Steinberg, in a prepared statement. "This monumental first step in the cleanup of the entire river establishes a momentum for a course that will not be reversed or slowed."

©2009 Star Ledger​

179 Posts
i live down the street from the passaic river. grew up fishing on the nasty river. and still do. i know how dirty it is but cant help seeing a 15#carp come up for my mulberry on a fly rod:shocked: glad to see there cleaning it up.:a_goodjob:
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