Dioxin Developments

March 22, 2016 | Commercial Litigation | Complex Torts & Product Liability

EPA Finalizes Passaic River Cleanup

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has finalized a plan to remove 3.5 million cubic yards of sediment from the lower eight miles of the Passaic River in New Jersey, followed by capping that entire stretch of river bottom.


The lower 17 miles of the Passaic River, which stretches from its mouth at Newark Bay to the Dundee Dam, are part of the Diamond Alkali Superfund site. The Diamond Alkali site was added to the federal Superfund List in 1984. From 1983 to 2001, EPA-directed cleanup work was conducted on land at the former Diamond Alkali facility and in the streets and homes near it.

Dredging already has occurred in two areas near the former Diamond Alkali facility.

In 2012, the EPA oversaw dredging in the Passaic near the facility in Newark. About 40,000 cubic yards of sediment were removed, treated, and then transported by rail to licensed disposal facilities out of state.

In 2013, the EPA oversaw dredging of approximately 16,000 cubic yards of sediment from a half-mile stretch of the Passaic River that runs by Riverside County Park North in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. This area is located about 11 miles north of the river mouth and outside of the lower eight miles addressed in the EPA’s new plan.

In the statement announcing its new cleanup plan, the EPA said that the sediment in the Passaic River “is severely contaminated with dioxin, PCBs, heavy metals, pesticides and other contaminants from more than a century of industrial activity.” According to the agency, the lower eight miles of the Passaic is the “most heavily contaminated section of the river” and 90 percent of the volume of contaminated sediments in the river are in the lower eight miles.

The EPA has said that over 100 pollutants have been identified in the sediment and that about 100 companies are “potentially responsible” for generating and releasing the pollution. The EPA has estimated that the cleanup will cost $1.38 billion.

Elements of the New EPA Plan

As explained by the EPA, the key aspects of its plan include the following:

  • 3.5 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be removed by dredging the river bottom, bank-to-bank, from Newark Bay to the Belleville/Newark border.
  • Sediment will be dewatered and transported likely by train for disposal. Dredged sediment will be sent to licensed, permitted facilities designed to accept the type of contaminants in the sediment.
  • After dredging, the entire lower eight miles of the river will be capped bank-to-bank. The cap will isolate the remaining contaminated sediment, effectively eliminating the movement of what the EPA characterized as a “major source of contamination” to the rest of the river and Newark Bay.

According to the EPA, in the lower Passaic River, there is an approximately 10-to-15-foot deep reservoir of contaminated fine-grained sediment in the lower eight miles of the river. The EPA said that, once the top layer of sediment is removed from the river, a protective cap will be placed over the area that was dredged. The cap will consist of two feet of sand except along the shore, where it will be one foot of sand and one foot of materials to support habitat for fish and plants. The cap will be monitored and maintained to ensure that the cleanup remains effective.

The EPA observed that, in the 1.7 miles closest to Newark Bay, deeper dredging will occur to allow current commercial navigation to continue. The EPA added that, based on further assessment of the reasonably anticipated navigational uses, it expects less depth in parts of the navigation channel than was contemplated in the 2014 proposed plan.

EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck stated that “[t]he Passaic River has been seriously damaged by over a century of pollution. Extraordinarily high concentrations of dioxin, PCBs, heavy metals and pesticides have robbed the people of New Jersey from being able to use this natural resource. The EPA’s cleanup plan will improve water quality, protect public health, revitalize waterfront areas and create hundreds of new jobs. This plan is one of the most comprehensive in the nation and will help restore a badly damaged river.”


EPA Directs Additional Measures for San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has announced new requirements for the temporary armored cap at the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site in Harris County, Texas.


International Paper and Industrial Maintenance Corporation, the potentially responsible parties (“PRPs”) for the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site, developed an “Operations, Monitoring, and Maintenance Plan” under federal order and completed work to prevent wastes from continuing to migrate to adjacent areas including the San Jacinto River in July 2011. The federal order allowed the EPA to require additional measures and investigations deemed necessary by the EPA from its periodic inspection of the protective cap.

According to the EPA, in December 2015, its inspection dive team discovered an area of possible damage to the temporary armored cap. The EPA said that visual dive operations found displacement in the stone cover of the protective cap but could not fully delineate the damaged area or the full extent of damage to the protective cap.

Pursuant to the EPA’s direction and oversight, the PRPs delineated a damaged portion of the rock layer measuring 25’ by 22’ (surface area). The EPA said that the precise cause of the damage to the cap was “unknown and under investigation,” and that it employed the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to further investigate the possible causes of the damage.

The PRPs were required to collect sediment samples both from the damaged area as well as the surrounding undisturbed areas of cap to confirm no materials had been released from the site. The EPA obtained split samples from several locations for analysis at an independent EPA approved laboratory. According to the EPA, quality assured sample results showed waste material containing dioxins was exposed due to damage to the armored cap. It said that sample results from the surrounding undisturbed areas of the cap did not show elevated levels of waste materials containing dioxins.

The EPA added that, as directed, the PRPs deployed the equipment and materials necessary to repair the cap on December 29, 2015 and that the repairs were completed on January 4, 2016, under EPA review and field oversight. The EPA said that both protective geotextile and rock were added to the damaged area.

The EPA stated that although it was “unlikely that waste material containing Dioxin was released into the environment,” additional scientific data would be needed to confirm that no materials had been released from the site, and the EPA directed the PRPs to collect and analyze additional samples.

The New Requirements

Now, the EPA has directed both PRPs to add 24 hour/7 day a week surveillance and warning buoys around the perimeter of the site boundaries. It said that inspection protocol requirements will be expanded and that it will double the frequency of required underwater inspections from semi-annual to quarterly.

Further, the EPA said that it has instructed the PRPs to conduct additional environmental sampling from the temporary armored cap, sediments, surface water, and groundwater.

The PRPs have confirmed their intent to address each of the EPA’s directives.

Learn more:

“San Jacinto River Coalition Says Toxins Were Found in Groundwater;”

“Texas Panel Recommends Against San Jacinto River Cancer Cluster Studies;”

“Texas Health Department Report on Cancer Occurrence in East Harris County: An Expert Analysis;”

“Texas Governor Greg Abbott Signs Bill that Limits Pollution Lawsuits;” and

“Texas County Appeals in San Jacinto River Case”


Covanta Report: Waste to Energy Emissions Down, Recycling Up

Covanta, which provides sustainable waste and energy solutions, has released its latest sustainability report. The report provides an update on goals set in previous years, highlights recent achievements, and establishes new goals to advance progress in sustainability.


Covanta’s energy-from-waste facilities convert approximately 20 million tons of waste from municipalities and businesses into clean, renewable electricity to power one million homes and recycle approximately 500,000 tons of metal, according to the company.

In 2007, Covanta launched the “Clean World Initiative,” which embedded sustainability into every facet of the company’s business, including facility operations, research and development, the advancement of solid waste management, and community partnerships and programs.

The new sustainability report is Covanta’s third.

The Report

The Covanta report, prepared in accordance with the latest Global Reporting Initiative (“GRI”) guidelines, details specific progress in Covanta’s sustainability focus areas, which include environmental performance, resource management, community relations, and workforce engagement.

Highlights from the report include:

Environmental Performance

  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 18.2 million metric tons, equal to taking 3.8 million cars off the road for one year;
  • Reduced facility stack emissions by up to 53 percent since 2007; and
  • Produced 9.8 million megawatt hours of clean energy and reduced waste going to landfills by 20.7 million tons.

Resource Management

  • Increased metals recovery by nearly 20 percent, exceeding a previous goal of recycling approximately 500,000 tons of metal per year;
  • Added expertise and services in industrial recycling and other energy recovery services to help customers with sustainable waste management and zero waste-to-landfill goals; and
  • Implemented new water conservation projects, including a new water filter plant at the Delaware Valley facility that reuses 1.3 million gallons per day of effluent water from a nearby treatment plant.

Community Relations

  • Safely destroyed over 2.5 million pounds of unwanted medications free of charge through the Rx4Safety program, helping to curb abuse and protect water supplies;
  • Helped to keep 2,000 pounds of mercury out of the waste stream through community collections – amassing nearly a quarter of a million mercury-containing thermostats; and
  • Recovered and safely disposed of over 1,400 tons of derelict fishing gear and marine debris through the “Fishing for Energy” partnership.

Workforce Management

  • Supported the transition of military veterans into the workforce with 53 new veteran hires. Veterans represent approximately 15 percent of the Covanta employee base; and
  • Continued to make workplace safety the top priority. Thirty-nine Covanta facilities and/or groups were awarded the Occupational Excellence Achievement Award by the National Safety Council.

Future Goals

Covanta said that its future goals include continuous improvement of safety and health performance, creating and maintaining a more inclusive and equitable work environment, committing to 100 percent compliance limits at all facilities while also maintaining emissions at levels well below existing regulations, advancing sustainable waste management and further reducing greenhouse gases, and expanding the quality and quantity of community outreach programs.

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