Dioxin Developments

October 31, 2015

EPA May Be Moving Toward Superfund Designation of Hackensack River

The EPA has issued a preliminary assessment (“PA”) of the Lower Hackensack River in Bergen and Hudson Counties, New Jersey, that suggests that it may be moving to designate it as a Superfund Site.

The Study

The portion of the Lower Hackensack River that is the subject of the PA is located between the Oradell Dam and the mouth of the river. Oradell Dam is approximately 17 miles north/northeast of the mouth of the river and includes approximately 23 river miles (“RMs”).

As the PA observed, there are over 17 tributaries to the Hackensack River below the Oradell Dam. Below the Oradell Dam, the river is tidally influenced and brackish. Current land uses in the northern part of the study area primarily consist of residential, commercial, and public. Land uses along the Lower Hackensack River in the lower section of the study area consist primarily of industrial, open space wetlands/forested, and public with some residential and some commercial land surrounding the Meadowlands District. Commercial uses are located throughout the study area and typically are concentrated along major roadways.

The PA explained that, early in the 20th century, the lower Hackensack River area became highly industrialized and that sewage and pollution quickly began to affect the river and meadowlands. Indeed, the PA observed, “[i]nnumerable historic sources of contamination to the Hackensack River are expected to have existed over the river’s long history of industrial and commercial use.”

Documentation and investigation of associated spills, releases, and discharges to the river, however, were not recorded as a practice until more recent times, according to the PA. Yet, the PA found, through environmental record searches for the lower Hackensack River and the meadowlands, approximately 653 potential facilities and 268 potential “site restoration program” (“SRP”) sites “may be sources of contamination to the Hackensack River.”

According to the PA, these facilities are those that are directly adjacent to or in immediate proximity to the Hackensack River, its tributaries (within one mile of the confluence with the Hackensack River), or the Hackensack Meadowlands District (“HMD”). The PA said that the identified facilities include historically contaminated properties; businesses that use, generate, transport, or dispose of hazardous materials in their operations; active contaminated sites that are currently under assessment and/or remediation; sites that have National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) and State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“SPDES”) permits; and active and abandoned mines and landfills.

Sediment Data

The PA also stated that, using an environmental data repository compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”), in concert with comparisons of surficial sediment data to the New Jersey Ecological Screening Criteria values, it appears that “cadmium, lead, mercury, 2,3,7,8-TCDD (dioxin), benzo(a)pyrene, dibenz(a,h)anthracene, PCBs, and dieldrin are present predominantly in the main stem of the river at concentrations that are expected to be significantly elevated relative to background concentrations in the lower portion of the study area from just south of the mouth of Overpeck Creek to the mouth of the Hackensack River.”

The PA stated that these materials were “mostly detected above the highest screening criteria in both the Hackensack River and the tributaries.”

According to the PA, the National Priorities List (“NPL”) sites in the so-called “Berry’s Creek Study Area” (“BCSA”) are a “likely source of these contaminants” found in the Hackensack River, although it also stated that “numerous additional sources are likely, especially in the industrialized section of the lower river.”

Finally, the PA observed that the Lower Hackensack River is known to support a sport fishery and to contain wetlands and habitat for several sensitive environmental receptors including critical spawning areas, sensitive areas identified under the National Estuary Program (the Hackensack Meadowlands), and a State Wildlife Management Area (Sawmill Creek), spawning areas critical for the maintenance of fish, and migratory pathways critical for the maintenance of anadromous fish. The PA concluded that, “[a]s a result of contamination to the Hackensack River, several fisheries have been closed within the study area including those for blue crab, white perch, and American eel; while several other fisheries have been issued consumption restrictions.”

Next Steps

In 2016, the EPA will sample sediment in the Hackensack River. An EPA designation of the river as a federal Superfund site could require years of study and, ultimately, the cleanup of tainted sediment in the waterway.

Chemtura Installs New Wells to Remove NDMA from Elmira, Ontario

Chemtura Corporation reportedly has installed new wells to meet a deadline of 2028 to clean up groundwater in Elmira, Ontario, allegedly polluted with the chemical N-Nitrosodimethylamine (“NDMA”).

Pump and Treat System

The deadline had been imposed by the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

Jeff Merriman, Chemtura’s manager of environmental remediation, told a local newspaper that the company “identified the need for additional work back in 2012 but it wasn’t clear cut exactly where the new wells had to go and what technology we would use to treat the water.”  The company is using a “pump and treat system” to remove NDMA from Elimira’s wells, which closed in 1989. Elmira’s drinking water now is supplied through a pipeline.

Mr. Merriman told the newspaper that Chemtura already had “reduced the plume area by about 35 per cent but more importantly … we reduced the mass of the contaminant in the aquifer by 94 per cent.” He said that the “last six per cent” was “tough to get at so that’s one of the reasons we’re expanding our treatment system.”

DDT and Dioxin

According to the paper, a citizens committee had reported that levels of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (“DDT”) “up to 2,900 times the environment ministry’s maximum allowable concentration” had been found about 50 yards south of the plant, which produced DDT in the 1940s.  DDT was once a widely used insecticide, but was banned in the 1970s amid allegations of that the chemical may poison wildlife and environment as well as endanger human health.  The committee also said that its tests also showed the presence of dioxin.

U.S. Settlement

In 2010, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a settlement with Chemtura in Chemtura’s bankruptcy proceedings pursuant to which the company agreed to pay $26 million in cash and allowed claims for the cleanup of 17 properties, 12 of which were Superfund sites, in 14 states.

The agreement resolved claims asserted against Chemtura by the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”).


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