LETTER – Passaic River Cleanup Announced: Toxic Nightmare Continues

Today the EPA issued its official Record of Decision on the cleanup plan for the Lower Passaic River Restoration that will continue the toxic nightmare.  The Passaic River is one of the nation’s most seriously contaminated bodies of water. The plan calls for about 20 percent less contaminated river mud to be removed, only 3.5 million cubic yards to be removed,dropping the cost from $1.7 billion to about $1.38 billion. We are seriously concerned with this plan because it includes dredging and capping sediment contains dioxins, PCBs, mercury and other toxins without full removal and restoration. This contamination has been posing risks to both human health, marine ecosystem, and the community. The New Jersey Sierra Club was part of the Citizens Advisory Group (CAD) and continues to call on the EPA for a full removal of the contamination to restore the environment and protect public health.


“The people in Newark and along the Passaic River have waited 40 years for a clean-up and now this toxic nightmare will continue. The EPA’s clean-up plan will not work because it will only cap the pollution. This Record of Decision is really the “Record of Rescission” because the 8.3 miles are only being dredged 2.5 feet. These communities have been victimized first by the disposal of dioxin in the River and now victimized again by EPA’s failure to do a comprehensive clean up and make polluters accountable.  We have waited for almost two years for the EPA to come up with a final plan and now this plan has been weakened. This is too little too late. This plan makes absolutely no sense.  A cap will not work in a moving river.  When the River floods, it will erode and cause the cap to fail washing toxic sediments into the river,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.  “The EPA needs to do their job and protect the communities from this contamination. This contamination has been posing risks to both human health, marine ecosystem, and the community for far too long. The people who live along the Passaic River especially in Newark have been robbed of the use of their River. The EPA has failed to really cleanup the River or restore the environment and protect public health.”


The EPA’s selected Alternative will not work since they are only going to dredge down a few feet leaving most of the contaminated sediment behind.  Then they will put an unproven mesh, stone, and sand on top of the sediment they left behind. This will not work because of flooding and scouring of River. Also underwater springs and tidal influences will undermine the caps. Capping is being proposed because it is cheaper, but will not last since ultimately the caps will fail. This Alternative would also require regular costly maintenance. This plan would not promote shipping or boating in the area because of a no build, no wake, and no wake policy to protect the cap. We have already seen area where they have done this with this type of capping being swept away at the 10.9 in Lyndhurst.


“With this announcement, EPA has sided with the polluters over the health and safety of the people in Newark and along the River.  They did it because it was cheaper, not because it was right.  Capping will actually be more costly in the long run because ultimately all caps will fail and require maintenance. As we work to restore the River, having tons of contamination under this cap is a recipe for failure. The only real remedy is removal and disposal of the contaminated sediment. If they are doing this in the most contaminated part of the River where the most problems, how will they adequately cleanup the other 9 miles? The EPA is only clearly looking at what is most cost effective for the polluters not what is best for the people or the River,” said Jeff Tittel. “The EPA’s chosen Alternative will not clean up the Passaic River.  We supported Alternative 2, which is a full bank to bank dredging of the lower 8.3 miles to depths of 12-30′ that would have totally removed the contaminants and permit boating to return to its pre-1950 levels. This would have helped bring the River back to life and allow the public to use the waterway that belongs to all of them.”


The New Jersey Sierra Club was part of the Citizens Advisory Group (CAD) and originally advocated for Alternative 2 to fully clean-up the contamination.


“Not only is the EPA is going against the Passaic River Boat Club and the 20,000 member Sierra Club, but the selected Alternative is not a Restoration.  This is a suspicious “Cover-Up” that lets off the polluters from being held fully responsible for a clean-up.  The selected Alternative is a BAD PRECEDENT, a clear message to polluters that the EPA will NOT hold polluters fully responsible.  Alternative 2, full bank to bank dredging of the first 8.3 miles is the only true Restoration of the Passaic River,” said David Yennior, a Belleville resident who is a member of the Passaic River’s Community Advisory Group and Issue Coordinator for the New Jersey Sierra Club.


In December 2014, a Superior Court judge approved a $190 million settlement between New Jersey and one of the companies on the hook for toxic pollution in the Passaic River—that cost an estimated $2 billion. Months later Governor Christie used most of the settlement money for the budget instead of cleaning up the River.


“What is even more outrageous is that the Christie Administration settled for less than pennies on the dollar in the Passaic River dioxin settlement. The administration settled the case for what should have been a $2 billion judgment, settling for $190 million then diverting $150 million to plug a hole in the budget.  Instead of ensuring this money for environmental restoration or to help the people damaged by this pollution, Governor Christie then took from the settlement to balance the budget,” said Tittel.


Dioxin is one of the most deadly substances known to man that bio accumulates in people and is known to be the most carcinogenic. The Diamond Alkali Superfund Site, where dioxin-contaminated sediment and debris is currently being removed and disposed. The Diamond Alkali plant manufactured pesticides, weed killers, and Agent Orange, the defoliant used during the Vietnam War. The process of making Agent Orange required large quantities of dioxin. Dioxin is an extremely harmful substance not only to humans, but to the ecosystem as well. Dioxin from this site has been found in fish all the way down to Florida. This dangerous toxin needs to be fully removed from the River to protect not only our environment, but public health.


“The Agent Orange from the Diamond Alkali plant has not only hurt people and destroyed the environment in Vietnam, but people here in Newark because of this Superfund site. EPA had required a full dredge of the PCBs in the Hudson River, so if  those polluters had to pay with can’t companies like Occidental be responsible for their pollution here? They must go back to the drawing board and implement a complete clean-up and not just remove hot spots and capping to protect human health,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.  “My Uncle Ed and Aunt Lorraine lived three blocks away from the Occidental plant and both died of liver cancer.  I know firsthand the impacts of this type of contamination have on the people of Newark. A full complete cleanup is critical to improving the health of residents and the environment surrounding the Passaic River and Newark, but with this cleanup plan the EPA has failed.”


Today’s announcement meeting was attended by Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, U.S. Congressman Bill Pascrell, Bob Martin, Commissioner, New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection, Baye Adofo-Wilson, Newark Deputy Mayor, and Other dignitaries.


The announcement will took place at Friday, March 4 at 11:30 a.m. at One Newark Center, 1085 Raymond Boulevard 13th Floor – U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Newark Field Office, Newark, N.J., 071