BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With focus shifting to the two most heavily contaminated impoundments on the property, the Environmental Protection Agency has made its recommendation regarding the cleanup of that section of the American Cyanamid Superfund site in the Finderne section of Bridgewater.
Of six alternatives proposed and considered by the EPA, the organization has recommended moving forward with an option that permanently removes from the property and destroys the acid tar found within the impoundments, with a protective covering put on the impoundments once the work is completed.
The EPA held a special open session June 12 at the Bridgewater Township Municipal Complex to provide the public with information on the alternatives for cleanup of the site, as well as background of where the overall cleanup on the property stands.
According to Mark Austin, remedial project manager for the site with the EPA, the site in question is near the Raritan River, with Bound Brook to the east and the rest of the property in Bridgewater. It is a total of 435 acres, and the two impoundments in question are the waste lagoons on the south of the property.
The site was added to the Superfund list in 1983. The site has a history of industrial pollution dating back to 1915, and, for nearly 100 years, prior owners used the location for manufacturing chemicals.
Impoundments were constructed and used for waste storage and disposal, leading to the contamination of soil and groundwater.
One section of the property, which was cleaned of its contaminants and removed from the Superfund site in 1999, has since become the TD Bank Ballpark, train station and Bridgewater Promenade.
In 2012, Austin said, a record of decision was approved for cleanup of the site groundwater in six impoundments on the property.
Impoundments one and two, Austin said, are special circumstances, particularly because their location makes them difficult to access, with the rail line to one side, Route 287 to the east, a residential community about 1,800 feet away and the river at constant risk of flooding.
At this point, Austin said, the two impoundments both have 10-foot high berms, are covered to prevent odor and vapors and are under constant security to protect against trespassers.
“They are 2 acres each, and 13 to 16 feet deep,” he said.
Austin said acid tar was found in the impoundments, which is corrosive and acidic, and can present a significant risk to health and the environment if exposed to it.
“There is hard crumbly tar and some rubbery,” he said. “They are both hard to handle.”
Austin said there is 55,000 cubic yards of acid tar in the impoundments.
The goals for the cleanup, Austin said, are to remove and treat the tar, minimize human exposure to it and keep it from contaminating the groundwater. He said they conducted studies in technologies they thought were promising, and most were successful.
Austin said they put together six alternatives. The final one, which the EPA is recommending, is the most expensive and will take the longest, but, he said, it is the only one that actively removes the tar from the property, while complying with all other criteria, including reduction of volume of the tar and long term effectiveness.
Austin said the cost of the option is $74 million, and it will take 38 months to complete.
“Alternative No. 6 is the EPA’s preferred because it is the only one that permanently removes and destroys the acid tar,” he said. “Our goal is to remove 100 percent of the tar so it is no longer on site and no threat to the community.”
“It is the most permanent ending for the problem,” he added.
Mayor Dan Hayes thanked members of the EPA for their commitment to advocate for the cleanup.
“Our foremost concern is the safety of the residents,” he said. “It is obligatory that residents in the area be recognized as the immediate stakeholders.”
Hayes said he would support the approval of the alternative chosen by the EPA.
“It is the plan that is best for the site,” he said. “Pfizer took this site and demonstrated a willingness to fix it and use their resources to expedite the cleanup. Option No. 6 has public safety in mind.”
Members of CRISIS, an organization started in 1992 to advocate for the cleanup of the site, spoke in favor of the EPA’s preferred alternative as well.
“With everything that was considered, we said our preferred solution is the destruction of the waste at an offsite location,” said Ira Whitman, technical advisor for the organization. “We are gratified with the EPA’s selection of option No. 6.”
Whitman added that safety will continue to be paramount, and that consideration must also be given for the trucks that will be transporting the material out of the area.
“The trucks are toxic, so we need super trained drivers, and for the trucks to not be in residential areas with school buses,” he said. “But we believe this is the safest solution.”
Ross Stander, executive chairman of CRISIS, also expressed his support for the EPA’s chosen plan.
“We firmly believe this is the best route to take,” he said. “It removes the toxic material and protects the river and flooding.”
Questions from the public included the issue of funding, but Austin said it will not be paid for by public funds. As mandated by Congress regarding Superfund sites, all cleanup must be paid for by the party responsible for the property.
Because Pfizer/Wyeth Holdings is the current owner of the property, it will be legally responsible for handling the payment of the cleanup.
“I commend the EPA on accelerating the progress of this,” said Mike Kerwin, president of the Somerset County Business Partnership. “Pfizer is committed to getting the project done. I have confidence that this will get cleaned up.”
Another resident questioned whether there is a chance of the contaminants in the impoundments seeping into the river and groundwater, particularly in the case of flood, before the cleanup can be completed.
Austin said the impoundments are lined with clay to prevent the contamination from seeping into the berms. And, he said, even in past floods there has been no evidence of contamination moving.
“Some tar has gone on top of the berm, but has never gone past,” he said, referencing past flood events.
Gary Frederick, chair of the Raritan Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club, said he is concerned about the plan to cap the impoundments once the tar has been removed.
“We should not resort to capping, because we are playing Russian roulette,” he said.
“Capping the site raises concerns about the failure of the lagoons,” he added. “It needs to be a complete cleanup.”
Another resident said he would like to make sure that people at the Adult Day Center, on East Main Street, which is just minutes from the site, are warned in the event that there are any concerns about air quality control during the cleanup. He said he would like there to be a guarantee that there will be expediency in getting emergency management to the site in the event of an emergency from the cleanup.
Residents are invited to send their comments and concerns regarding the EPA’s recommendation by June 28.
Once the comment period is closed, the EPA will move forward with the next steps to put the plan in action for cleanup of the site.