ROXBURY, NJ – The dioxane lurking below the former Fenimore Landfill needs to be monitored, but it’s not something Roxbury residents should fret about just yet, said Roxbury Mayor Jim Rilee.
The mayor made his remarks at last week’s meeting of the Roxbury Mayor and Council. He said he spoke to state officials about the dioxane matter earlier that day when state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin called him after reading a TAP into Roxbury article on the subject.
“I found out this morning about an article in TAP from … the commissioner of DEP,” said Rilee. “I read the article and, as everybody else did, I became very concerned.”
The article pointed out that a recent DEP report - based on an analysis of water beneath the dump - said dioxane at 12 times the level stipulated in the state’s groundwater quality standards was found in one groundwater monitoring well on the landfill’s perimeter. The substance, while not as toxic as dioxin, is considered to be a probable carcinogenic and its discovery in groundwater near the Combe Fill North landfill in Mt. Olive forced residents to abandon their drinking water wells.
Rilee said he asked township attorney Anthony Bucco to contact Robert Zelley, an environmental engineer serving as the township’s hired expert in relation to Fenimore, “so he could review the report (DEP) as quickly as possible.”
The mayor was unhappy the DEP report was seen by members of the public, and TAP into Roxbury, before it was reviewed by Zelley. “It should have went (sic) to him first as we always have so we can get the proper read, I guess is the best way to put it,” said Rilee. “And unfortunately, because that didn’t happen, there’s some key factors that were left out.”
He suggested that describing the dioxane levels as being 12 times the state’s groundwater quality limit was misleading or improperly alarming.The DEP report, as noted in the article, said the solvent showed up in a concentration of 4.8 parts per billion (PPB) in one of the five monitoring wells and explained that the DEP has set 0.4 ppb as its groundwater quality standard.
The article also said the monitoring well that had the 4.8 ppb of dioxane in the test done six months ago had 2 ppb of the chemical in an April 2015 sampling, according to a report from the DEP. Although the November 2015 level was more than double the April 2015 level, Rilee said the levels are still not overly troublesome.
“The numbers are similar to where they were last year during other testing,” stressed the mayor. He also noted that the current levels were considered OK not long ago.
“DEP has dropped their pql, practical quantitative limits, twice since last year going from 10 to three parts per billion down to .04 parts per billion," said Rilee. "So while the numbers vary because they’ll always vary in a landfill, the same holds true for Mr. Zelley’s reports and the DEP reports previously submitted to the township and posted on our website and the conclusions that were brought forward by them.”
Bucco, at the meeting, agreed, noting Zelley told him the 4.8 ppb levels are “not unusual or unanticipated at a landfill such as this and do not represent a significant or anticipated threat to human health or drinking water." Water in private wells near the Combe Fill North landfill in Mt. Olive were found to have dioxane levels of up to 26 ppb, according to the DEP.
Rilee and Bucco also said it’s important to note that dioxane was not detected in another monitoring well, one that stands between the landfill and homes along Mountain Road in Ledgewood.
“His recommendation is to continue with annual testing,” said Bucco, referring to Zelley. “He’s going to follow up with DEP to get additional information not included in the test results.”
The officials' reactions to the dioxane matter has angered some local residents, particularly members of the Roxbury Environmental Action Coalition (REACT). At the council meeting, some members of the group insisted the subsurface pollution should be taken more seriously.
They also contended the township is slacking off in pushing the DEP for more information and in reacting to their concerns. Rilee said the 6-month delay between the last water tests and the release of the report was the DEP's fault. Indeed, a DEP official, in an email to a resident, acknowledged the delay was due to an oversight.
Roxbury Councilman Dan Kline, the panel's lone Democrat, suggested the creation of an advisory committee that would stay on top of Fenimore matters and serve as a liaison to the concerned residents. Although Councilman Fred Hall said he liked the idea, Rilee and the other councilman said it would add an unnecessary level of bureacracy.
The DEP report did not include data relating to benzene, another chemical commonly found beneath old dumps, apparently because the water sample became contaminated. Groundwater samples taken in late August found benzene at concentrations of up to 3 ppb, triple the groundwater quality standard level. But Zelley, last year, said the site poses no “significant or anticipated threat to human health or drinking water.”
The chemicals being found in the groundwater likely came from materials dumped at Fenimore at least 30 years ago. As was Combe Fill North, Fenimore was used as a disposal site for all sorts of unregulated municipal waste and, unlike modern landfills, it was not built above an impervious liner with a leachate (landfill runoff) collection and treatment system.
Fenimore stopped receiving waste in the late 1970s. It was never properly capped or “closed.” Trees and vegetation grew on the land as the decades passed. Luxury houses were built nearby.
But the site burst into the public’s awareness in 2012 when Strategic Environmental Partners (SEP) cleared the trees and began to dump fill material there in preparation for a proposed solar panel installation.
It gained their wrath when that material began to spew noxious hydrogen sulfide (HS2) across much of Ledgewood and Succasunna, prompting the DEP in 2013 to seize the land, cover the fill material and build an HS2 collection and incineration plant which continues to operate.