By Ron Leir
Representatives of the Roche Co. offered apologies to the Nutley community last week for not being as forthcoming as they might have been in drilling test wells outside their property in residential areas.
The work is part of an environmental checkup being undertaken – onsite and off – by the company to gauge the extent of groundwater contamination that may be flowing from the sprawling Roche site.
Roche, which is in the process of shedding its longtime Essex County operations, wants to complete a cleanup before disposing of the 119-acre property off Rt. 3 which overlaps Nutley and neighboring Clifton by 2015. Roche Diagnostics is looking to leave its 18.7-acre Belleville location.
For an hour prior to last Tuesday night’s meeting, members of the township governing body quizzed Roche’s Vice President Tom Lyon, Director of Health & Safety Chandra Patel and Senior Counsel Tom Ruby, along with John Trela, senior vice president of TRC Companies, a national environmental/energy/ infrastructure consulting firm retained by Roche, about the company’s recent actions.
Mayor Alphonse Petracco, the township’s public safety director, said the commissioners wanted to relay residents’ concerns “about the drilling” and hear what Roche had to say about that.
Lyon said he wanted to “apologize for those concerns” and assured the commissioners that Roche has “identified some lessons learned” in the process while being “very focused on doing remediation quickly,” along with its “repurposing” plan, for the Nutley/ Clifton site.
So, in future, said Patel, “we will notify all impacted residents [about drilling] and give adequate notification one week prior by mail.” He said drilling is confined to “public streets – not lawns or driveways.”
Patel acknowledged that part of the company’s recent drilling activity resulted in blocking an Alexander Ave. resident’s driveway. “We will address any of the community’s concerns about our process in a timely manner,” he said.
“I don’t think the problem is so much about the process,” suggested Commissioner Mauro Tucci. “Where the ball was dropped a bit, I think, was in the notification. … Before you notify the residents, I think it might be a good idea to let the commissioners know what you’re doing.”
Being forewarned, Tucci said, the commissioners can help spread the word to their constituents and, in turn, assist Roche in expediting the work.
Elaborating on what the work entails, Lyon said that, to date, the company has found some contamination in “thousands” of samplings of soil on its property but none outside its borders. It has found no toxins in groundwater “down to 50 feet,” but “below 50 feet,” it has found “some.”
Roche representatives didn’t identify what type of pollutant has been detected. Lyon characterized it as a “very common solvent, prevalent in the state, and it’s deep.” Some of it appears to be coming from Roche sources and some from outside, he said.
So now, Lyon said, the company is trying to delineate the direction and flow of the pollutants, not only on its land, but also, whether it’s gone “beyond our property line.” And that’s why the company is doing the well work, checking locations 100 feet from its property, he said.
Said Patel: “The plan is to drill six wells.” Two have been completed on Dunston Place and Cottage Place, two are in process on Edison Ave. and Alexander Ave. and two will be starting this week on Spruce St. and Hillside Ave., he said.
Commissioner Steven Rogers wondered if residents should fear “potential health hazards” from the toxins, either from airborne particles from water and/or soil, or from drinking water. “We have a park (Nichols Park) nearby where children are playing so questions [from residents] are coming,” he said.
Lyon replied that there were “no airborne contaminants” to worry about, nor was there any evidence to indicate any possible harm from existing soil conditions. As for groundwater, Lyon said the company is mid-way through its investigation of sub-surface water, drilling to a depth of 80 feet.
Asked whether nearby residents had anything to fear from water coming into their basements, Trela said that water is probably “neighbors’ lawn runoff.” Any groundwater below 50 feet from the Roche land “goes into the river,” he said.
As part of its overall effort to trace the direction of groundwater from its property, Trela said Roche would “map out a water table” to chart the flow.
Asked by Petracco if those residents who “have their own [water] wells” were in any jeopardy from possible contamination, Lyon said that the levels of toxicity Roche has found so far show no danger.
Roche is due to submit its environmental findings to the state Department of Environmental Protection by May 14, Lyon said. “The goal is to clearly delineate the area of [environmental] concern, then put a fix in place.”