By Ron Leir
U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, accompanied by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Judith Enck, visited a South Kearny Superfund site June 9 to push for a polluter tax to clean the most contaminated industrial sites around the nation.
In government jargon, the 15- acre Syncon Resins site, 77-89 Jacobus Ave. is classified as an “orphaned” property because no one has stepped up to take responsibility for cleaning up toxins remaining on the site.
Syncon Resins, located on the banks of the Passaic River, manufactured paint, varnish and resins until 1982 and the company liquidated its assets a year later, according to Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos.
“They have not paid taxes in almost 30 years,” added Santos, “and there is an unpaid tax lien on the books, including interest, that has accrued for about $16 million.”
At the time the company stopped operating, it had 13 buildings, many storage facilities including 13,000 55-gallon chemical drums, mostly in poor condition and leaking, plus two unlined wastewater lagoons, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
In 1983, EPA added Syncon Resins to its National Priorities List of Superfund sites and over the next two years, DEP undertook a remedial investigation that found “extensive contamination in the soil, ground water and buildings, and large volumes of liquid and solid chemical wastes in the various storage vessels and tanks.”
Between 1989 and 1993, DEP removed the drums, lagoon liquids and other wastes from the site, decontaminated the buildings and tanks, excavated and removed contaminated soil, built a soil flushing/ground water treatment systems and secured the site with fencing but concluded that more cleanup work remained to be done.
In 2003, DEP sued Syncon and other defendants held to be responsible for the pollution under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act and, according to EPA spokesman Elias Rodriguez, $2.69 million was collected through the litigation to help pay for cleanup costs.
That amount turned out to be only a fraction of the $21 million which, according to Rodriguez, has been spent so far on remediation but, by EPA’s reckoning, “there’s a need for an additional $24 million to finish the job: digging out 40,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil (containing heavy metals and PCBs) and demolishing the buildings,” he said.
At a Capitol Hill public hearing held last Tuesday by the Subcommittee on Oversight (chaired by Booker) within the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Enck and other experts testified on the need to build up the federal Superfund which, according to Booker, “[at] current funding levels would likely not be sufficient to meet the future needs of the … program” to protect the public health and environment” and convert fallow sites into revenue producing properties.
At the same time, Booker said he and Menendez would introduce the “Superfund Polluter Pays Restoration Act of 2014” to “reinstate the excise tax on polluting industries to provide funding for Superfund cleanups.”
It’s all the more important to dedicate funds now, Booker said, since, “Nationwide, there are hundreds of Superfund sites that are on the National Priority List where remediation has not even begun. And there are hundreds more sites on the List where remediation is ongoing – but too often at a pace that is slowed by sufficient funding.”
Of the more than 1,300 properties on EPA’s National Priority List (NPL), there are three in Kearny: the Syncon Resins site, the Diamond Head Oil Refinery site, 1401 Harrison Turnpike; and Standard Chlorine site, 1035 Belleville Turnpike.
The 25-acre Standard Chlorine site, located near the Rt. 7 bridge, has been acquired by Kearny and is being packaged with two other properties as part of the Koppers Koke Peninsula tract in an effort by the Hudson County Improvement Authority to sell the land to a redeveloper. Santos said Tierra Solutions has accepted responsibility for cleanup of the Standard Chlorine site within three to five years.
Santos said the Diamond Head site, near the entrance to Rt. 280, has no responsible party assigned for cleanup. There is an unpaid tax lien on this property, he said.
Other Superfund sites listed by EPA (not on the NPL), as of Nov. 2013, in Kearny, are: AT&T Corp. at River Terminal, 100 Central Ave.; Belleville Turnpike Drums, 590 Belleville Turnpike, Building 29; Kearny Drum Disposal Area, 993 Belleville Turnpike; Keegan Sanitary Landfill, foot of Bergen Ave.; Koppers Co. Inc./Seaboard Plant, Fish House Road and Harrison Turnpike; St. Johnsbury Trucking Co., O’Brien & Sellers Sts; and Standard Chlorine, 107-113 Jacobus Ave.
On another environmental front, The Observer asked Santos about the veracity of a recent published report in an area newspaper that wastes from fracking enterprises in Pennsylvania were being accepted in Kearny and elsewhere in New Jersey. (Fracking is a process of pumping water and chemicals at high pressure below bedrock to release natural gas.)
Santos said that when the practice of transmitting wastes across state lines started a couple of years ago, “we opposed it but the governor changed the law permitting [fracking wastes] to come to treatment facilities in New Jersey, such as Clean Earth in Kearny.”
Santos said he couldn’t independently confirm that assertion. “We don’t have the resources to monitor chemicals coming into Kearny facilities licensed by the state to take and treat hazardous chemicals,” he said, but in any event, “not knowing what’s in the [fracking] waste stream – some say there could be radon – we don’t want it. There should be full disclosure to make sure it’s properly handled and treated.”
The issue, the mayor added, “is part of a bigger environmental debate about whether the fracking process, through wastes or carbon emissions, can compromise the water table.”
EPA spokeswoman Jennifer May said last week that according to information from the Pennsylvania DEP’s website, three N.J. facilities have accepted fracking waste “but do not anymore.” She said the website reported that Clean Earth of North Jersey in Kearny “last accepted drilling fluid waste (‘mud’ – often a mixture of water or oil, clay and chemicals to lubricate the drill bit as the well is drilled) from unconventional wells in the Marcellus shale in 2011.”
The website also reported that Clean Earth of Carteret “last accepted drill cuttings (solid material removed from the borehole as the well is drilled) from unconventional wells in the Marcellus shale in 2011” and that Lorco Petroleum Services of Elizabeth “last accepted drilling fluid waste from unconventional wells in the Marcellus shale in 2010,” May said.