The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is targeting a New Jersey Superfund site contaminated for decades with benzene and industrial toxins for cleanup, but environmental groups criticize the government’s proposed plan as a shortsighted failure.
The land in question sits on 350 acres near the banks of the Delaware River in Gloucester County. Delaware-based Hercules Inc., a chemical and munitions manufacturing company, bought the land from DuPont in 1952 and continued to use it as a dump for lead and toxic waste until it closed in 2010.
EPA testing found the site to be predominantly contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including acetophenone, ethylbenzene, cumene, phenol, and toluene. Of these contaminants, benzene and cumene (isopropylbenzene) are the most prevalent, the EPA said.
The EPA’s remediation plan proposes removing the top four feet of contaminated soil and treating it with “naturally occurring micro-organisms to destroy or break down the contaminants.” The treated soil would eventually be placed back on top of the deeper dirt after it had been treated with chemicals.
Any soil heavily contaminated with lead would be excavated and put in separate landfill lined with a liner to keep it from affecting surrounding soil and water. Contaminated sediment from Clonmell Creek, which drains into the Delaware River, would be treated and redeposited in the creek.
A number of environmental watchdog groups have spoken out against the EPA’s plan for its lack of a long-term solution.
“As long as you have these pits filled with tons of toxic materials, the groundwater is going to keep contaminating,” New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel said, according to WHYY. “You can keep pumping and pumping all you want, but you’re not going to end up solving the problem there.”
The EPA placed the Hercules site on the Superfund National Priorities List after finding benzene and other VOCs in the groundwater in 1983. The agency began work the following year to contain the pollutants and protect drinking water wells and other areas off-site from further contamination. The Hercules plant was demolished in 2010, but problems with benzene pollution and other toxic substances persist. In addition to groundwater pollution, benzene has also been detected in vapor form in the homes of residents in the surrounding area.
The site is also prone to flooding, raising concerns among residents that benzene and other pollutants can migrate off-site, along with the Delaware River drainage issue. According to WHYY:
Tittel and residents of the surrounding area worry the contaminants could seep into the river or into neighboring properties. Earlier this year, an investigation by The Record and NorthJersey.com revealed a toxic plume of groundwater contaminated with cancer-causing solvents migrated off a DuPont’s property in North Jersey and under 400 homes in Pompton Lakes in the late 1980s.