The first stage of a two-phase project to remove dioxin-contaminated and cancer-causing sediments from the lower Passaic River, adjacent to the Diamond Alkali Superfund site in the Ironbound section of Newark, has begun yesterday.
Tierra Solutions, current owner of the former Diamond Alkali site, under federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supervision, is initially targeting removal of 40,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment in one of the most toxic waterways in the world.
The Christie Administration last year won legal battles to hold those companies that polluted the lower Passaic River with dioxin responsible for cleaning the river. A Superior Court judge ruled Tierra Solutions Inc. and Occidental Chemical Corp. are liable under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act for past and future costs of cleaning up the contamination.
Occidental Chemical Corp. purchased Diamond Shamrock Chemical Company and merged the companies in the 1980s. Tierra acquired title to the property in 1986 and still owns the site. A trial to determine financial obligations of companies responsible for discharges from the former Diamond Alkali plant is expected to be held next year.
Pesticides manufactured at the Lister Avenue site included Agent Orange and DDT. Agent Orange consisted of a form of dioxin, known as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). This is one of the most toxic chemicals ever produced and is linked to cancer.
In 1983, then-Governor Thomas H. Kean declared a state of emergency and authorized the DEP to take steps to protect human health and the environment following the discovery of extremely elevated levels of dioxin in the river. Shortly thereafter, the plant site and river were placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List, making this a Superfund site.
Dioxin concentrations in Passaic River fish and crabs are among the highest reported in the world and present a serious threat to the public and wildlife. Consumption of dioxin-contaminated crabs and fish greatly increases cancer risks. As a result, the state has imposed fishing and crabbing bans in the Passaic River and Newark Bay for more than 25 years.