March 19, 2012 TRENTON - 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 today.
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.
"Today marks an important step toward our ultimate goal -- a restored and healthy Passaic River that can once again be a valuable natural resource benefitting Newark and New Jersey's other overburdened urban communities,'' said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin. "That is a top environmental priority of the Christie Administration. It includes our commitment to a complete cleanup of the entire contaminated length of the river. Nothing less would be acceptable.''
The lower Passaic River project that kicked off today is divided into two phases. In this first phase, 40,000 cubic yards of the most highly contaminated sediment will be removed and piped to a processing facility. The water will be squeezed from contaminated sediment, treated and transported by rail to a licensed disposal facility. Air and water monitoring will occur at the site.
Vertical steel walls have been installed in the river to enclose the area, making it possible to remove the sediment without spreading contamination during dredging.
In phase two, 160,000 cubic yards of sediment, much of it with lower levels of contamination than the first 40,000 cubic yards, will be removed from the same section of the Passaic River.
"While this is a good first step in cleaning up this river, we need to see a comprehensive cleanup plan for the entire contaminated eight-mile stretch of the lower Passaic finalized by EPA in the near future,'' said Commissioner Martin.
The EPA, which is the lead agency on the river cleanup, estimated the cost of remediation for the eight-mile stretch of the lower portion of the river at $1 billion to $4 billion. EPA also is overseeing a separate study of a nearly nine-mile portion of the upper Passaic River to evaluate the need and potential scope of a cleanup of additional contaminated sediment.
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.
A community health and safety plan for the current two-phase project has been developed by the EPA with advice from the Passaic River Community Advisory Group. It includes toll-free hotlines with project information. Hotline numbers are 888-283-7626 for English language and 877-777-5853 for Spanish and Portuguese languages. There also is an information website at
Information on the lower Passaic River sediment removal project is available from the EPA at
For information on the DEP's blue claw crab advisory and general information on blue claw crabs visit: