Superfund Sites in New Jersey: A Comprehensive Overview

New Jersey, nicknamed the “Garden State,” boasts a rich and diverse landscape, from picturesque shorelines to thriving farmlands. However, beneath this beauty lies a complex history of industrialization, which has given rise to a significant number of Superfund sites. As of September 2021, New Jersey had the highest number of Superfund sites in the United States, with over 100 active locations.

Historical Context and the Emergence of Superfund Sites in New Jersey

New Jersey’s industrial history dates back to the 19th century, with the development of numerous factories, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities. The state’s strategic location along the Eastern Seaboard made it an attractive hub for manufacturing and transportation, contributing to its rapid industrialization. However, as industries grew, so did the improper disposal of hazardous waste, which led to the contamination of land, water, and air resources.

The issue of hazardous waste contamination came to the forefront in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the Love Canal disaster in New York, leading to the establishment of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund program. This federal initiative, managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), aimed to identify and clean up contaminated sites across the United States. In New Jersey, the program revealed a staggering number of contaminated areas, many of which were designated as Superfund sites.

Notable Superfund Sites in New Jersey

While New Jersey is home to over 100 Superfund sites, some have garnered more attention due to the severity of the contamination or the impact on local communities.

 American Cyanamid, a chemical manufacturing company, operated on a 575-acre site between 1915 and 1999. During this time, it produced various chemicals and disposed of hazardous waste on-site. Soil, sediment, and groundwater at the site were contaminated with a range of pollutants, including heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) often associated with chronic lung conditions, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which have been linked to various cancer diagnoses and other medical conditions. Remediation efforts, including soil excavation and groundwater treatment, are ongoing.

Despite decades of progress made by the Superfund program, the American Cyanamid site is only one of many locations in New Jersey that is still a work in progress. The Ventron/Velsicol site, located in Bergen County, was added to the National Priorities List (NPL) in 1984 and still remains on the list today. While a portion of this site completed its cleanup in 2010, The Berry’s Creek Study Area on the site will likely continue to be monitored and under cleanup for several years to come due to the high levels of mercury and PCBs which have been found to cause various skin conditions, liver damage, certain types of cancer, and a plethora of other dangerous conditions. The EPA is currently developing a comprehensive cleanup plan for the site, which is considered one of the most contaminated waterways in the country.

In Newark, The Diamond Alkali site is located along the Lower Passaic River, where the Diamond Alkali company produced chemicals, including Agent Orange and pesticides, from 1951 to 1969. The site and the 17-mile stretch of the Passaic River within it are contaminated with dioxin, which has been found to weaken the immune system. Also found at the site are PCBs, heavy metals, and a variety of other hazardous substances. In 2016, the EPA announced a $1.38 billion plan to clean up the Lower Passaic River, including bank-to-bank dredging and capping.

Due to the industrial history in New Jersey, it is home to the most Superfund sites in the country. While the state has been an important player in the industrial revolution and our means of production today, those living near these sites have been forced to bear the consequences of negligent corporations using their backyards as a dumping ground.

If your community may have been impacted by the pollution at these Superfund sites, we want to hear from you.

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