May 24, 2016

EPA Encourages Public Comment on N.J. Cleanup Plan

Defunct E.C. Electroplating Plant site contains hexavalent chromium-contaminated groundwater

public comment, EPA, Superfund, regulations, contamination, hexavalent chromium

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a plan to address groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium at the Garfield Groundwater Contamination Superfund site in Garfield, N.J.

Groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium at a former electroplating plant, located at 125 Clark St., and the surrounding community has seeped into area basements. Hexavalent chromium is toxic and it can cause cancer and other serious health impacts, including kidney and liver damage. When groundwater contaminated by hexavalent chromium evaporates, it can leave behind chromium crystals, which can then adhere to the skin and be accidentally ingested by children and adults. The EPA has already addressed many basements in the community and has an ongoing program of assessing and remediating basements.

The EPA is proposing a plan requiring a combination of cleanup measures to address the problem in the long term, including treatment of the contaminated groundwater with a non-hazardous additive that will reduce the contamination, and restrictions on the use of the groundwater.

The EPA held a public meeting May 19 to explain the proposed plan. Comments will be accepted until June 8.

“Superfund is the federal program that directs the EPA to clean up the most contaminated properties in the country,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. “At the Garfield site, the polluter is defunct and therefore the EPA Superfund program will have to come up with $37 million to cover the cost of the cleanup. Given the limited resources in the Superfund program, this is going to be a real problem in the years ahead.”

The site consists of the E.C. Electroplating property and chromium-contaminated groundwater that extends a half-mile west from the property to the Passaic River. In December 1983, 3,640 gal of chromic acid spilled from an underground tank at the now defunct E.C. Electroplating Plant and contaminated the groundwater. From 1983 to 2009, the electroplating plant continued to operate as the chemical contaminated the factory building, soil and groundwater in the area.

In 2010, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the N.J. Dept. of Health concluded hexavalent chromium exposure in Garfield was a public health hazard, primarily if people are exposed to chromium dust in basements. In 2011, the EPA put the site on the federal Superfund list.

Since then, the EPA has spent $5 million at this site to address the immediate concerns of hexavalent chromium seeping into area basements. The EPA has demolished the building, removed 5,700 tons of chromium-contaminated soil, 1,150 tons of concrete, 600 cu yd of debris, 325 drums of hazardous waste and 6,100 gal of polluted water from the E.C. Electroplating property. Through this effort, the EPA has addressed the source of the contamination originating from the former plant. The EPA conducted an in-depth investigation of the extent of the groundwater contamination and conducted a pilot study to determine how best to clean up groundwater over the long term.

A combination of cleanup measures is being proposed by the EPA:

  • The EPA will continue cleaning up basements when contamination is detected. Cleanup of basements includes washing basement floors and walls to remove hexavalent chromium and applying sealants, installing drains and sump pumps, when necessary, to prevent recontamination of basement surfaces.
  • Within the area that is the source of the contamination, the EPA proposes applying non-hazardous additives to the groundwater that will convert the highly toxic hexavalent form of chromium into the far less toxic form of chromium called trivalent chromium. The specific types of additives to be used will be determined by the EPA as part of the design of the cleanup. Also, a system of pumps will be used to bring the polluted ground water to the surface where it can be cleaned.
  • Outside the area that is the source of the contamination, the EPA will apply non-hazardous additives into the groundwater to promote the breakdown of the pollutants. The specific process to be used to inject the additives will be determined by the EPA as part of the design of the project. Once the process has begun, the EPA will collect samples to confirm that the treatment is effective.
  • The EPA will periodically collect and analyze groundwater samples to verify the declining level and extent of contaminants and ensure people’s health and the environment are protected.
  • The groundwater will be monitored over the next 30 years and restrictions will be put in place to restrict the use of groundwater from the site. The EPA will conduct a review every five years to ensure the effectiveness of the cleanup.

Written comments may be mailed or emailed to Shane Nelson, Remedial Project Manager, U.S. EPA, Region 2, 290 Broadway, New York, NY  10007-1866. Nelson can be reached at [email protected] or 212.637.3130. The full plan can be found on the EPA website.

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