OLD BRIDGE — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a plan to clean up lead contamination at the Raritan Bay Slag Superfund site in Old Bridge and Sayreville.
“Lead can cause serious health problems, especially in young children, which makes it so important to clean up this area where children regularly play,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. “The cleanup plan announced today is a major step that brings us closer to a restoration that will make it possible for everyone to enjoy the beach safely. No one should have to worry about being exposed to toxic substances when they visit a public beach.”
Enck was joined by Rep. Frank Pallone and Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry as she announced the plan.
“EPA’s progress in finalizing plans for the clean up of the Raritan Bay Slag Superfund site is great news for public health, the community, and the environment,” said Pallone. “Cleaning this site will be a positive force for the local economy, creating jobs and, once finished, yielding a safe public park and beach for all to enjoy. I commend EPA for their hard work on this site despite the potential for serious setbacks due to damage done by Hurricane Sandy.”
The cleanup of the Raritan Bay Slag site will be conducted in three sectors that contain lead slag, a byproduct of metal smelting. The lead slag was used to construct a seawall in the 1960s and a jetty along the southern shore of the Raritan Bay in Old Bridge and Sayreville. The first sector includes the Laurence Harbor seawall adjacent to the Old Bridge Waterfront Park in the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge Township. The second sector consists of the western jetty in Sayreville and extends from the Cheesequake Creek Inlet into Raritan Bay. The third sector is approximately 50 acres of Margaret’s Creek and has elevated lead levels along with areas of slag and battery casings. The estimated cost of the cleanup plan is $79 million.
Lead is a toxic metal that is especially dangerous to children because their growing bodies can absorb more of it than adults. Lead in children can result in I.Q. deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity and other behavioral problems. The Raritan Bay Slag site was significantly impacted by Hurricane Sandy, but work to address those impacts is under way and has not altered EPA’s plans for an overall cleanup at the site.
For both the Laurence Harbor seawall and the western jetty sectors, contaminated soil, sediment and waste including slag and battery casings will be dug up or dredged, and the material will be disposed of at facilities licensed to handle hazardous waste. Excavated areas will be restored with clean material.
Within the Margaret’s Creek sector, the EPA will remove slag and battery casings, along with areas of contaminated soil associated with these materials. Clean material will be placed as needed in the excavated areas. Throughout the cleanup, monitoring and testing will be conducted to ensure that public health and the environment are protected.
The EPA held a public meeting in Old Bridge on Oct. 17, 2012 after it proposed the cleanup plan. The EPA accepted public comments for 60 days and considered public input before finalizing its decision.
In 2007, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection found high levels of lead along the southern shoreline of the Raritan Bay adjacent to the Old Bridge Waterfront Park. As a result of these findings, NJDEP worked with Old Bridge officials to notify the public about health concerns stemming from the lead waste material and restricted access through signs and some fencing. The EPA added the Raritan Bay Slag site to the federal Superfund site list in 2009 after sampling confirmed contamination. The EPA installed a security fence in contaminated areas to keep people, especially children, out of those areas and placed signs in English and Spanish warning the public of the hazards.
Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge resulted in significant damage to the site. The peninsula at Margaret’s Creek was severely eroded, the top of the seawall at Old Bridge Waterfront Park was damaged, approximately 2,000 feet of security fence and many of the warning signs were destroyed. Hundreds of tons of potentially contaminated debris and sand were deposited onto areas of the park.
Immediately following the storm, the EPA began to clean up and repair damage from the storm. The EPA sampled the sand for lead in over 100 locations within the site, including at a playground, the restricted beach at Old Bridge Waterfront Park, the beaches east of Cheesequake Creek, the beach at Margaret’s Creek and areas in the vicinity of the western jetty located in Sayreville. The sampling results were posted online and shared with the Community Advisory Group. Lead was identified at concentrations above the residential limit at several locations. The EPA used the sampling results to determine where to re-position the fence and warning signs. In addition, the EPA installed new mulch in the playground, removed debris and filled-in eroded areas at the top of the seawall with the sand that washed onto the Old Bridge Waterfront Park.
The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. After sites are placed on the Superfund list of the most contaminated waste sites, the EPA searches for parties responsible for the contamination and holds them accountable for the costs of investigations and cleanups. NL Industries has been identified as potentially liable for the cost of cleanup. The EPA will require that the cleanup be carried out and paid for by those responsible for the contamination at the site.
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