BREAKING: Hackensack Riverkeeper petitions EPA to list river as Superfund site

Contact: Captain Bill Sheehan

Hackensack Riverkeeper’s Next Step For The River
Petitions EPA to list lower Hackensack River as Superfund site

Today, Hackensack Riverkeeper formally petitioned the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study whether the main stem of the Hackensack River should be listed under the federal Superfund law. The drastic action was taken on behalf of the tidal reaches of river that stretch for twenty-two miles from Van Buskirk Island in Oradell, NJ to the river’s terminus at Newark Bay.  Bottom sediments throughout that area are contaminated with a long list of toxic chemicals and heavy metals.

 Captain Bill Sheehan, Riverkeeper and executive director, filed the petition today with EPA Region 2, which now has one year to complete a “preliminary assessment” in the case. The purpose of the preliminary assessment is for the Agency to determine whether and to what extent the river is eligible for Superfund designation.

For over two hundred years industrial interests used the Hackensack River as a convenient dumping ground. As a result, there are five current Superfund sites on the river or its tributaries, and literally hundreds of sites within its watershed (drainage basin) that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lists as “Known Contaminated Sites.” In DEP’s list of state waters unsafe or fishing or swimming, the Hackensack is cited as unacceptably contaminated with toxins including DDT, PCBs, Dioxin, Chromium, Copper, and Mercury among other pollutants.

 Hackensack Riverkeeper submitted its petition after meeting with both DEP and EPA numerous times over previous years. Both agencies agreed that some level of listing is appropriate for the river, but did not agree on the specifics. EPA has favored listing the river in its entirety, whereas DEP has favored extending Superfund jurisdiction from an existing Superfund site such as the former Ventron/Velsicol property adjacent to Berry’s Creek in Wood-Ridge, NJ. The Department and Agency have been unable to bridge their divide.

“We filed this petition because we simply cannot wait any longer for the EPA and DEP to resolve their bureaucratic differences,” said Captain Sheehan. “Our river has been unsafe for fishing and swimming for generations, and its never going to improve until we stop arguing and get to work.”

Because Hackensack Riverkeeper believes that the EPA approach is superior to DEP’s, the organization filed its petition. Unlike in the nearby Passaic River, the Hackensack pollution is not dominated by the contributions of one industrial site (i.e. the former Diamond Shamrock site in Newark), so extending jurisdiction from an existing site would be unfair and inefficient. Also, by listing the entire river, the remediation can be done holistically to reduce the risk of recontamination as much as possible.

The preliminary assessment will gather data on the extent and severity of contamination within the river’s sediments. Once the preliminary assessment is completed, the EPA will decide whether the river qualifies for Superfund designation. If it is added to the Superfund list, the EPA will have broad powers to require responsible parties to pay to restore the river.

“Our petition is the first step on a very long path,” said Sheehan “but you can’t come to the end of a long hike until you start walking.”

 Founded in 1997 by Captain Bill Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper is environmental advocate for the Hackensack River. A founding member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance,  the organization defends the Public Trust through a fourfold strategy of environmental  action, advocacy, education and litigation.

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