EPA promises decision on Ringwood Superfund cleanup

Source: The Record (Hackensack, NJ), February 12, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

Top federal environmental officials reassured about two dozen Upper Ringwood residents on Monday night that the cleanup of the 500-acre Superfund site in their community is a priority, but some remained skeptical and asked for a government buyout.

Mathy Stanislaus, the assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, promised that a federal panel would review cleanup options by as early as May and that the agency would make a decision at year’s end.

“My assurance is that your concerns are being taken seriously,” Stanislaus said at a public meeting at the Church of the Good Shepherd. “I am not here to put on a show. We’re going to make a decision based on integrity and public health.”

Stanislaus acknowledged the repeated botched cleanups at the site where the Ford Motor Co. dumped paint sludge and industrial waste in the late 1960s. The pollution — millions of gallons of paint sludge — was generated by a manufacturing plant Ford operated at the time in Mahwah.

But residents said they were running out of time — one woman said she is suffering from a terminal illness — and would prefer that Ford buy their properties so they can relocate away from exposure to lead, arsenic and other contaminants rather than wait years for a full cleanup.

“I’ve heard this song and dance for 35 years,” said Vanessa Spann, who said she is trying to sell her home but can’t get an assessment — despite calling six banks — because she lives in a Superfund site. She said she suffered from terminal “pulmonary problems,” and lost her son and several relatives to cancer years ago.

“My time is coming to an end,” she said. “My house is worthless. Who is responsible if I can’t sell?”

EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck said, “I’m sorry you’re going through this.” However, Enck told Spann that the federal Superfund law does not allow the EPA to buy out homes except in cases of “imminent” threat.

While 53,500 tons of paint sludge and tainted soil have been removed since 2004, contamination remains in some areas, Enck said. Frustration is growing among residents and members of the community advisory group that the EPA appointed several years ago, because there is no deadline for a decision on a final cleanup plan, which has been promised for years.

Enck said the EPA’s National Remedy Review Board is scheduled to conduct a “technical review” of cleanup options, which is required because the remediation will cost more than $25 million.

The EPA will review cleanup options for the following areas in May or June: the 5-acre Peters Mine pit area; the 5-acre Cannon Mine area off Van Dunk Lane and the O’Connor Disposal Area, an above-ground dump that covered 15 acres between Peters Mine Road and Ringwood State Park, which are also contaminated with sludge and other pollutants. The areas have been fenced off to the public for years.

The EPA is considering a complete remediation of the O’Connor area, which could cost $25 million or more, officials said. The Cannon Mine and Peters Mine areas would each cost more if a full remediation were completed. But the EPA is considering capping one or both of those areas, leaving contamination in place but securing it with an extensive, protective barrier. Enck stressed that no decisions have been made.

Robin Canetti, a member of the Community Advisory Group appointed by the EPA to monitor the cleanup, expressed frustration over the delays.

“We’ve been running in place for a year,” she said, noting the review by the federal panel was originally scheduled last year. “How do you guarantee we won’t lose that time?”

Ramapough National Chief Vincent Mann, a leader in the community, said the EPA should ensure that the community is made whole.

“Ford assaulted us more than anyone else,” Mann said. “This needs to be fixed. We’re dying at an alarming rate.” Residents said the area has high rates of cancer, miscarriages and other illnesses that they attribute to Ford’s waste.

The 500-acre Superfund site also includes nearly 50 homes. So far, the state Department of Environmental Protection has, in conjunction with the EPA, tested 36 properties for lead and other contaminants. Nineteen properties where toxic waste was found have been remediated, according to the EPA.

“We know they’re not going to clean up every little bit, but please start something,” Vivian Milligan, a resident and community activist, said before the meeting. “They’re not giving us reasons to trust again. It’s the same old story.”

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