After 28 litigation-filled years, Toms River Superfund site cleanup 'complete'
Ambiguous announcement from Ciba-Geigy declares contaminated soil cleanup complete, while groundwater treatment seemingly ongoing.
Saturday, October 9, 2010 - 12:53
COMPLETE?: A joint EPA-Ciba Geigy announcement declares the contaminated soil cleanup at the Toms River Superfund site is complete, but is groundwater treatment ongoing? (Photo: Telstar Logistics/Flickr)
In 1952, the Ciba-Geigy Corporation opened a 1,200-acre site in Toms River near the Jersey Shore. The site was operational through 1990, where the company manufactured dyes, plastics and resin additives. This all sounds relatively harmless, right? Well, it was, until 1982 when the dye plant "was placed on the federal Superfund list after an investigation by the EPA found high levels of cancer-causing chemicals on the property."
On Oct. 6, after nearly 30 years since the site was placed on the Superfund list, Ciba-Geigy officials reported that the cleanup process of removing contaminants from the soil is finally complete. The disconcerting part of this whole story is that it seems the site sat unused and idle for 20 years before the company began its hurried cleanup. Removal of drummed waste from an unlined landfill on the site began in 2003 and was completed in December 2004, supposedly six months ahead of schedule. The contractor removed 47,055 drums, over 10,000 barrels more than estimated. The excavation of polluted soil began in 2004 and is now complete.
It seems that Ciba-Geigy's history in Toms River has been "a factor in political elections and a major source of discussion and worry for the past few decades." The contention seemed to boil over this week when EPA officials held a public meeting in Toms River, attended by many town residents and officials as well as by Ciba-Geigy representatives. At the meeting, many residents loudly complained that the cleanup was not enough, because there are many remaining drums of waste in "permitted landfills" on the site, and some expressed doubt that the cleanup of the "contaminated" areas was effective.
To make matters worse, two residents who said they drank water from nearby wells prior to the cleanup "mentioned that their children later developed cancer." This accusation, though seemingly hard to definitively connect to the contaminated site, was the basis of a lawsuit several years ago.
However, it seems to me that the entire cleanup process is not actually complete; this may be another case of company officials fancily dressing up an announcement and making it out to mean more than it really does. While the soil contaminant cleanup process is complete, EPA project manager Tom Taccone said that to date "more than 13 billion gallons of ground water have been extracted and treated," which to me indicates that the groundwater treatment portion of the cleanup is ongoing.
To give an idea of how big this project was and how far beyond expectations it went (in a bad way) consider this figure: The EPA originally estimated there were 160,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil, but when it was all said and done, over 340,000 cubic yards of soil were remediated.
Ciba-Geigy was purchased by BASF (the world's leading chemical company) in April 2009.
You might also like: