TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- The German chemical company BASF will restore damaged natural resources at a notorious Superfund site where decades or pollution and illegal dumping caused vast contamination of the environment, New Jersey officials said Monday.
The state Department of Environmental Protection announced it has entered into an agreement with BASF to restore conditions at the former Ciba Geigy plant in Toms River. BASF, based in Ludwigshafen, Germany, is the corporate successor to Ciba Geigy.
Cleanup efforts have been ongoing for decades at the site and will continue, even as the environmental restoration work proceeds, New Jersey officials said.
No cost was revealed for the work, which will be done by BASF and approved by the state. Work is expected to begin in the spring and last for five years.
“Every natural resource of our state belongs directly to the people of New Jersey, and as the trustee of their natural resources, it is our job to make sure that when pollution damages our environment, the people are paid back for the harm to their natural resources,” said Shawn LaTourette, New Jersey's environmental protection commissioner. “A true turnaround story, this settlement would transform one of New Jersey’s most notorious polluted sites into one of our biggest environmental success stories.”
Near the Jersey Shore in Toms River, the former Ciba-Geigy chemical plant began manufacturing industrial dyes, pigments, resins, and plastics in 1952. In 1983, the site was placed on the federal Superfund list of the worst polluted sites in the nation because of significant contamination of soil and groundwater resulting from improper chemical waste disposal. The plant shut down in 1990.
“A more tragic story of the poisoning of a community would be hard to find,” said Janet Tauro, chairperson of Clean Water Action NJ, who lives not far from the site. “The damage done can never be wholly undone. Nothing will bring back the children who died or alleviate the pain endured by those stricken with cancer, their families and the community. But we must do better."
BASF “continues to remediate legacy contamination at the Ciba Geigy Superfund site in a way that is protective of people and the environment,” company spokesperson Roberto Nelson said.
He could not estimate the cost of the work, saying specific projects have yet to be finalized.
When complete, the work will restore and permanently preserve 1,000 acres for the public, including walking trails and boardwalks above wetlands to allow people to view wildlife there.
It will include the creation of a freshwater wetlands complex, restoration of tidal areas, flood plain and wetlands enhancements, creation of upland grasslands and pollinator habitat, and an environmental education center.
Taylor McFarland, conservation manager for the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter, called the agreement “a step in the right direction for the people who have been suffering from the contamination of the Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site for decades. This site has been on the Superfund List since the 1980s and it is still one of the most contaminated sites in the state if not the country.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sludge and wastes were disposed of in several locations on the site, including a stacked-drum disposal area originally believed to contain approximately 35,000 drums; more than 47,000 have since been removed. Wastewater treatment operations at the site also resulted in the contamination of several areas, including backfilled lagoons near the Toms River. Contamination from the site leached into the groundwater.
In 1985, Ciba-Geigy began pumping contaminated groundwater and discharging it with treated wastewater into the ocean through a 10-mile pipeline. In December 1991, as an interim measure, the state Department of Environmental Protection granted Ciba-Geigy a permit that allowed the company to discharge treated groundwater on site to the ground surface, while making it close the ocean pipeline.
The federal agency says cleanup has progressed at the site to the point that it “does not pose an immediate threat to human health or the environment.”
Ongoing efforts at the site include the excavation and capping of contaminated areas, and the pumping and treatment of contaminated groundwater. The proposed settlement will not have an impact on any of BASF’s remaining obligations under the Superfund cleanup law.
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