FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 23, 2021
Lawrence Hajna (609) 984-1795
Caryn Shinske (609) 292-2994
(21/P024) TRENTON – New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette today was joined by Congressional leaders and local officials in announcing that the State will pursue the cleanup of the Lower Hackensack River as a federal Superfund site. This would be the first time that a New Jersey river itself would be proposed for Superfund listing and marks a critical step toward remediation of river sediments contaminated with mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and other pollutants from past industrial practices.
Commissioner LaTourette was joined by U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell Jr. and Josh Gottheimer, as well as officials from Bergen County and Hudson County municipalities that line the river to announce support for cleanup through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund program and the relief it will bring to communities. The announcement was made at Laurel Hill Park along the Hackensack River in Secaucus.
The State’s decision to pursue Superfund listing will enable the EPA to implement a rulemaking process to propose adding 23 miles of tidally influenced river from the Oradell Dam to Newark Bay in accordance with the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund. Listing would provide access to federal funding and enable the EPA to commence the process of identifying responsible parties to fund remediation.
“Today marks a milestone in the history of the Hackensack River and the State of New Jersey,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “By officially supporting designation of the lower river as a Superfund site, we are committing to working with our federal and local partners in mapping a clear course to restoring the river as a clean and vibrant asset for the people who live, work and recreate in the communities along this important natural resource, including those that have been disproportionately burdened by environmental degradation.”
“Designating the Lower Hackensack River as a federal Superfund site will provide the tools we need to remove decades of contamination that have polluted river sediments and restore the natural resources that have been impaired for far too long,” said Commissioner LaTourette. “The Murphy Administration’s commitment to the cleanup of this river also presents an incredible opportunity to enrich the communities throughout the Hackensack watershed as we defend the public’s right to the full use and enjoyment of their natural resources.”
“Despite decades of pollution, the Hackensack River is an ecological gem in the heart of the most urbanized part of New Jersey,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “By restoring the Hackensack through the federal Superfund program, the river will be able to reach its full potential as an ecological and economic asset for this region. I fully support this effort and thank Governor Murphy and Commissioner LaTourette for their vision in taking this important step toward designating the river for Superfund cleanup.”
“For too long, our North Jersey communities along the Hackensack River have suffered while people dragged their feet. Poor leadership shrugged at the dilemma. But thanks to Commissioner LaTourette and the Murphy Administration, those days are behind us. Now we commence the work of cleaning up this river,” said Congressman Pascrell. “Once these efforts begin, our region will realize the powerful economic, environmental, and recreational benefits the Hackensack River has to offer. Cleaning up dilapidated and dangerously contaminated sites remains a top priority for my office. We will remain vigilant and not allow any more inaction. While I am fighting to protect our environment in the Congress, I am thankful to see the Murphy Administration leading the way here in New Jersey. Now let’s get to work.”
“We know that protecting our environment should be something that everyone, Democrats and Republicans, can come together around. I'm proud to stand hand-in-hand with leaders from throughout North Jersey to fight to protect and clean up our local water. By including the Lower Hackensack River in the Superfund program, this means that we will be able to bring critical resources to boost this cleanup effort,” said Congressman Gottheimer. “With this cooperation between the State of New Jersey and the federal government, we’re working to stop further damage and contamination of North Jersey's waters and wildlife.”
“A cleanup of the Hackensack River holds immense potential for improvement in quality of life and recreational opportunities for Secaucus and surrounding communities,” said Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli. “We have seen a vast improvement due to mitigation efforts over the last few years. An initiative by the NJDEP to address sediment contamination will bring a lasting impact. I thank the NJDEP and all contributing agencies for their plans and efforts towards reviving the ecological balance of the Hackensack River.”
“I’m very, very happy that this is moving forward and thank Commissioner LaTourette and the DEP for supporting designating the river a federal Superfund site,” said Hackensack Riverkeeper Capt. Bill Sheehan. “I have been working on getting this designation for the river since 2015. Now everything is lining up. I realize that this is one step in the process and that cleanup will take time. But this is an important step for the health of the river and for all the people who live in the region. This is really the best way forward. It’s time to get the river back to the way it should be.”
EPA previously performed work to evaluate the Lower Hackensack River and is committing to completing the evaluation for potential inclusion on the National Priorities List (NPL). This process is expected to take about a year, given the need to collect some more recent samples and to analyze data.
“Working to gather data, EPA collected sediment samples from nearly 200 sample stations along the river from the mouth of the river to the Oradell Dam, a total of 23 river miles,” said EPA acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan. “Our preliminarily review of the sampling data suggests the Hackensack River suffers from widespread sediment contamination and environmental degradation. The Hackensack River is surrounded by river communities that are disproportionately affected by environmental burdens and addressing environmental justice issues is a priority for EPA. The State of New Jersey’s official support marks a significant step in EPA’s process of formal listing on the National Priorities List. Sites are eligible to be listed on the NPL upon completion of Hazard Ranking System screening, public solicitation of comments about the proposed site, and after all comments have been addressed.”
Supported by the DEP, the EPA has been working on long-term remediation of four Superfund sites in the watershed to protect local waterways, groundwater and natural resources. But over the decades, tidal actions have distributed pollutants that were discharged from these sites and other contaminated sites extensively throughout the Lower Hackensack River, prompting numerous studies into restoration.
In 2016, the EPA completed an Expanded Site Inspection that showed that additional assessment of the river is necessary due to high levels of contamination from the existing Superfund sites as well as other sources in the watershed. Since then, the DEP has completed extensive evaluations that resulted in DEP’s support for Superfund listing as the best option to address the complex challenges of remediating river sediments and enhancing protection of water quality and ecological resources.
Twenty municipalities line the Lower Hackensack River. They are River Edge, Ridgefield Park, Carlstadt, Kearny, Jersey City, Little Ferry, Oradell, Rutherford, Secaucus, Bogota, Ridgefield, Hackensack, Teaneck, East Rutherford, Moonachie, North Arlington, New Milford, North Bergen, South Hackensack and Lyndhurst.
Four current Superfund sites believed to have contributed significantly to contamination of Hackensack River sediments are the Ventron/Velsicol site in Carlstadt and Wood-Ridge, a mercury processing facility that operated from 1929 to 1974; Universal Oil Products (Chemical Division) in East Rutherford, which processed chemicals from 1930 to 1979; Standard Chlorine, in Kearny, which manufactured and processed various chemical products including mothballs and lead-acid batteries from around 1916 to 1993; and Scientific Chemical Processing in Carlstadt, which conducted various chemical recovery, processing and storage activities from around 1941 until 1980.
To view the letter from Commissioner LaTourette requesting EPA Superfund listing for the Lower Hackensack River, visit www.nj.gov/dep/hackensack-river-cleanup/docs/njdep-letter-to-usepa-hackensack-river.pdf
For additional documents and information visit the DEP’s Lower Hackensack River microsite at www.nj.gov/dep/hackensack-river-cleanup/
For a video broadcast of today’s event, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDIFdRGPKrg
“The health of the Hackensack River is of critical importance to the residents of the Hackensack Meadowlands District,” said Vincent Prieto, President and CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. “The NJSEA applauds the efforts of the State and Federal governments to focus attention on the Hackensack River and to obtain resources to ensure that the River continues to improve.”
“New Jersey LCV applauds Commissioner Shawn LaTourette and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for their efforts to have the Hackensack River designated a Superfund site. It's about time. The extent of the pollution is so severe that some stretches of the Hackensack River have seen the highest concentrations of mercury contamination ever recorded in freshwater ecosystems in the United States,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director, New Jersey LCV. “We also want to congratulate Captain Bill Sheehan who has been a fierce advocate for a fishable, swimmable Hackensack River and has been fighting for this his entire career. We look forward to working with Commissioner LaTourette, Captain Bill, NY/NJ Baykeeper and impacted communities to get the river cleaned up and restore the health of this precious waterway.”
“NY/NJ Baykeeper supports the State of New Jersey’s decision to work with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to place the lower Hackensack River on the National Priorities List,” said Baykeeper Greg Remaud. “This step is necessary to ensure that long-neglected toxic sediments, including Mercury, will be removed from the river allowing the Meadowlands environment to thrive and municipal residents to recreate outdoors free from public health concerns. That NJDEP plans to aggressively go after Responsible Parties (those liable for the pollution) for clean-up costs and Natural Resource Damages is extremely encouraging. As polluters, not the public, should pay for cleaning their mess and for harm they caused to wildlife and local communities.”
“It’s great to see our state and federal governments once again swimming in the same, right direction. For four decades, New Jersey and Clean Water Action have helped lead the way on Superfund, making polluters pay and expediting clean-ups,” said Amy Goldsmith, Clean Water Action’s NJ State Director. “The Hackensack River and its Meadowlands are poster children, both as environmental jewels and pollution threats, their cleanup can’t happen fast enough and today’s petition is a big step in the right direction.”