2008-10-08 / Front Page

Full-court press is on for toxic site cleanup

Advocates want to see work completed at Imperial Oil location
BY REBECCA MORTON Staff Writer

MARLBORO — Polluters should pay for the damage they inflict on the environment was the consensus at a press conference held outside the gates of Imperial Oil, Orchard Place, on Sept. 29. A bipartisan show of support to see this local Superfund site finally cleaned up came from officials at all levels of government.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth and Mercer) and state Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Monmouth and Mercer) joined Marlboro Mayor Jonathan Hornik, Councilman Frank LaRocca and representatives of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) at the press event.

Hornik said the polluted site is considered one of the worst in the country. All those present expressed the need for the tainted site to receive the nearly $30 million that is required to finish cleaning up the property.

Imperial Oil was declared a federal Superfund site in the early 1980s. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund is a program to clean up the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

Remediation work on-site and off-site has been undertaken at various times during the 25 years since Imperial Oil was identified as a contaminated location.

According to previously published articles, contaminants found on-site include arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and lead, all of which likely came from the processing of used oils on the property dating back to the 1950s. The company is no longer active.

Current contamination still lurks beneath the surface of the ground and penetrates the ground water. The Englishtown aquifer — a source of water — lies deep beneath the site.

"The ground water is contaminated with volatile organic chemicals, PCBs and other toxic agents. The time to act is now," Hornik told those assembled.

The mayor said previous cleanup initiatives were a good start, but he said the site still poses a threat to human health and the environment. Thousands of residents live within five miles of the site and the nearby Henry Hudson Trail is used by hikers on a daily basis.

A statement from Lautenberg was read to the public at the press event. The senator described how many of New Jersey's 114 Superfund sites have seen little or no progress in cleanup since the Superfund went bankrupt five years ago. The trust fund was originally filled through fees levied on polluters, but now taxpayers are footing the bill, Lautenberg's statement said.

Lautenberg has joined U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y). and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to introduce legislation that would revitalize the Superfund program and reinstate fees on polluters.

"Communities like Marlboro should never have to wait over 25 years to get a dangerous toxic waste dump in their midst cleaned up," Lautenberg's statement concluded.

Steve Hildner, Holt's director of constituent services, said the congressman, as a longtime supporter of the Superfund, will continue to fight to see money restored to the fund.

Hildner said the Superfund system worked as intended until 1995 when the 105th Congress let the Superfund authority expire. There was still funding until 2003 when President George W. Bush failed to request the renewal in the Superfund taxes and has not done so in every budget for the last five years, he said.

Casagrande spoke out as a concerned parent who lives in neighboring Colts Neck and whose water is supplied through the Englishtown aquifer.

"Every day I wash my infant son in water from the Englishtown aquifer, water that we know has toxins, water that we know is polluted by these Superfund sites," Casagrande said. "New Jersey as a state has more than its fair share of Superfund sites. We also know that we have more than our fair share of pockets of childhood diseases that are not commonly found in other parts of the country. It is critical to the health and well-being of our communities and our children in our communities, that we clean up these sites."

Each year that passes without the Congress providing cash to the Superfund is a risk to the future of the nation's children, Casagrande concluded.

Local environmentalist Tina Freedman has rallied support over the years in her ongoing effort to ensure the cleanup of Imperial Oil. At the press conference Freedman said residents are lucky that the two major party presidential candidates are in agreement on the future of the Superfund.

Prepared statements from the campaigns of Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain were read at the event. Both men noted the need for polluters to once again contribute to the Superfund.

This month the EPA Region II administrators will set priorities as to which projects will receive funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

Pallone wrote to Alan J. Steinberg, the regional administrator for Region II, on Sept. 29 requesting that the full $30 million still needed for final cleanup be provided to the Imperial Oil site.

Robert Spiegel, the executive director of the Edison Wetlands Association, an environmental group based in Middlesex County, said there should not be a choice between which sites receive the funding to be cleaned, because all locations should be restored.

Spiegel said the Edison Wetlands Association has been involved with Marlboro and Imperial Oil for 10 years.

The Imperial Oil site is not far from Monmouth County's border with Middlesex County.

Shawn Brennan, district director for Pallone, spoke of the need to keep on the EPA to ensure the receipt of money to finish the Imperial Oil cleanup project.

"We really need to make sure over the next few weeks that we raise the pressure on the EPA and we make it very known to them that this site needs to be cleaned up," Brennan said.

He said Pallone is sponsoring legislation that would make the companies responsible for pollution, and not the taxpayers, pay for restoring the land to its pristine condition.

"Our citizens have been more than patient in waiting their turn," Beck said, adding that Marlboro's site can be a success story if allocated the funding.

She said it is the federal government's obligation to provide an end to this long saga in Marlboro's history.

Contact Rebecca Morton at

marlboro@gmnews.com.

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