Federal environmental officials have decided to allow more public comment on their proposal to monitor contaminated groundwater rather than attempt to clean it up at the Cornell-Dubilier Superfund site in South Plainfield.
The month-long extension to Sept. 20 follows an Aug. 7 public hearing where Environmental Protection Agency officials received polite but often pointed questions from some residents and environmental activists about the monitoring plan, which will be accompanied by studies of the neighboring, polluted Bound Brook.
The EPA plan can be viewed here: http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/cornell/cornell_prap_7-2012.pdf
During the hearing, Jeff Frederick of Arcadis, the EPA's consulting geologist for the cleanup, said current technology could not completely clean-up the 26-acre site and an estimated 825-acre affected area, because most of the contamination would remain trapped in rock formations. The situation amounts to "a predicament with outcomes" instead of a problem with solutions, he said.
But Rich Chapin, a consulting geologist for the Edison Wetlands Association, challenged the EPA's analysis, suggesting unintentional flaws in the agency's geological modeling may have skewed the findings. EPA officials agreed to talk further with him.
Some residents echoed Assemblyman Patrick Deignan Jr. (D-Middlesex), who suggested that since the plan amounts to little action beyond additional monitoring wells, there should be no rush to enact it until the questions are resolved.
Some residents asked why the EPA has not considered "fracking," the technology used to free trapped natural gas by injecting high-pressure liquid into rock formations. The agency could limit the injection to safe liquids instead of the chemical mix used for gas. Others suggested protective steps taken during the protracted cleanup may be responsible for unintended consequences, such as basement flooding following a shift in wellfields used to supply the Middlesex Water Co.
The wetlands association has a petition opposing the proposal on-line here: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-epa-you-want-a-real-cleanup-for-the-cornell-dubilier-superfund-site
Not everyone at the hearing was skeptical. Mayor Matthew Arnesh noted the borough has been living with the situation for decades, and said he accepts that EPA is doing all that it can under the circumstances,
The site in the heart of the borough was home to many industrial concerns. Cornell-Dubilier Electronics manufactured electronic component, primarily capacitors from 1936 to 1962. It disposed of broken capacitors and other waste on site, including carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls used in the capacitors and solvents like trichloroethylene used as degreasers.
Since adding the property to the Superfund clean-up in 1998, the EPA has spent an estimated $133 million removing contaminated waste, soil and debris and demolishing the buildings, which remained in use as an industrial park until 2006. Although the agency has recovered small amounts of money from some previous industrial users, most have been uncooperative and the taxpayers have borne most of the cost.
The monitoring plan has the virtue of costing an estimated $5.7 million over 30 years, compared to as much as $128.5 million to use heating elements in an effort to destroy the underground contaminants. But EPA officials said they are still working on a plan for the Bound Brook, which requires further study
In the meantime, they said the monitoring should be sufficient to prevent human exposure in the borough, provided residents do not use water from private wells that could be affected by the underground plume of pollutants seeping from the site.
Those wishing to comment should send mail or email by September 20, 2012 to:
Diego Garcia, Remedial Project Manager
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Region 2
290 Broadway – 19th floor
New York, NY 10007-1866
For more information on the Cornell-Dubilier Electronics Superfund site, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/npl/cornell.