Friday, May 11, 2012

Bomb Squads at a Business Park: Another Day at the Office


A bomb squad was called to Raritan Center on Oct. 13, 2011 when a military shell was found.  The construction workers at a parking lot construction site on Clearview Road in Edison called the police department when a military explosive was found buried close to the surface of the ground.  Word flew down the chain of command to the police bomb squad, which disarmed and disposed of the explosive.  

“They did the right thing,” said Sandra L. Piettro, project manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “You never touch it [the munitions] and call the proper authorities.”

In most towns, the discovery of a misplaced military explosive would have been big news, but this incident in Edison went by without a peep from the media or government officials.  This was not the first time a shell was found in the ground below bustling Raritan Center. 

“They only found one this time,” said Lieut. Salvatore Filannino, the public information officer at the Edison police department.  

Raritan Center is one of the largest business parks on the East Coast of the United States, and the biggest in Middlesex County, NJ.  It contains approximately 100 buildings and a daytime population of 45,000 workers.  Raritan Center includes several hotels, banks, a day care center, and the main studio and newsroom of News 12 New Jersey. So this issue of old munitions may affect all different types of people in Edison, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

In years past, it was home to the Raritan Arsenal, a sprawling military base.  In recent years, the grounds were sold for commercial use, now called the Raritan Center. The areas of concern are mostly undeveloped, but there are still 10 buildings that require air quality evaluations and monitoring, one being 165 Fieldcrest Avenue which is owned by Federal Business Centers, according to a New Jersey Department of Health study.  This building contains six different tenants, including the Peppermint Tree Child Care Center. 

Public officials are certain that the site is safe for public use and that there is no cause for concern. 

“I don’t think it poses a threat to anyone,” said Mayor Antonia Ricigliano, “There’s an identified area they need to look at, but I don’t think anyone in Edison Township is in danger.”

Buried Bombs, Chemical Agents

The military explosives are the remnants of the Raritan Arsenal, a 3,200-acre military munitions depot that was bordered by Woodbridge Avenue and the Raritan River between Mill and Clearview Avenues in Edison.  It was operational from 1917 till it closed in 1963.  The site’s activities included receipt, storage, shipment and decommissioning of ordnance and arms.  Reported waste material was buried at the site including explosives and chemical agents including mustard gas and red nitric acid, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry report. 

The Raritan Arsenal was sold off in 1963 by the General Service Administration and developed as commercial and industrial space, without completely disposing of the conventional, high explosive ordinance, or the hazardous and toxic waste present in the soil.  The EPA found that Raritan Center’s ground water and soil is contaminated, according to the U.S. Department of Health report.

The Center was cause for alarm in 2003, when air samples taken by the Winsor Streets Associates revealed a low increased cancer risk. A sub-slab ventilation system, a system set up to vent the air, was installed and quarterly air monitoring has been implemented.  There is no longer any hazard to public health, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Carole Fackina, 53, has worked in and around Raritan Center for over 30 years.  Currently she is employed at NJ Carpenter Funds, right down the road from Peppermint Tree.  Her office is located on the 3rd floor of a brown, concrete building with reflective black windows, located across for the Sheraton Hotel in Raritan Center.  Discussions about the explosives or chemicals are left to a minimal in Fackina’s office, but there is still office protocol that aims to avoid possible adverse affects.

“When we make coffee, we use water from the water coolers,” said Fackina, “There are water coolers all over the place, because we do not use the tap water.”

Fackina has learned of the effects from the Raritan Arsenal over the past few years, but says that coworkers, who live in North Edison or other areas that are outside of Raritan Center, are not informed of Raritan Arsenal or its possible negative effects.  Still, some people do talk about the issue at NJ Carpenter Funds.

“Discussions about the Arsenal are always with older people,” said Fackina, “With all they can do today, they hope it can be addressed.”

Clean Up Job by Army Corps of Engineers

In fact, the issues linked to the Raritan Arsenal are being addressed in ways other than just venting and monitoring the air.  Piettro, the Army Corps of Engineers manager, is in charge of the Raritan Center clean up effort. 

“Raritan Arsenal will be treated in a productive and safe matter to ensure public and environmental safety,” said Piettro, “Areas we know of, we are addressing.”

One way of dealing with the chemicals and hazardous toxic waste is scientifically engineered microorganisms.  Piettro explained that these tiny organisms are not harmful to human life or the environment and are placed in areas of concern.  The bugs feed on the chemicals and waste, and then are removed.  With this technique and ventilation, the chemicals are not much concern to the public.  The explosives may prove to be a little more concerning.

“There is always the potential danger of loss of human life or damage to property,” said Piettro, in reference to buried munitions.

In areas of Raritan Center that are developed, the majority of explosives have been removed.  Explosive materials were destroyed by surface burning or burning in chamber pits.  Many others were unearthed and exposed of during the construction of the existing buildings.  This leaves undeveloped areas with the possible potential of having army explosives.

“It's generations of arms,” said Mayor Ricigliano, “As they move forward in undeveloped areas, I am certain they will find more.”

Despite the possible danger and uncertainty of the clean up effort, there is also the problem of cost.  Fortunately, the Ramapo Arsenal site falls under the jurisdiction of the FUDS (Formerly Used Defense Site) program.  The current, plus prior funding for 2011 is $75 million.  This can be broken down to $25 million for ordnance investigations and removals and $50 million for hazardous, toxic waste remedial investigations.  These costs may seem outrageous to some, but Edison’s mayor defends it.

“I think the money spent is worthwhile,” said Ricigliano, “The project brings safety to residents and development brings tax dollars.” The Raritan Arsenal’s effects on the environment and the project to remedy it are of great importance to Raritan Center and Edison Township as a whole. 
“The work is on-going and monitored,” Ricigliano said.

Richard Fetzer is a junior at Ramapo College majoring in Communication Arts-Journalism.

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