|Sign Posted Along Passaic River by NJDEP|
By Marissa Erdelyi
The federal government released a $1.38 billion plan on March 4 to clean a highly contaminated portion of the Passaic River.
In 1962, the U.S. military launched Operation Ranch Hand during the Vietnam War. The operation lasted almost 10 years and resulted in spraying an estimated 20 million gallons of herbicides, prominently Agent Orange, to kill jungle foliage. While this event ended nearly 45 years ago, the life of Agent Orange has yet to meet its end.
The Passaic River, located in northern New Jersey, has fallen victim to the fallout of Agent Orange. It’s advised not to eat the fish in the river, due to the high chemical levels found in the water. Eating fish or crabs from the Lower Passaic may cause cancer, liver damage, birth defects, and reproductive issues, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Chemicals were dumped into the water back in the day, when more than 100 factories were arranged along the banks of the river. One of these factories was Diamond Alkali. This factory was located in Newark and produced Agent Orange.
The river’s sediment is contaminated with contaminants including, but not limited to, pesticides, dioxin, and polychlorinated biphenyl.
The Environmental Protection Agency originally proposed a cleanup plan in April 2014. This original plan was $1.7 billion and called for liable companies to pay for the cleaning of the entire riverbed along the Lower Passaic River.
According to ABC News, the latest plan involves the cleaning of the lower eight miles of the river by removing 3.5 million cubic yards of toxic sediment. The bottom portion of the river contains 90 percent of the contamination. Following the removal of toxic sediment, the stretch of river bottom would be capped, keeping much of the contamination from getting into the rest of the river and the Newark Bay.
The contaminated sediment would be moved to out of state facilities. Material containing dioxin, a contaminant in Agent Orange which causes long-term health impacts, would be destroyed or buried in a hazardous-waste landfill.
While the new cleanup plan is drastically cheaper than the original proposed in 2014, it is still one of the most expensive Superfund site cleanups in history.
“The EPA’s cleanup plan will improve water quality, protect public health, revitalize waterfront areas and create hundreds of new jobs,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck.