Saturday, March 5, 2016

Toxic Legacy Continues, New Chemical Found in Ford Dump Site

Paint sludge in Ringwood before cleanup (photo: Jan Barry)

By Marissa Erdelyi

Tuesday night, federal environment officials met with Ringwood residents to apologize for not sharing the discovery of a new hazardous chemical on the Superfund site Ford Motor Co. utilized years ago as a dumping zone for paint sludge. Officials insist the newly found chemical is not a threat.

In a meeting filled with nearly 200 people--mainly angered Ringwood residents--the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported a finding of 1,4-dioxane at concentrations in groundwater several months ago. While below the EPA’s health advisory level, the amount found is almost 100 times the state standard, The Record newspaper reported.  

1,4-dioxane is used as a solvent. The chemical is a colorless liquid with a faint sweet odor. Exposure to high levels of the chemical has been found to cause vertigo, drowsiness, anorexia and irritate parts of the human body such as the throat and lungs. It has also been found to cause cancer in test animals.

The EPA only began testing in Ringwood for 1,4-dioxane last year. Last August during an annual groundwater sampling, the chemical was found in several wells. These contaminated wells were located a few hundred feet west of homes on Sheehan Drive. Additional tests found the chemical in a stream flowing from the dump site toward the Wanaque Reservoir.

The Record, a newspaper that covers northern New Jersey, asked the EPA about new test wells that had been installed at the Superfund site. The EPA failed to share the discovery of the chemical at the time, stating that the wells were to be drilled to “assess benzene contamination.”
The Record got hold of documents that exposed the dioxane discovery, pushing the EPA to share the discovery.

Since the wells that contain 1,4-dioxane are 80 to 180 feet below ground, EPA officials don’t believe there is an immediate health risk, hence their delay in sharing the discovery with Ringwood residents. 

Although toxic chemicals remained in groundwater at the site, the site was declared clean by the EPA in 1994, although remnants of Ford’s paint sludge were still there in old mine shafts and roadside dumps. Following this declaration, the site was taken off of the Superfund list of the nation’s worst toxic sites. 

After The Record in 2005 published “Toxic Legacy,” a series that documented the site’s pollution and the failing health of many of the area’s residents, the area was relisted as a Superfund site. 

Last year, the EPA approved of a plan to create a capping barrier, leaving 166,000 tons of pollution at a landfill on the site, rather than unearthing it. This will cost Ford $5.4 million.  

This original plan would have cost $32.6 million.     

During Tuesday’s meeting, Joe Gowers, the EPA project manager for the site, said that work on the barrier may begin as early as next year. However, he added, a cleanup plan for the contaminated groundwater is still in development.

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