An Environmental Cleanup In a New Jersey Polish Enclave

(Photo via Nowy Dziennik)

A Polish enclave in Garfield City in New Jersey where the E.C. Electroplating spilled more than 3,600 gallons of carcinogenic chromium in 1983 has become a “Superfund” high-priority environmental contamination site. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that authorities would do their best to demolish the building and clean up the contaminated neighborhood, Nowy Dziennik reported. A translation of the article from Polish is below. 

The building on the site of the former E.C. Electroplating plant in Garfield, N.J., where over 3,600 gallons of carcinogenic chromium spilled in 1983, contaminating the neighborhood, will be demolished. Authorities say it is a major step towards cleaning up the spill.

“The EPA has done a great deal of work since 2002 to reduce the health risks to the people who live and work in the area of Garfield affected by chromium contaminated ground water,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck during a press conference organized in front of a building at 125 Clark Street in Garfield, NJ, where E.C. Electroplating operated until 2009. The town, located in Northern New Jersey, is home to sizeable Polish-American community. Many Polish-American families live within the contaminated area.

The conference was attended by local residents, as well as representatives of local authorities, two Democratic senators from New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell.

“Today we’re pleased to announce that we are ready to take a step forward in the long-term cleanup of the Garfield Superfund site,” Ms. Enck added.

Many tests conducted in the contaminated site indicate that part of the building at 125 Clark Street, its two basements and the soil underneath it are contaminated with carcinogenic chromium which spilled here in 1983 and since then has spread to a couple blocks’ radius. At the end of the month, authorities expect to get results of tests which will show whether the groundwater contamination reached the river bordering the adjacent town of Passaic.

The EPA has so far inspected over 500 residential and commercial buildings for hexavalent chromium contamination, which was detected in 15 homes. All of them underwent a thorough cleaning.

The demolition of the building and removal of the contaminated soil from underneath it is, as the authorities and EPA representatives point out, the first major step towards decontamination of the area. EPA promised that all procedures and operations involved in the demolition will be conducted with extra care and with the safety of residents in mind. The contaminated elements of the building’s structure, as well as the soil, will be disposed of and secured at designated facilities.

“Strict procedures will be followed to control dust during the demolition, with special attention paid to the Garfield No. 7 School and to a daycare center located near the site,” according to an EPA statement. The agency also promised to establish an air-monitoring network to ensure that contamination is contained during the demolition work.

“This is a big day for the city of Garfield,” said the city manager, Tom Duch, who hosted the conference. He thanked the EPA for effective action and the politicians for supporting the initiative.

“Only through demolishing the building and cleaning the soil underneath it can we start the proper process of cleaning the area, ensuring protection for our residents,” he added, pointing out that this is merely the beginning of a long-term and long-overdue decontamination process. Mr. Duch also asked residents to reach out to legislators to tell them that more federal funds are needed for Superfund sites like the one in Garfield.

The politicians present at the press conference expressed their support for the cleanup and vowed to fight for further federal funds for the Superfund site in Garfield.

Speaking of ground water contamination, Tom Duch, backed by EPA experts, assured all gathered that the tap water in Garfield, including the contaminated area, is safe and drinkable. It is transported to households and businesses from sites and reservoirs located outside of the contaminated region, he said.

Tests conducted in recent years have indicated that hexavalent chromium contaminates ground water under and around 125 Clark Street. Last year the area was added to the list of Superfund sites, and as such qualifies for federal funds which are to be used to cover the costs of cleanup.

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