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CLEANUP GETS CLOSER FOR TOXIC CREEK NEAR METLIFE STADIUM

Record - 9/12/2017

After seven years of study and research, the federal government is inching closer to a proposed cleanup plan for the highly contaminated Berry's Creek in the Meadowlands.

The cleanup of sediment contaminated with mercury and PCBs will likely wind up being some combination of dredging and capping, and the plan should be ready by March 2018, according to Doug Tomchuk, the Environmental Protection Agency's project manager for the site.

The cleanup would still be three or more years away.

Mercury levels in Berry's Creek, a marshy 6-mile tributary of the Hackensack River that encircles MetLife Stadium, are among the highest ever recorded in a freshwater ecosystem in the United States.

The EPA will hold an informal public availability session Tuesday night to provide updates to area residents and get feedback. The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Rutherford Public Library.

Berry's Creek starts near Teterboro Airport and twists around MetLife Stadium and the New York Giants' training facility. It flows through parts of Teterboro, Wood-Ridge, Lyndhurst, Carlstadt, Rutherford and East Rutherford.

The creek serves as a prime breeding ground for crabs, fish and other species, as well as a key stopover site for migrating birds -- a green, watery oasis amid the most densely developed region in America.

But for decades, Berry's Creek has been degraded by dangerous levels of mercury, cancer-causing PCBs and other contaminants that migrated off three Superfund sites and other industrial properties in the Meadowlands.

Much of the contamination has come from the three Superfund sites along the creek: the Ventron/Velsicol site in Wood-Ridge, where mercury was removed from discarded lab equipment, batteries and other devices; the Universal Oil Products site in East Rutherford; and the Scientific Chemical Processing site in Carlstadt, which was a waste-processing facility. The EPA oversees cleanups at each.

EPA officials are concerned about people who go crabbing in the Berry's Creek area, because mercury in the sediment can change into methylmercury, a form that builds up in the tissue of fish and crabs. It can affect the human nervous system and cause impaired vision, motor-skill damage, seizures and even death.

The PCBs in the water can also impair the endocrine system and immune function, and cause early cell death, developmental abnormalities, reduced reproduction and increased mortality, officials said. Other contaminants in Berry's Creek include lead, arsenic, chromium, benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The EPA has spent more than $40 million since 2008 studying how the tidal action in the creek system moves sediment through the marshlands to help officials decide the best cleanup approach -- likely removing some contaminated sediment and capping other areas.

The EPA monitored four sets of test squares, each about 32 feet wide, where researchers installed various caps over contaminated sediment. The agency wanted to determine whether the caps work, whether the scouring action of the tides could disrupt the caps, and whether a cap's thickness could cause flooding.

The sediment is less polluted near the surface, because over time water has layered new, cleaner sediment on top of the older, more contaminated layers.

A cleanup of this system will be complicated by the fact that it is tidal, since it attaches to the Hackensack and ultimately New York Harbor. The tidal action can move pollutants in and out of the system and through the surrounding marshes.

As a result, questions remain about the best cleanup approach. The EPA plans to carry out a phased approach to the cleanup, addressing the waterway sediment first, while collecting additional information about the surrounding marshes.

Because of high contamination levels in the sediment of the marsh area in Upper Peach Island Creek, north of Paterson Plank Road near the Meadowlands racetrack, the EPA also plans to clean that up in the first phase. Tomchuk has said the cleanup could costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

The EPA reached a settlement agreement in 2008 with more than 100 companies and other entities responsible for the pollution, which would bear the cleanup costs.

 
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