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EPA finalizes change to cleanup plan for Imperial Oil Superfund site in Marlboro

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MARLBORO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized a change to its September 1992 plan to address groundwater contamination at the Imperial Oil Co. Inc./Champion Chemical federal Superfund site off Tennent Road near Route 79 in the Morganville section of Marlboro.

Groundwater data collected since the remedy for site soils was completed at the end of 2011 indicates that natural processes are effectively reducing the levels of contaminants and that active treatment of the groundwater is not needed, according to a press release from the EPA.

As a result, the agency has decided to rely on natural processes to address the groundwater rather than extract and treat it as the original decision stated, according to the press release.

“Based on our analysis of groundwater data, previous cleanup actions have led to a decrease of contaminant levels and these are continuing to decrease,” EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez was quoted as saying in the press release.

“As part of EPA’s ongoing efforts, monitoring and further studies will be conducted to ensure the effectiveness of the remedy,” Lopez said.

EPA is requiring periodic collection and analysis of groundwater samples to verify that the levels and extent of contaminants are declining, and that human health and the environment are protected. The EPA will conduct a review within five years to ensure the effectiveness of the cleanup, according to the press release.

The Imperial Oil facility operated from the 1950s until 2007. Improper work practices and piles of waste from oil reclamation activities contaminated soil on the plant property, adjacent wetlands, the nearby Birch Swamp Brook, and several adjacent residential properties. Groundwater underlying the site was also contaminated, according to the EPA.

Beginning in the early 1980s during the administration of Marlboro Mayor Saul Hornik, the Burnt Fly Bog-Imperial Oil Citizens Advisory Committee began meeting, studying the issues and lobbying New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and EPA administrators to remediate the Burnt Fly Bog and Imperial Oil federal Superfund sites in Marlboro.

The committee’s efforts eventually came to fruition as both sites were remediated after decades of pressure by Marlboro officials and residents.

In 2008, EPA completed the demolition of structures on the Imperial Oil site, including all production, storage and maintenance buildings, and above-ground tanks.

In 2011, EPA completed the excavation of the soil and the restoration of the Imperial Oil property. The excavated property areas were seeded and restored along with the restoration of the wetlands.

In 2013, EPA completed the cleanup of the remaining wetlands and contaminated sediments in Birch Swamp Brook, according to the press release.

A representative of the New Jersey Sierra Club took issue with the EPA’s recent decision to amend the 1992 Imperial Oil cleanup plan.

In a press release, Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said, “EPA’s cleanup plan for the Imperial Oil Superfund site is not a real cleanup plan. This is a cynical and troubling plan that calls for natural attenuation.

“This means you leave the toxic chemicals in the ground until they keep spreading and go to a lower level. This method will not work and hazardous chemicals at the site like arsenic, TCE, benzene and volatile organic compounds will discharge into Birch Swamp Brook and the Raritan Bay.

“Natural attenuation is not only ineffective, but inefficient and will impact more people. It will take five or more years than the original plan to remove contaminated groundwater. … It seems like (EPA is) just checking off the easiest and cheapest way to cover up a polluter’s mess without any enforcement,” Tittel said.

“We need to have a full cleanup plan or at least a pump and treat system. EPA cannot rely on letting the toxic chemicals just sit underneath groundwater. There is nothing natural about it. This type of method is not quick enough or complete enough.

“Instead, EPA must remove all of the contaminated groundwater. If not, streams, wetlands, an underlying aquifer and the Raritan Bay will continue to be contaminated by hazardous materials …  What’s even worse is that the failure to properly clean up these harmful chemicals will jeopardize public health and safety,” Tittel said.

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