TRENTON, N.J. – Sediment in a stretch of the Hackensack River in northern New Jersey has traces of arsenic, lead and other contaminants and was named Thursday as a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, federal and state regulators said.
Later assessments could reveal more about possible health effects, but for now, officials cautioned that the contaminants could be absorbed by fish in the 19-mile (30-kilometer) stretch of river, which runs from the Oradell Reservoir Dam nearly to the mouth of Newark Bay. Warnings against consuming any fish from the river have already been posted, officials said.
The listing, which must still be finalized, means that the site will undergo a clean-up process, funded by still unidentified responsible parties, but that could take years.
EPA Region 2 Administrator Lisa Garcia and New Jersey's top environmental regulator Shawn LaTourette hailed the listing on EPA's National Priorities List as a welcome development.
Some might say it's a mark of “indignity,” LaTourette said, since it adds to New Jersey's standing as the state with the most Superfund sites in the nation. But he argued that the river's listing means that it will now get resources to be cleaned up.
“It’s a mark of our resolve and acknowledgement that modern society for all it’s advances and conveniences also produces environmental ills,” he said.
Bill Sheehan, a lifelong resident of the river's watershed and an environmental advocate known as the Hackensack Riverkeeper, welcomed the news.
“The only way to get to the source of these pollutants is through the Superfund project,” he said.
The EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List includes the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination, and serves as the basis for prioritizing cleanup funding and enforcement actions.
The cost of cleaning up the river isn't clear, and it's too early to estimate, according to the EPA.
The listing of part of the Hackensack River as a Superfund site is the first step in a process, followed by a 60-day comment period.