Cleanup continues at Raritan

Environmentalists say
remediations are incomplete

Staff Writer

at Raritan
Environmentalists say
remediations are incomplete


Staff Writer

The cleanup process at the former Raritan Arsenal, located in Woodbridge and Edison, is moving forward, according to representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But local environmentalists say too little is being done, too late.

"It’s been piecemeal, doing a little bit here and a little bit there, all the time saying there’s no money," Robert Spiegel, executive director of the Edison Wetlands Association, said Thursday.

Before the Army Corps met with members of the Restoration Advisory Board in Edison that night, Spiegel and members of the N.Y.-N.J. Baykeeper and the Raritan Riverkeeper spoke about their concerns with the Army Corps’ cleanup process.

The environmentalists say the remediation of the 3,200-acre Raritan Arsenal is limited and insufficient.

"When it comes to building bombs and waging war, the military has all the money in the world. But when it comes to cleaning up their toxic messes and protecting human health, there’s not a dime to be found," Spiegel said in a written statement.

The U.S. Army used the arsenal from 1917 to 1963 as a site for ammunition storage and renovation. Ordnance and waste materials were buried on site, as per routine disposal practices of the time, according to information provided by the Army Corps.

The funds used to clean up the former Raritan Arsenal come from the Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) program, established in 1986 by Congress. So far, approximately $60 million has been used at the site. The arsenal received $2 million last year, according to James Moore, the project manager at the Raritan Arsenal site.

Hundreds of tons of contaminated soils and buried debris were removed from several areas at the site during 2003. The Army Corps disposed of these materials, confirmed the contamination was removed and reused clean soil, Moore said.

The property is owned and/or used by Middlesex County College, Thomas A. Edison County Park, the U.S. General Services Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Raritan Center Industrial Park and several privately owned light industrial, warehousing and hotel operations.

Last year the Army Corps also removed more than two-dozen practice bombs from World War I that were found on the Middlesex County College campus, which comprises 163 acres of the former Raritan Arsenal.

The main obstacle that the Army Corps tackled last year was the discovery of volatile compounds located below the slabs of several buildings, including a day-care center, on the Raritan Arsenal site. Contaminated groundwater plumes underneath the buildings can cause gases to be trapped there, and possibly leak into the buildings, Moore said.

Volatile vapors were found under­neath four buildings on Fieldcrest Av­enue and indoor air pollutants were found in just two of four buildings that were tested. The Army Corps has in­stalled a "pilot test remedial system" to monitor the indoor air quality in the day care center, and tests of buildings atop the highly contaminated sites will continue, Moore said. He added that there was no health risk in any of the four buildings.

Moore said he wants to develop a specific guideline for nonresidential indoor air quality.

"Right now there is no specific guidance on indoor air," Moore said.

This year, the Army Corps will use a number of steps, including evaluat­ing the status of the groundwater be­neath the buildings, examining the gases in the soil, and testing the in­door air, as part of their efforts to identify the affected buildings and remedy them if necessary.

"Our main focus this year is going to be indoor air," Moore said. He said the challenge is to determine what in the tests results relates to groundwater contamination, and what relates to other possible air pollutants, such as fresh paint and building construction and maintenance, according to infor­mation provided by the Army Corps.

Other objectives for 2004 include removing an underground storage tank and soil remediation at the county college, cleaning up additional areas where EPA buildings are located at the Raritan Arsenal site, and ord­nance removal and remediation for two additional areas at the site.

The Army Corps has monitored surface water over the last two years and has found no evidence that it was contaminated or that contaminants found their way to the Raritan River. The Army Corps has compiled an ac­tion plan for groundwater areas of concern and, according to Moore, if the list of areas of concern needs to be ex­panded, they will do so.

While he was unable to attend the meeting, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th District) sent a representative from his office to relay his sentiments about the ongoing cleanup efforts at the ar­senal.

"While I appreciate the corps re­sponding to the air quality concerns raised last year by installing a venti­lation system and monitoring certain air and groundwater locations, I am concerned that monitoring alone will not solve the problem. I believe all source material at this site must be removed," Pallone said.

Megan Callus, a conservation asso­ciation for the N.Y.-N.J. Baykeeper, agreed with Pallone’s statement.

"Their top priority should be the removal of the source areas, and pumping and treating the groundwa­ter," Callus said in a written state­ment.

At the conclusion of the Army Corps’ presentation Thursday, Callus asked if the corps planned to hold health screenings for employees who work in buildings atop the former ar­senal. Moore said the test results do not call for such action.

One employee, who would not dis­close her employer’s name but said she works at the River Center complex atop the former arsenal, was present at the meeting Thursday because she was concerned about continuing eye and respiratory problems she has experi­enced over the last couple years.

"It’s a lingering thing," said Michele Bonsignore, 55, of Howell. She has worked for her current employer for about 10 years, and this is the first she has heard of any possible problems with indoor air pollutants.

"Now all this is coming out, and I’m getting worried," she said.