Contamination in Sayreville spurs legislation

Staff Writer

A bill that would change the state’s process for remediating residential properties was expected to be introduced in the Legislature this week in response to contamination found at several Sayreville sites.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) said he planned to introduce the bill, which was prompted by the cleanup of several residential properties on Scott Avenue.

The sites were discovered to have highly elevated levels of perchloroethylene (PCE), according to Larry Hajna, press officer for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

PCE is a vapor left over from the previous industrial use of the property, and it potentially causes health hazards, Hajna said.

At the most severely affected property, PCE levels were found to be 76 times higher than the state standard of one part per million.

“The houses were built back in the mid- ’70s, so we didn’t have the type of reporting on discharges that we have today,” Hajna said. “Now, we have a rigorous reporting system on contamination.”

The DEP began a $400,000 remediation effort that concluded earlier this year, following the discovery of the high levels of PCE at the five Scott Avenue homes in 2013, according to Hajna. In addition, the state will pay roughly $2,000 per month for up to 10 years to operate and maintain a ventilation system on the properties. The residents have continued living in the homes.

According to Wisniewski, his bill would provide for state acquisition of contaminated residential properties, which would then be demolished and subject to remediation efforts by the DEP. The properties would then be deed-restricted as open space. Wisniewski said he and Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) are proposing a process that would allow the state to “buy the property, clean it out, cap it and make it just open space” instead of going through the “very expensive” process of remediation.

“That makes much more sense, and that’s what our bill would do,” he said.

Wisniewski said he planned to introduce the bill by May 14.

The assemblyman, a lifelong Sayreville resident, explained how the oversight occurred under the old reporting requirements.

“People have asked me, ‘How did this happen? Did somebody do something wrong?’ ” Wisniewski said.

“What we are all very accustomed to today is that when an industrial user sells a site, that industrial user is required to do a lot of reporting and guarantee that the site is cleaned up prior to transferring title.”

He said those laws came on the books in the early- to mid-1980s, after the industrial use of the property ceased to exist.

Wisniewski said that, when he was a child growing up on the very same street where the contamination was discovered, he remembers playing in the abandoned Cross Welding building, which later became Melrose Toys.

Because of the lax reporting standards of the 1970s, when the land was sold to a residential developer, the previous use was listed as a toy store and the welding operation was not mentioned.

“The builder of those homes purchased it from Melrose Toys,” Wisniewski said. “The use was a toy store, so it got through the scrutiny of regulators because it was a toy store, and therefore there was no cleanup done on the property.”

Wisniewski said the bill he planned to introduce with Coughlin would remedy those situations in a more cost-effective way in the future, though he said it would likely affect a small number of properties.

“We don’t think it makes sense for the state to invest $400,000 to $600,000 on a property that, at the end of it all, nobody is going to want to ever live in,” Wisniewski said.

Properties that would be acquired by the state DEP and designated as open space would be subject to less stringent remediation since there would be no residential component included, Wisniewski said.

The state buyout would allow the residents to move on with their lives as well as save the state money on remediation efforts, he added.