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EPA Officials Agree to Check Again for Toxics Near Superfund Site in Vineland

Federal agency will do more extensive testing at pond and creek near former site of heavy metals plant

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to do more tests on a pond and creek near a South Jersey Superfund site to address local concerns that the waterways are contaminated with toxic material from a former metals plant, officials said Tuesday.

The federal agency told state and local officials it will retest the soil beneath Burnt Mill Pond, a 17-acre site on the north side Vineland, and in Hudson Branch, a creek that feeds the pond, in response to fears that the pond contains chromium and heavy metals from the former Shieldalloy Metallurgical Corp. which operated nearby for more than 50 years until 2006.

The testing was sought by officials in Vineland who worry that residue from the metals plant is contaminating the pond and endangering the health of recreational users such as boaters, anglers, and swimmers.

City officials have questioned the EPA’s earlier assertion that the pond’s soil and water posed no threat to human health or to the pond’s ecology, and said the agency’s previous tests on the surface water and sediment – as part of its cleanup of the Shieldalloy site -- didn’t do enough to determine whether there was a health threat.

The earlier tests for contaminants didn’t meet EPA standards that could have triggered a cleanup but the agency has now agreed to take a closer look at soil beneath the pond by digging deeper than in previous tests.

“They are willing to go in and retest it,” said Paul Spinelli, a member of Vineland City Council.

The new agreement came at a meeting between Vineland officials including Mayor Ruben Bermudez and officials from the EPA’s Region 2 in Edison on Tuesday. Also at the meeting were representatives of U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez; U.S. Rep. Frank Lobiondo, and Vineland’s state senator, Jeff Van Drew.

Spinelli described the EPA’s decision as a “positive outcome,” adding that the city has decided not to pursue legal action for now.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted but we are moving in the right direction,” he said.

At the meeting, which was held at the city’s request, local officials expressed concern about cases of cancer and auto-immune diseases that have been reported by some residents living near the Shieldalloy site, which is in the neighboring borough of Newfield.

Michael Sivak, a section chief in the EPA’s Region 2 Superfund Program, said there would be no change in the agency’s plan to remediate the Shieldalloy site but confirmed that it will do more testing on the pond.

Any public exposure to the pond and the creek would be from recreational use and not from drinking water, which comes from a municipal supply, Sivak said.

Vineland’s drinking water is drawn from the Cohansey Aquifer and is treated before being pumped into the municipal system. There is no concern about its quality after treatment, Spinelli said.

He said EPA officials will alert the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health, which investigates how public health is affected by hazardous substances in the environment. In another South Jersey town, Paulsboro, the ATSDR has been looking into contamination by PFCs, a toxic class of chemicals.

Last September, the EPA finalized its plan to clean up soil, sediment, and surface water at the 67-acre Shieldalloy site, at a cost of $5.3 million, saying that the hexavalent chromium and heavy metals found there can have serious health impacts including cancer and nervous system damage.

EPA noted at the time that private wells are not used for drinking water, and that residents are connected to the municipal supply that provides a “safe source of drinking water.”

Jon Hurdle is a freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia.

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