At one time, the sprawling 1,455-acre DuPont Chambers Work facility was the largest commercial wastewater treatment plant in North America, dumping as much as 40 million gallons daily into the Delaware River.
The business was largely phased out six years ago, a victim of industry trends to minimize waste and other factors. But the facility, now operated by a spinoff company, could experience a bit of economic revival under a bill on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.
The legislation, overwhelmingly approved by both houses last week, has significant implications for Chemours, which now operates the site. If signed by the governor, the company would avert a much more rigorous review from environmental regulators to allow the plant to renew commercial operations, according to critics.
“This bill will put more pollution into the Delaware because it creates a loophole that redefines a hazardous waste facility, allowing them to dump toxic chemicals,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. The bill would allow the facility to bring in more and different hazardous waste to be treated at the plant, he said.
But backers of the bill, including Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a sponsor, argue the facility would provide a valuable function by ensuring safe handling of hazardous waste. “It has a history of safety; it has a history of compliance,’’ he told a legislative committee that heard the bill earlier this year.
The facility’s treatment plant currently discharges waste from onsite into the river, but the bill would allow it to resume accepting waste from other businesses offsite, a red flag to environmentalists who fear that could include waste from natural-gas fracking operations in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
“If this bill is signed, it could allow comingled fracking waste to be dumped in the river,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “That’s a disaster in the making for the ecology of the estuary.’’
Jeff Fritz, state government affairs director for Chemours, downplayed the concerns raised by critics in a legislative hearing in February. He said the company would still need to obtain a modified permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which would set the standards for discharges into the river.
Murphy is on record as opposing fracking within the Delaware River Basin. At a press conference in February, the governor said he is against dumping of fracking waste within the basin, as well as water withdrawals within the watershed to support fracking outside the region.