By David Cruz
A superfund site attracted some of New Jersey’s biggest political names today, announcing progress at a site where residents have been dealing with a big and potentially deadly problem.
Residents of Garfield stood by with a mixture of skepticism and indifference as their elected officials announced that this site on Clark Street — the former E.C. Electroplating factory –- will be taken down and the site remediated.
“The announcement we’re making today is that we will be demolishing this building and making sure that contamination stays out of local homes,” announced EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “The demolition will start around Oct. 1 and will last about a month. It is a major step towards removing the threat of contamination.”
Senators Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg were on hand to call for support of the EPA, the federal agency that’s frequently the target of some Republicans who feel it’s a big bureaucracy that over regulates and under produces.
“As I listen to those in the senate who talk about eliminating the EPA, let them come to Garfield and see how long it’s taken and how important it is to clean up the mess that the unregulated manufacturing of highly toxic, poisonous chemicals has made,” said Menendez.
It was back in 1983 that a tank at the site leaked Hexavalent Chromium, a highly toxic chemical used in the electroplating process, into the ground and water table around this site. Part of the reason a full-scale cleanup has taken so long, say Garfield officials, is that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) washed its hands of the site after an initial cleanup in the late 80’s.
“Cleanup never took place here and it was not until the EPA reached out to us four or five years ago that a real effort took place, so we are thankful to the EPA,” said City Administrator Thomas Duch. “Our experience with the EPA has been very good. Our experience with the NJ DEP, not very good.”
A spokesperson at the state DEP said they were aware of today’s event but were not invited. Meanwhile, residents in the area surrounding the site say they don’t much care who dropped the ball, or who picked it up. At this point, they say they don’t trust anyone to make their neighborhood whole.
“Our homes are not really worth much,” said Bernice Riccio, who lives on nearby Lincoln Place. “As for selling my home, it could’ve been something we thought about in the future, but this [cleanup] could go on for who knows how long.”
Cristal Lopez and her mother run a small day care center just around the block from the site. She’s concerned about getting information once the remediation begins.
“I feel like they should’ve made sure that notices were going out literally to everybody here, like constantly just keeping them updated, which really wasn’t the case,” she says.”They say they did, but we didn’t get anything.”
It’s taken almost 30 years to get to this point. The EPA says once they get started working here it’ll take about a month to bring this building down. What they find underneath? That’s when the real work begins.