Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dioxin levels in Lyndhurst park aren't seen as threat

LYNDHURST — Superstorm Sandy flushed toxic material including dioxin, mercury and PCBs into Riverside County Park from the Passaic River, but not at high enough levels to be considered a public health threat, federal officials said on Tuesday.
The levels of contamination are similar to those found in the park after the river overflowed its banks during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Federal officials hope the scheduled cleanup this summer of highly contaminated mud flats next to the park will prevent any contamination from flowing into Riverside, a popular destination with ballfields, tennis courts, a playground and walking trails just south of Route 3.
The Passaic River, long considered one of the most polluted waterways in the nation, is a federal Superfund site for 17 miles, from the Dundee Dam that spans Garfield and Clifton to Newark Bay.
For decades, the only large amount of dioxin found in the river was next to the former Diamond Alkali plant in Newark, where the infamous Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange was manufactured and dioxin was discharged.
But in late 2011, dioxin, a highly toxic industrial chemical that is known to cause cancer, was discovered in mud flats next to the park where the Passaic River bends. Tests revealed dioxin levels as high as 21,000 parts per trillion, the highest ever recorded at the surface of the Passaic's riverbed. High levels of mercury and PCBs were also found in the mud flats.
Contractors took soil samples from Riverside in late February, three months after the tidal surge from Sandy inundated the park. Scientists evaluated risk scenarios including a young child's exposure, an adolescent's exposure and an adult outdoor worker's exposure over time.
The EPA concluded that the amounts of dioxin, mercury and PCBs in the park's soil were "well below levels of concern" and did not require a cleanup.
The agency also tested soil from a non-contiguous portion of Riverside County Park about a mile south in North Arlington and found similar results.
The $20 million cleanup will remove the first 2 feet of contaminated sediment from the 5.6-acre mud flat beginning July 1. The mud will be shipped on barges to a processing facility downriver, then disposed of in a yet-to-be-determined landfill.

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