One of the nation’s largest chemical companies will pay $165 million to design the cleanup plan for the lower Passaic River under an agreement reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, officials announced Wednesday.
The settlement with Occidental Chemical Corp. of Houston was hailed as a “milestone” by EPA officials. But the agency still has to come up with more than $1 billion to fund the massive dredge-and-cap project that is at least four years away from beginning and a decade away from completion.
EPA officials said they will soon begin negotiating financial settlements with more than 100 companies and public entities that either polluted the waterway or inherited the liability of past polluters. If the companies balk, the EPA will issue an order compelling them to fund the project.
“They are going to be paying these costs sooner or later,” EPA regional Administrator Judith Enck said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
The $1.38 billion project announced in March would remove enough sediment laced with cancer-causing dioxin, PCBs, mercury and other industrial pollution to fill Red Bull Stadium three times.
Those 3.8 million cubic yards would be dredged for eight miles from Newark Bay to Belleville, the worst stretch of pollution in the river’s lower 17 miles. Contaminated sediment would be taken to an out of state landfill.
When the work is done, more than half of the pollution in the river — about 6 million cubic yards of contamination ¬— will remain in the Passaic, covered with sand and other materials. The New Jersey Sierra Club has said the cap will likely degrade quickly due to the strong tidal currents in the Passaic. EPA officials stand by the plan and the long timeline until completion.
“We’re dealing with a century of pollution,” Enck said. “We need a decade to get it cleaned up.”