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Officials: New testing proves leak at Ciba site

Company denies link to pollution

Jun 23, 2006 | Asbury Park Press

Groundwater testing conducted at the former Ciba-Geigy Corp. Superfund site shows a lined landfill on the property is leaking, presenting a "substantial environmental health hazard," township officials said Thursday.

Mayor Paul C. Brush and Council President Gregory P. McGuckin contend that the test results will bolster Dover's efforts to force Ciba to remove more than 35,000 drums from the lined landfill.

"We've contended all along that there is a problem with Cell 1 out there," Brush said, referring to a lined landfill on the land now owned by Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp. "Our two scientists have taken tests, and the tests confirm what we've said all along."

McGuckin said Ciba's contention that groundwater pollution in the area cannot be linked to the landfill is not viable.

"They admit there is a plume of contamination, and that plume just happens to be under, around and next to Cell 1. But it's not coming from Cell 1, according to Ciba," McGuckin said. "I say, "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck.' "

Carcinogens found

McGuckin and Brush, along with the rest of the Township Council, received a closed-session presentation Tuesday on the experts' findings. They said Thursday that the testing showed that several hazardous materials, including known carcinogens, were found in the water samples, which they plan to turn over to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

In their joint statement, McGuckin and Brush stressed that the contaminants they contend are leaking from Cell 1 do not appear to jeopardize the public water supply. They expressed concern, however, that the pollutants could pose a risk to irrigation wells in the neighborhood.

Ciba Specialty Chemicals spokeswoman Donna M. Jakubowski said the township still cannot prove that the pollutants come from the landfill.

"The existence of contaminants is not proof that the landfill is leaking," Jakubowski said. "We know that there is groundwater contamination at the site. That is why we have the pump-and-treat system."

Jakubowski was referring to the massive groundwater cleanup that is ongoing at the Ciba site, which includes pumping more than 2 million gallons of water from the ground each day, treating it to remove pollutants, and then depositing the water on the site's northeast corner.

Past problems

The pollution is the result of Ciba's former industrial-dye and resin-making operations. The 1,350-acre Ciba property has been on the federal Superfund list since 1982. All production work ceased on the site in December 1996.

Ciba is paying for the cleanup of pollution source areas on its property, and last year more than 40,000 drums were removed from an unlined landfill on the site. The drums were taken from the ground, opened to determine their contents, and then hauled off-site for disposal.

The company is also using the bioremediation process to remove contaminants from polluted soil on its property. The process relies on bacteria that already exist at the Ciba site to break down and remove pollutants.

But Ciba officials have contended for years that the lined landfill, which is thought to contain about 38,000 drums of waste, is functioning properly and should not be disturbed. Township officials contend that the landfill is leaking and will eventually present a health hazard to Dover residents.

Political squabbling

In 2003, the Township Committee, led by Mayor John F. Russo Jr., filed suit against Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp. in an effort to have the drums removed. The lawsuit was criticized by Brush, who ran against and eventually defeated Russo in a bitter election campaign.

After his election, Brush, who had initially vowed to stop the lawsuit, said that after he received more information from the township's environmental attorney, he decided the suit should continue.

A court order stemming from the lawsuit allowed the township's experts onto the Ciba property in late April to perform the groundwater sampling.

"All that we said in 2003 has now been borne out by the expert report and the testing that has just been completed by the town," Russo said Thursday. "The landfill is leaking, and that was what we contended when we filed the suit."

The landfill, which receives a monitoring permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, was never licensed to accept hazardous waste. But DEP officials have said it is clear that hazardous substances were dumped there while the landfill was operating, between 1977 and 1982.

A concerned community

Bruce Anderson, who is president of Toxic Environment Affects Children's Health, a group formed by families of children with cancer, said the groundwater testing results confirm what he has believed for almost a decade: that the lined landfill is leaking.

"I think it's very important for the community to have these drums removed to protect the children and the community as a whole," Anderson said. "These drums need to be removed because they contain highly toxic waste."

Anderson and his family have been demanding the removal of the Ciba drums for years and have occasionally picketed by the company's Oak Ridge Parkway entrance in an effort to draw attention to the issue.

Last year, then-DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell sided with the township and threatened Ciba with litigation if the drums were not removed from the landfill. Dover officials are hopeful that Campbell's successor, Lisa P. Jackson, will take a similar stance.

Campbell noted in a letter to Ciba officials that the landfill's liner was not meant to resist the corrosive effects of some of the hazardous wastes dumped there. Ciba countered that the landfill's cap and containment system was improved in the early 1990s and that Campbell was relying on outdated data.

Brush said it is time for Ciba to work with the township to remove the drums.

"They have a legal and moral obligation to our residents to clean up Cell 1," the mayor said. "They've been a corporate resident of this town for more than 50 years and they've done a lot of damage to this town."


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