Chromium cleanup begins after 11-year legal fight
Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Dump trucks loaded with chromium-contaminated soil began rumbling out of Hudson County's largest waste pit yesterday - the culmination of an 11-year legal war waged by a Jersey City nonprofit.

"I had a tear in my eye," said the Rev. Willard Ashley, co-chair of the Interfaith Community Organization, as the first dump trucks rolled out of the 36-acre Roosevelt Drive-In site off along Route 440 near Duncan Avenue. "A lot of people thought this would never happened."

In May 1995, Ashley's group sued the Honeywell Corporation to compel the chemical giant to remove roughly 1 million tons of chromium-saturated soil at the site. After years of appeals and debate over what constitutes an adequate environmental fix, a four-year cleanup effort begins.

U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh granted ICO its wish in 2003, ruling the Morris Township chemical company would have to carry out a complete excavation. To move things along, Cavanaugh also named former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli "special monitor" for the court-ordered cleanup.

As he situated himself for the next four years of his life yesterday, Honeywell's construction manager Joseph Besca explained that each of 40 trucks will remove 24 tons of soil from the site every day.

To protect the public, the soil - which is being trucked 177 miles to a facility in Northhampton, Pa. - is "burrito-wrapped" in a heavy material, Besca explained. This method eliminates the chance for particles of the known carcinogen to escape into the air, he said.

In Pennsylvania, the dirt will be loaded onto rail cars and sent to Idaho, where it will be dumped in a landfill, Besca said. The excavation began in the southeast corner of the site, which is bordered by the Hackensack River on the west and Route 440 on the east.

Even after Cavanaugh's decision in 2003, Honeywell continued to fight in court. Last October Honeywell filed a revised remediation plan, supported by attorneys and a key chromium expert who originally advised the ICO. That plan - which would have shaved $200 million off the $400 million pricetag for a full excavation - argued that half the soil could be left in place and "capped" by a protective seal.

Cavanaugh disqualified the change-of-heart attorneys and expert in January on the grounds they violated "judicial integrity."

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