The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is testing New Jersey’s Riverside County Park for PCBs and dioxins following potential flooding contamination resulting from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
High levels of both dangerous chemicals were found in the river next to the park, said NorthJersey.com. The EPA will determine if flooding from the storms dumped tainted mud from the Passaic River into the park, known for its ball fields, walking trails, and playgrounds. “We don’t have cause for immediate alarm, but it is a concern,” EPA spokesman David Kluesner told NorthJersey.com.
According to NorthJersey.com, this is the first time such high levels of dioxin were found in the area, which is near Newark’s Diamond Alkali Superfund site. The former Diamond Shamrock plant, from 1952 to 1969, manufactured the defoliant Agent Orange, dumping its byproduct, dioxin, in the river. The carcinogen is considered the most toxic industrial chemical and is found in Passaic River fish and crabs in levels that are among the highest worldwide, said NorthJersey.com.
Levels are being validated by the EPA and cannot yet be released, said Kluesner . “At this point, we don’t know where it came from,” Kluesner said of the dioxin, but noted that the Passaic River is tidal and the chemical could have come upriver from the Diamond Alkali plant, wrote NorthJersey.com. Due to the factories and sewage pipes along the river and known runoff, the toxin’s origin remains under investigation. Lyndhurst Mayor Richard DiLascio has also asked a chemical engineering firm to test the township’s parkland and ball fields near the river, said New Jersey.com.
The Passaic River, considered one of the most polluted waterways in the United States, is a Superfund site that served as home for a number of textile mills and factories in the decades prior to the Industrial Revolution, noted NorthJersey.com. The public has long been warned against eating fish and shellfish from the river.
Potential contamination may have bearing on an ongoing lawsuit between New Jersey, the Occidental Chemical Corp., and Tierra Solutions, which took over liability for the Diamond Alkali site, noted NewJersey.com. Filed in 2005, the lawsuit seeks three times the cleanup costs as penalty from the firms for not responding to the pollution in a timely manner.
PCBs include some 200 compounds and are a class of very toxic chemicals ubiquitously found in construction materials and electrical products in many buildings built from the 1950s until 1978, when they were phased out. In addition to being a skin irritant, PCBs have been linked to some cancers, as well as a variety of adverse health effects to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems. PCBs also accumulate in the environment, presenting serious health issues. PCBs do not easily degrade and do bioaccumulate, infiltrating plants, crops, fish, and small organisms, ultimately reaching those who eat these products. Because of this, nearly every human being on the planet carries some PCBs in his/her body, which can be passed from mothers to children during pregnancy and in breast milk. PCBs can remain in our bodies for many years; the longer we live, the more these toxins build in our systems, increasing in strength over time.
Dioxins are also very toxic and ubiquitous compounds that are significant environmental pollutants. In the U.S., dioxins appear to be connected to antibacterial soap and can lead to reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, hormone interference, and cancer. The chemical could also be contributing to the growing and alarming issues surrounding bacterial resistance.