Engineer Christine Ballard, above, discusses sampling for toxic substances at the former landfill site. One result of the tests: new warning signs, below. (Above photo by John T. Ward; photo below by Brian Donohue. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank is on track with testing for toxic substances at its former landfill and incinerator, but the painstaking process is unlikely to yield new parkland within the next five years, the town’s engineer said Wednesday.
Meantime, one immediate upshot of tests at the 8.6-acre West Side site: new warnings about eating fish and crabs caught from the adjoining Swimming River.
Anyone who went to the presentation on the status of the proposed Sunset Park expecting to see colorful renderings of fields and playgrounds would have been disappointed.
Not that many people showed up. Elected officials and reporters outnumbered other residents for the special borough council meeting by five to one. Among the missing: Republican council candidate Sean Di Somma, who made an issue of the pace of cleanup at the site several months ago.
Instead, attendees were treated to a technical, and somewhat laborious, review of the “iterative process” used to identify what’s in the soil and water that might be dangerous, and just how dangerous it is, in the words of one consultant.
“The good news is that for most of the areas of concern, we have identified the extent of contamination,” said Rohan Tadas, an environmental consultant with T&M Associates on the project. “We’ve gotten a fairly substantive way down the path.”
Scientists have zeroed in on several “areas of concern,” including a spot along the river at the northern tip of the site, where steeply elevated levels of lead were found: some 1,900 parts per billion, compared to an acceptable standard of about 47 ppb, said ecologist Daniel Cooke. Further testing will be done to determine whether the lead is from “just a tiny little spot, or is it something that goes halfway down the river,” Cooke said.
In addition, traces of chromium, thallium and vanadium exceeded acceptable levels in the food chain of worms and shrews, he said. Further testing in that regard is also needed, he said.
The testing is necessary to determine the approach to remediating the site for public use, Ballard said. Treatment could be a simple three-foot-deep cap of clean soil, or a far more expensive layer of clay overlaid with that much clean fill, she said.
Afterward, Ballard told redbankgreen the results prompted her to have warning signs installed this week advising trespassers the site is off-limits to the public not to eat crabs and fish caught there.
“We don’t know if there’s an impact” from eating catches from the site, she said.
In response to a question by Councilwoman Cindy Burnham about rusting barrels alongside the river, Cooke said he had not seen any.
“If I see drums, I report them to the state,” he said. “I didn’t see any in the times I was down there.”
Councilman Mike DuPont pressed the consultants on whether and how soon a park might be built at the site. Within five years? he asked.
“Likely not,” Ballard said, though “five-to-ten is realistic.”
None of the testing would have taken place, Ballard noted, if the borough hadn’t resolved, in 2008, to try to convert the site – which she said is the largest undeveloped tract in town – to parkland. Until then, both the former landfill, which opened around 1930 and closed in 1984, and the incinerator were the subject of extensive testing and groundwater monitoring.
The testing phase, which is costing $700,000 has been fully paid for by the state Department of Environmental Protection, Ballard said. Funding will be sought for the next round, known as remediation, though the borough will likely have to pony up funds, she said.