For the last 40 years, 85 acres of cyanide contaminated sludge in six huge lagoons have been situated adjacent to the Rahway River in Carteret. The sludge and the materials used to build the lagoons contain a variety of other contaminants, including heavy metals and semi-volatile organics, above established residential and non-residential standards. The contamination came from a bygone era when environmental regulations were lax or non-existent and industry filled low-lying areas considered to have little or no value.
Laws and regulations have thankfully been tightened since the 1970s, but Carteret was left with 2 million tons of sludge in these open pits. Data from the 1980s estimated 100 pounds of cyanide were being released into the groundwater and River every day, while year after year the berms holding the material back deteriorated. Little has been done to change this, despite the ongoing efforts of local officials and community leaders who persistently sought a solution that would address the environmental and geotechnical issues at the site.
This has now changed. The site is being remediated. There is absolutely nothing glamorous about this or any other remediation project. Like any other construction project of this nature, it requires heavy earth moving equipment and materials handling. The pollution – it this case the contaminants within a viscous sludge – is dirty, difficult to handle, and needs to be dealt with carefully by experienced professionals. The landowner assembled and contracted with just such professionals, and together they have worked with local, county and state authorities for the past 5 years to obtain the necessary permits to successfully undertake and complete the project.
The 125 acre property is becoming the temporary home to a DEP regulated soil recycling facility that will cap the site with engineered fill over a five-year period. This project will control the sludge pits through modern-day environmental regulation and finally cut off the tons of cyanide and other harmful materials seeping into the River each year.
The project, which received approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection and has the enthusiastic support of municipal and county officials, calls for the preservation and enhancement of 40 acres of wetlands, while creating 50 to 60 acres of new natural habitat where today dangerous sludge lies exposed to humans, wildlife and the elements. Moreover, as the project-specific Class B Recycling facility will be used to produce the engineered product needed to remediate the site, millions of dollars will be generated from the recycling revenues for other recreational and environmental improvements in Carteret.