EPA takes step in cleaning up long-standing South Jersey Superfund site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that it has a proposal to clean up lead and arsenic at a Gibbsboro Superfund site that has long plagued the Camden County area.

Elias Rodriguez, an EPA spokesman, called it “a step forward” but said the actual cleanup could be a year away.  He said the announcement “dovetails” with the priority that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is giving the Superfund program.

Basically, the proposal will focus on one of three sites in the area contaminated by paint manufacturing. The three parcels are collectively known as the Sherwin-Williams sites.

The 13-acre tract set to be cleaned up is known as the United States Avenue Burn site and has a long history of contamination. It was used by John Lucas & Co. from the mid-1800s until 1977.  Eventually, the Sherwin-Williams Co., which operated a nearby paint-manufacturing facility, used the plot to dump, pour, or burn wastes and solvents.

The process contaminated soil, groundwater, and surface water.  Officials have been trying for decades to get it cleaned up.

“The Superfund site is the most critical environmental issue in Camden County at this time and it has taken way too long for the EPA and Sherwin-Williams to clean it up,” said Jeffrey Nash, a Camden County freeholder.  “But we are gratified that the cleanup is moving along at long last. This is a positive step, but it comes on the heels of 40 years of frustration preceding it.”

Nash noted the cleanup process is still unfolding at two other sites connected with paint manufacturing and has years to go. The additional sites are known as the Sherwin-Williams/Hilliards Creek Superfund site and the Route 561 Dump site.

For the Burn site, the EPA proposal calls for removal of 60,000 cubic yards of soil, which will be replaced with clean soil and replanted with vegetation. Contaminated soil under the United States Avenue roadway will be left in place.

The proposal also calls for excavating contaminated sediment from White Sand Branch and Honey Run Brook. Water will be taken from the sediment, cleaned, and discharged back into the waterways, which will have to be diverted temporarily.  The streams will be restored after the cleanup is complete.

A public meeting on the cleanup is scheduled for Aug. 10.  EPA officials will explain the process and take comments from the public. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the Gibbsboro Senior Center on Route 561.

Rodriguez said the EPA will take public comments for 30 to 60 days before issuing a final decision on the cleanup.  Following that, it will begin the design and negotiate with Sherwin-Williams.

“It’s just a guesstimate, but it could be maybe a year” until cleanup, he said. “But that’s not unusual for large and complex sites like this.”

To date, Sherwin-Williams has removed 8,096 cubic yards of sludge and 44,785 gallons of liquid and taken other steps to clean up soil at nearby residential properties.