2005 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 4 Jan 2005 23:01:15 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Newark Bay (NJ) dredging and dioxin/Agent Orange
Natural Resources Defense Council
January 4, 2005


Lawsuit Planned to Stop Unsafe Dredging, Blasting of Superfund Sediments 

NEWARK, NJ (January 4, 2005) -- A 10-year, multibillion-dollar dredging
project to open New York Harbor and Newark Bay to larger ships is on a
collision course with an underwater Superfund site thanks to reckless
management by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Port Authority,
according to groups concerned about the resulting health and
environmental impacts. 

Despite more than a year of warnings about the risk of dioxin and other
contamination, the government agencies are scheduled to begin blasting
and dredging of port channels that cut through the Superfund site,
without adequate safeguards to prevent contamination from spreading. As
currently designed, the project will re-release dioxin left over from
Agent Orange production during the Vietnam War, and other dangerous
chemicals, into local waterways and the broader regional environment.

To prevent this from happening, a coalition of groups including NRDC
(Natural Resources Defense Council), New York/New Jersey Baykeeper, and
GreenFaith today delivered notice of their intent to sue the agencies
for violating the federal Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) and
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The groups are represented by
NRDC and the Rutgers Law School Environmental Law Clinic. The suit aims
to force the agencies to develop a safe plan for removing the
contaminated sediments before proceeding with the massive underwater dig.

"It's like dropping depth charges into one of the biggest toxic waste
dumps on the East Coast with no thought at all about the consequences,"
said NRDC attorney Brad Sewell. "This has the potential to be a win-win
situation. Hazardous material must eventually be removed from the Bay
anyhow. But without safeguards they are going to wind up spreading toxic
contamination into important recreational and commercial waterways."

At issue is the Diamond Alkali Superfund site that includes Newark Bay
and portions of the adjacent Kill van Kull and Arthur Kill, where
contaminants settled after flowing down the Passaic River from a
chemical plant in Newark. The Corps and Port Authority plan years of
dredging to deepen and widen the shipping channels, which will release
dioxin-laced sediment into the water current. Underwater explosives will
also be used to remove rock adjacent to contaminated sediments. Work
could start as early as this winter.

"Dioxin is among the world's most toxic substances; it causes cancer and
has no safe level of exposure. While the Corps' own policies require it
to re-evaluate civil works projects when a Superfund site is declared
within project boundaries, the Corps has yet to do so," said New
York/New Jersey Baykeeper Andrew Willner. "The Corps' actions are
dangerous and unnecessary--it simply hasn't done its homework to figure
out a safer way to dredge." 

Scientists have called Newark Bay one of the world's worst
dioxin-contaminated sites, with layers of polluted sediment contributing
to dangerous levels in blue crabs, fish, and fish-eating birds.
Additionally, research indicates high dioxin levels in certain marine
fish species that travel, and are caught by anglers, within the broader
Hudson-Raritan (New York-New Jersey Harbor) Estuary complex. The New
Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has banned crabbing in and
around Newark Bay, and recommends strict limits on consumption of many
types of fish caught in the area. 

In November 2003, NRDC, Baykeeper, and Hackensack Riverkeeper announced
plans to sue Occidental Chemical Corp., the company responsible for the
defunct Agent Orange plant, to force a cleanup of Newark Bay. At the
last minute, after years of foot-dragging, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency recognized the Bay and adjacent waters as part of the
Superfund site, reaching agreement with Occidental to devise a cleanup
plan. But the existing dredging plan threatens to undermine this effort
before it gets off the ground because it interferes with the study,
containment, and remediation of the risks from these contaminants. 

By scattering the pollution from the site, the agencies could wind up
shifting the cost of clean-up on to the American taxpayers, instead of
the polluting companies now responsible for fixing the mess, according
to NRDC legal experts.

"Many local residents rely on the Bay's crabs and fish to help feed
their families--their catch looks healthy, but it's toxic," said Rev.
Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, a New Jersey
interfaith group. "We have a moral responsibility to be good stewards of
our shared environment and health. The government has done so much to
make sure dredging in the Hudson River Superfund site doesn't stir up
the poisons there, and Newark Bay deserves the same protection." 

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit
organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists
dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in
1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and e-activists nationwide,
served from offices in New York, Washington, Santa Monica and San Francisco.

NY/NJ Baykeeper is a subsidiary of the American Littoral Society. The
mission of the NY/NJ Baykeeper is to protect, preserve and restore the
ecological integrity and productivity of the Hudson/Raritan Estuary, its
tributaries and watershed. As the citizen conservation advocate for the
Estuary's waterways and shores, Baykeeper stops polluters, champions
public access, and influences land use decisions. Baykeeper pursues
opportunities for land preservation and habitat restoration and helps
advance the Estuary's environmental and biological importance as well as
its value as a recreational and cultural resource.

GreenFaith is an interfaith environmental coalition that seeks to
educate, advocate and mobilize the New Jersey faith community on behalf
of environmental stewardship and justice. Founded in 1992, GreenFaith's
membership consists of a broad base of individuals and organizations
throughout New Jersey, of diverse spiritual and cultural traditions,
united in their concern for the environment and environmental justice.

Since 1985, the Rutgers Law School Environmental Law Clinic has defended
and defined environmental rights in New Jersey through its
representation of environmental and citizens groups that seek redress
under the environmental laws and challenge governmental actions that
threaten to harm the environment. 

For the original press release, go to


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918
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