Engineers have started preliminary work on an environmental clean-up project scheduled to break ground in the fall at the Metropolis Towers development. The 15-month project will remove some 26,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris that was used as construction fill when the residential development was built in the 1960s.
This land remediation is part of a lawsuit settlement between the state of New Jersey and three companies that once operated chromium ore processing plants in Hudson County. Soil from these plants containing a cancer-causing byproduct was used as fill at Metropolis Towers and dozens of other construction sites throughout Jersey City.
Last week residents of Metropolis Towers and the surrounding community learned about remediation plans for the development and were given an opportunity to ask representatives of the Chromium Cleanup Partnership questions regarding the project.
‘This work is not just important to current residents but also for the future.’ – Tom Cozzi
“My question is, why are we doing this,” asked Ernst Ginzburg, who also lives downtown close to the towers. “This has been covered for 50 years. No sick people have been reported in the towers or around them. It’s like requesting surgery [you don’t need].”
“The simple answer is, we have laws that have been passed in New Jersey that require responsible parties to address contamination,” responded Tom Cozzi, the assistant director of site remediation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). He added that one such law specifically regulates chromium and states that, in residential areas, high levels of chromium cannot be present less than 20 feet below surface level.
“This work is not just important to current residents but also for the future,” Cozzi said. “Often times we hear people want to do some sort of renovations to their property and it’s not fair to the people at Metropolis Towers to be limited by what they can do. If clean material is put in, and the residents want to do something, as far as the DEP is concerned, they should be able to do that.”
In the early 1900s, Hudson County was known as the chromium ore processing capital, thanks to three large processing plants based here.
For nearly six decades, the Mutual Chemical Company, which was later taken over by Honeywell, ran a chromium production plant on Jersey City’s West Side Avenue. Elsewhere, PPG ran another chromium chemical plant on Garfield Avenue for nearly 40 years. The Occidental Chemical Corp. ran a third similar facility in Kearny.
Since then, hexavalent chromium, a byproduct of chromium production, has been linked to cancer and other diseases.
According to representatives with the Chromium Cleanup Partnership, chromium-contaminated soil from these facilities was routinely used as construction fill at development sites throughout Hudson County, including what is now known as Metropolis Towers.
A two-tower co-op near Columbus Drive, Marin Boulevard, and Montgomery Street, Metropolis Towers was originally a three-building development known as the Gregory Apartments. The Gregory Apartments were built in the 1960s when it was still commonplace for construction fill to come from the old chromium ore plants.
One of the development’s original structures, known as “the mall,” was torn down in 2006. Much of the construction fill that was used at the development was located under the mall, which was situated between the two towers that currently remain. This is the area where most of the land remediation will take place this fall.
Much of the area that will be remediated is currently used for residential parking.
“The important thing about cleaning up these sites is that the contamination that has existed here for many, many years is finally being cleaned up. This is about improving public health and addressing the legacy of this area,” said Mike McCabe the court-appointed site administrator who is supervising chromium remediation work in Jersey City.
Cleanup stems from lawsuit
After the chromium plants closed, huge swaths of land throughout Jersey City were found to be contaminated with the material. Sites that had already been developed had to be remediated while other sites were considered too dangerous to develop because of their exposure to hexavalent chromium.
New Jersey reached a settlement with Honeywell International, PPG Industries Inc., and Occidental Chemical Corp. to reimburse the state for cleanup costs associated with dozens of chromium-contaminated sites, including sites in Jersey City. The settlement stems from a 2005 lawsuit the state filed in Hudson County Superior Court against Honeywell International, PPG Industries Inc., and Occidental Chemical Corp.
The state lawsuit alleged that after the three companies folded their plants, New Jersey taxpayers were left paying millions of dollars for land remediation and ongoing monitoring of these sites. Under the settlement, the three companies have agreed to reimburse the state $5 million each and help cleanup sites like Metropolis Towers which their industry contaminated, either directly or indirectly.
Disruption, health concerns?
According to McCabe, land remediation will begin late this fall, most likely in October or November.
Approximately 26,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris will be removed and replaced with clean soil, a process that will involve digging up about 17 feet of earth. The blacktop that currently covers the contaminated land will also be removed and replaced.
Metropolis Towers residents who attended last week’s meeting primarily expressed concerns about noise and other disturbance during the 15-month project, although a few also asked whether the remediation will pose any health risks.
Cleanup at the site will be done in three phases which will allow the development to retain 80 percent of its current parking spaces at all times. The Chromium Cleanup Partnership is working with building management to find additional parking offsite to make up for spaces temporarily affected by the remediation work.
Once remediation work begins in earnest, crews will be working weekdays beginning at 8:30 a.m.
“I want to know how much noise will there be when this gets underway,” asked one resident who did not give her name.
“There will be noise,” responded Mark Terril, director of environmental affairs at PPG Industries Inc. “It will be inherently noisy.”
The excavation portion of the project will continue for about 10 months.
For more information regarding the Chromium Cleanup Partnership and plans for Metropolis Towers, visit www.chromiumcleanup.com or call (201) 777-2099.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.