NJ plans for super-polluted cancer cluster site in Toms River
There is a new future in the works for the infamous and hazardous Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site in the township of Toms River. But there's still much to be worked out and residents will have an opportunity to speak their mind as well on the site plans.
A settlement was reached between the BASF Corporation — which acquired and took the responsibility of the site (located in the area of 277 Oak Ridge Parkway) from the Ciba-Geigy Chemical Corp. in 2010, including for remediation work — and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"This property is still a deep wound in Toms River both emotionally and environmentally. There's been damage done, extensive damage done to Toms River," Mayor Maurice "Mo" Hill said Tuesday after the settlement was announced. "We have people who've been affected by the cancer cluster — it's a sensitive area, a sensitive property, and a sensitive issue."
What was Ciba-Geigy?
Ciba-Geigy opened a chemical plant in 1952 and until 1990 when the plant ceased operations, they manufactured industrial dyes, pigments, resins, epoxy additives, and plastics, according to the NJ-DEP and EPA, which in 1983 put CG on the National Priorities List after learning there was improper chemical waste disposal causing serious environmental and health illnesses and concerns to the Toms River community and beyond in Ocean County.
Cleanup has been going on since the 1990s at this Superfund site in Toms River
The contaminated residential irrigation wells could no longer do any damage by leaking out anything by 1991, according to the EPA, and a more thorough treatment of the contaminated groundwater picked up in 1996 and ever since, there have been about 17 billion gallons of contaminated water cleaned up with those efforts, including testing continuing today.
A new future is being discussed for the Ciba-Geigy site in Toms River
The BASF and DEP settlement includes a proposal to restore natural resources damaged by industrial pollution and illegal dumping at the site, and permanently preserve 1,000 acres for the public to use by adding access, recreation activities and educational opportunities.
To go along with that, there is a proposed DEP ecological restoration that "would include the creation of a freshwater wetlands complex, restoration of riparian areas, flood plain and wetland enhancements, creation of upland grasslands and pollinator habitat, public access trails and boardwalks for wildlife viewing and passive recreation."
Another part of the proposal is to use about 790 acres for open space and include projects such as an ecological uplift, habitat enhancement, and public access that will allow access for hiking trails, birdwatching platforms and blinds. Another 210 acres will be used for pollinator habitat and solar energy production.
It'll be a five-year process after the project is predicted to break ground in the spring of 2023 but there will be parts opened up in phases over time.
Public comments are being sought for Ciba-Geigy site in Toms River
You can contribute your feedback and comments over the next 30 days on the DEP webpage.
“Every natural resource of our state belongs directly to the people of New Jersey, and as the trustee of their natural resources, it is our job to make sure that when pollution damages our environment, the people are paid back for the harm to their natural resources,” DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said in a written statement.
“A true turnaround story, this settlement would transform one of New Jersey’s most notorious polluted sites into one of our biggest environmental success stories—one that delivers the natural resource quality that every community deserves, shoulder-to-shoulder with a good corporate citizen determined to repair the environmental damage of our shared industrial past. My sincere thanks to BASF and every partner that contributed to this success for the people of New Jersey.”
Toms River mayor responds to DEP proposed plans for Ciba-Geigy Superfund site
Upon learning of the settlement on Tuesday that did not include any local input, Toms River Mayor Maurice "Mo" Hill issued a statement of his own encouraging residents to fill out the survey.
Hill said that they do welcome "the 1,000 acres that the DEP is going to put aside for an environmental park and an environmental center," however, they have a couple of requests to address lingering concerns.
One is to have the proposed environmental center include an exhibit that documents "the extensive damage done to the environment by Ciba and the history of it, so that it's memorialized," Hill said.
Another is to have BASF fund to compensate the cancer victims.
"We'd also to request that the DEP require BASF to deed the 250 acres that they're going to leave as developmental land to the township of Toms River for the damages incurred to the environment in Toms River and to the residents. We would like it deeded as open space to Toms River and not developed. We'd like to see the whole site preserved as open space, not just the 1,000 acres and then 250 acres for development."
Hill says this would make it the largest single open space area in town and wants it undeveloped.
Above all, there are 30-plus years of emotions resting on this sensitive topic for health reasons and residential concerns alone, and Hill explains that comes first.
"Toms River was aggrieved by the environmental damage and by the damage and pain and suffering of the citizens with the cancer cluster and everything else," Hill said. "We think it should be left as open space in putridity for Toms River and it shouldn't be developed."
Full statement by Mayor Hill
“Preserving 1000 of open space is great news for the residents of Toms River who are all concerned by the impact of overdevelopment on the quality of life in our community.
So long as the pollution has been successfully remediated, making the site safe for public access, the proposed nature preserve, park, trails, a boardwalk, and environmental center would be would be a great enhancement for our residents and a potential boom to our tourism industry.
However, I have three requests of NJDEP and BASF that will be formally made during the public comment period and in letters to Governor Murphy and New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette:
- Given the devastation that Ciba-Geigy’s cancer cluster wreaked on Toms River families, the proposed environmental center should be required to include an exhibit that comprehensively documents the damage the pollution caused to our environment, the health of our residents, and the negative economic impact on our community. A committee of academics, environmentalists and Toms River residents should be appointed to create and maintain the exhibit. The exhibit should be generously funded by BASF.
- The remaining 255 acres of the site, or a significant portion thereof, should be deeded to Toms River Township for perpetual preservation, so long as BASF remains responsible for the cost of ongoing remediation.
- A fund to compensate the victims of the cancer cluster should be set up by BASF and administered by a trustee appointed by the Township.
I urge all Toms River residents to support these proposals, and to make their own comments during the 30 day comment period."