For N.J., long-overdue request to make Hackensack River a Superfund site

Shawn LaTourette, the commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, said the connections are not hard to see.

New Jersey was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, but the result was more than just invention and innovation — it was pollution, which still exists today.

More specifically, the 23 miles of the Hackensack River — stretching from the Oradell Dam in Bergen County to the mouth of the river in Newark in Hudson County — are surrounded by nine Superfund sites. So, it only makes sense that many of the containments of those sites are found in the river.

Previous EPA studies have found elevated levels of cancer-causing dioxin, cadmium, lead, mercury and PCBs in sediment sampled from that part of the river.

It’s why, on Friday, the state nominated the lower Hackensack River to be listed on the national priorities list. If this request is accepted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — and LaTourette said he has every expectation that it will — the lower Hackensack River will become a federal Superfund site.

“Through the innovation and ingenuity of New Jerseyans past, we created the incandescent light bulb and harnessed the power of water to drive industry and so much more,” he said. “But that important and worthwhile industrial legacy also leaves behind environmental impacts that we must still reckon with today.

“Because of industry of the past, and some present, the Hackensack River is polluted with contaminants, including mercury and PCBs and other toxic and hazardous substances. The lower portion of the Hackensack River … needs our attention and our help.”

Becoming a Superfund site would enable the state to seek cleanup payments from probable polluters, essentially any company along the banks that knowingly — or unknowingly —polluted the river.

“Designating the lower Hackensack River as a federal Superfund site will provide the tools we need to remove decades of contamination that have polluted river sediments and restore the natural resources that have been impaired for far too long,” LaTourette said.

The request typically takes approximately a year to process.