BY JOE TYRRELL
Responding to criticism from outside and within the government, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has postponed its planned to dredge contaminated sediment from a portion of Pompton Lake.
The delay for further review followed calls for additional action by residents, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and environmental groups, plus recent tests suggesting the problem might be larger than the proposed dredging would resolve.
As previously presented, the dredging would remove sediment from about 26 acres of the 250-acre lake, the now submerged delta of the Acid Brook. For decades, upper reaches of the brook were a center of activity at the old DuPont munitions plant on higher ground at the north end of town.
At a January public hearing at Pompton Lakes High School, many speakers faulted the dredging as insufficient, and challenged the slow pace of work by the company and environmental agencies to clean up the area.
Earlier this month, the EPA disclosed that testing found elevated levels of lead, mercury and the solvent tetrachloroethylene in the brook, believed to have been cleaned up years ago. Other studies showed "migration" of some of the lake sediment, said agency spokeswoman Bonnie Bellow.
In a letter to EPA Regional Director Judith Enck, a forestry service official endorsed the dredging, but only as a "first step" toward resolving environmental problems. Service field Supervisor J. Eric Davis Jr. wrote that the plan would "not completely address historical (pollution) releases, nor be sufficient to protect against future injury."
That position "absolutely" influenced EPA's decision to put off any dredging until next year, Bellow said. The shift in sediment also means the extent of the sludge removal area must be re-evaluated before dredging can begin, she said.
The delay reflects "a lot of hard work, sweat and tears" by residents concerned about pollution from the old plant site, said Lisa Riggiola of the grassroots group Citizens for a Concerned Pompton Lakes.
The struggle began in the late 1980s, when then-Mayor Jack Sinsimer found documents suggesting the company and the state Department of Environmental Protection were aware of some problems at the 576-acre plant site.
In recent years, Riggiola noted the residents have found allies among environmental groups including the Edison Wetlands Association and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, as well as high-profile advocates such as former Gov. Jim Florio and nationally known environmental advocate Lois Gibbs of Love Canal fame.
That lineup has not been enough to get EPA to include the site on the federal Superfund clean-up list. But the agency did agree 15 months ago to take a more active role in plans for the site, including the dredging
At the same time, the state Department of Health and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry began releasing results from an ongoing study, which so far has revealed that Pompton Lakes residents have unusually high hospitalization rates for some cancers.
Such developments have residents taking a wait-and-see attitude about the clean-up.
"Let's hope that as the project moves forward, it's done in the right way," Riggiola said.