Pfizer Superfund site breached by floodwaters

Pfizer Superfund site breached by floodwaters

September 6th, 2011 // 12:40 pm @

The chemical lagoons at the American Cyanamid Superfund site were breached by hurricane floodwaters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported.

The lagoons have been seeping carcinogenic benzene 20,000 times regulatory levels all year into the Raritan River, according to the EPA, which has collected samples of floodwaters from the 400-acre site. Results should be known soon, spokesman Elias Rodriguez said.

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The site is owned by Wyeth, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Environmentalists have been calling on Pfizer to work more diligently to clean up the site, especially now that those floodwaters might have contaminated the township and neighboring Bound Brook, an environmentalist said.

According to federal regulations, the EPA cannot take over the cleanup of the site as long as Pfizer continues to cooperate with it, however slowly environmentalists think that might be.

“We will continue to work with USEPA to assess the site,” Chambers said.

The EPA also will study a tarlike material found on top of the chemical lagoons, Rodriguez said. The material was released from the toxic impoundments the lagoons were meant to protect from flooding, Spiegel said.

The impoundments retained the waste materials as designed, Chambers said.

A cleanup crew is collecting the tarlike material and preparing it for proper disposal at an offsite hazardous waste facility, Rodriguez said. EPA and Pfizer jointly inspected the chemical lagoons and the surrounding area and did not find any tarlike material beyond the lagoons, he said.

Once the floodwaters fully recede and electrical power is safely restored, Pfizer will resume pumping and treating contaminated groundwater beneath the site, which is part of the ongoing site cleanup, Rodriguez said.

The chemical lagoons around the impoundments’ fences need repairs, he said.

According to the EPA, the lagoons were built in the 1930s as a means of flood protection by chemical manufacturer American Cyanamid, the original owner of the site. In 1994, Wyeth purchased American Cyanamid and assumed responsibility of the cleanup. Wyeth and Pfizer merged in 2009.

In July, the EPA ordered Pfizer to contain the benzene leak, which the company has said it is in the process of doing.

“USEPA must act immediately and take over this investigation and clean up in order to protect the families of Central Jersey,” said Robert Spiegel, executive director of Edison Wetlands Association, the environmental organization that discovered the lagoons’ benzene leak.

“Pfizer will continue to drag their feet, and USEPA must not waste any time. They must not continue to deny the immediate public health threat and exposure from these toxic lagoons.”

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of Sierra Club, agreed.

“The EPA, instead of taking samples, should be taking remedial action to clean up this toxic mess,” Tittel said. “Pollution from this site has impacted the river in the past and is doing it again. We need action, not studies, to protect us from this pollution at this site. EPA fiddles, while American Cyanamid leaks.”

During the remnants of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, toxic chemicals from the site flooded into Bound Brook but washed out to sea, authorities have said.

Pfizer spokesman Rick Chambers said the company is moving with remediation of the site as quickly as possible.

“Everyone involved, including Pfizer, USEPA, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, CRISIS and community leaders, are committed to returning the site to reuse in a manner that benefits the environment and the community,” Chambers said. “The berms around the impoundments held up in the flood, as they were designed to do.”

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