The Keystone Committee meeting was supposed to have provided residents with a definitive answer to how far the contamination had spread and how much danger residents might be in as a result. The contamination was first found flowing off the site of the former Keystone Metal Finishers plant at Humboldt Street and Raydol Avenue in 1996. But because bad weather delayed many of the most recent tests, the final answers to how far the contamination has spread may not be available until May or June, when the town is scheduled to begin cleanup operations.
Chemical by-products from operations - known to cause cancer - were discovered in the underground water table under residential homes in the area. Tests that were done to help comfort residents about the safety of water and air in their basements seemed to have the opposite effect, as sump pumps for two of the town's most outspoken critics showed low levels of contamination. Sump pumps remove rainwater from basements of homes, providing the most likely point of contact for residents with the cancer causing chemicals.
While members of PMK Group, the firm charged with testing and the cleanup of contamination, said the test results could have been caused by numerous factors, these officials could not make the residents feel safe - even though the results were far below acceptable levels set by the state.
Peter Link and Dawn McAdam challenged the Keystone Cleanup Committee to provide proof that the site is not a danger, by doing health assessments on residents in the area.
Mayor Dennis Elwell, who chaired the meeting, said the test results would be passed along to the health operations arm of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, at which time the town would take guidance as to the next step.
PMK officials again assured residents that the contamination they discovered flowing under the homes in the area posed little or no risk to people living in them, although McAdam and Link were critical of some aspects of the tests.
Where are those missing wells?
Tests designed to determine the exact location of the contamination plume were hampered by weather, although preliminary results showed a shift in direction of the spread. Instead of spreading northwest towards First Street, the contamination - carried by underground water - may instead be headed towards Centre Avenue.
PMK staff members said they would be looking at a pipeline running along the rear of some back yards to see if this could be serving as a conduit for the spread.
Irrigation wells on and off the Keystone property have become another source of contention between residents and town officials. PMK staff members said they were not able to locate two of the three wells once listed on the property, despite the use of some of the most sophisticated equipment. Remains of the foundation to the building and other underground obstacles have caused numerous problems.
Barbara Napierski, a resident living across the from the site and whose house is located within the spreading contamination plume, feared the unfound wells could be a way for contamination to bubble to the surface, and she said she feared underground water would end up in her basement during flooding.
McAdam complained about lack of security on the Keystone site and produced photographs that showed all of the test boring sites were unlocked, providing for another possible source of contamination.
In what may have been a sign of exasperation with the continual complaints, Mayor Elwell asked if the residents wanted the town to fence off the property. Most of the residents said yes.
Residents also had questions about off-site wells and why some wells had not yet been sealed. Town officials said they were in the process of getting permission access the wells for testing, and then would have them sealed.
Cleanup start planned for May or June
Mayor Elwell said the town would likely begin injecting a cleanup compound into the ground in May or June as part of the first phase of cleanup. A test injection done last year showed the chemical HRC had significantly reduced the contamination in the small area treated. The proposed injections would be done in a grid pattern that officials hoped would clean up the contamination under all the homes in the plume. The project would be done in two phases with 15,000 pounds of chemicals injected into the five square block section on the first round, and 5,000 pounds in the second phase. The estimate for total cleanup is between two and five years.
Link pressed PMK for cost estimates, claiming the town could get a better price on the chemicals. The town proposed to bond $750,000 for the cleanup. $400,000 is to be used to pay for the chemical compound.
When interviewed later, Elwell said this was the largest purchase of HRC ever made, and the town got a bargain on the cost because HRC manufacturers see Secaucus a test case for the chemical as the largest cleanup project using HRC to date.
Does the area need a health assessment?
Kim Jones, a former resident who moved out of the area within the last three months, said her son was being tested for possible learning disabilities and will have a CAT scan on the brain. She said other residents have reported children with learning disabilities and pressed the mayor to authorize a health assessment.
Mayor Elwell said the town is in the process of doing that, and said the air and water tests were the first step towards determining if a health assessment is needed. That information, he said, would be turned over to the EPA to determine if health assessments are needed.
"If the state or the federal government tells us we need to do a health assessment, we'll do a health assessment," Elwell said.