Residents who venture down Humboldt Street for a noontime stroll may see a number of remarkable sights: Teens playing softball or soccer, area workers picnicking during their lunch hour, sun bathers out soaking up a few rays. This would not be remarkable except that the area was once notorious not for its afternoon recreationalists but for its pollution.
Longtime residents remember when this patch of land was home to the old Keystone Metal Finishing plant.
“I remember when my husband and I were thinking about buying our house and I kind of didn’t want to buy it because it was across the street from this ugly, shabby building – and that was before we knew about the contamination,” said Town Councilwoman Dawn McAdam, who lives on Humboldt Street. “Now the area is beautiful. It’s green, open space, and the community is able to enjoy it for leisure, recreation. I see kids out there all the time.”
Residents remember when this patch of land was home to the old Keystone Metal Finishing plant.
Contamination dated back decades
The transformation of the Keystone site helped heal what was for many years an open wound in this 1st Ward neighborhood. The problems date back to 1991 when Keystone owner Joseph Karet died and the town discovered 45 metal drums on the property that contained numerous contaminants, including cyanide, alcohol, hydrochloric acid, and other hazardous chemicals.
Various chemicals used for metal plating had apparently been dumped into the soil. It’s likely this contamination began decades earlier.
Testing by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection determined that the site was eligible to receive federal money from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) superfund program, a governmental initiative to cleanup uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. The Keystone site was ultimately remediated by local contractor PMK, using federal dollars from the EPA.
However, six years later, town officials learned that contamination from Keystone had spread to several nearby properties and was present in deep level groundwater.
Residents who lived on Humboldt Street and Golden Avenue were angered when they learned that town leadership knew about Keystone contamination but had apparently withheld the information from residents for years. The controversy surrounding these delays became a contentious political issue, one which Mayor Dennis Elwell used to defeat his predecessor, former Mayor Anthony Just. However, later, McAdam – who became a Keystone activist – and other residents slammed Elwell for similarly withholding information about pollution on the site.
McAdam and Elwell have since become political allies and she has publically stated that she is content with the environmental remediation that has been done on the site.
According to Elwell, the town has cleaned and tested the groundwater and soil in the area to the tune of $750,000, and has concluded that the area poses no public health threat. (The $750,000 paid by the town to remediate the land is addition to the federal superfund money.)
The federal government also concluded that there is no longer a health threat.
Keystone as open space
“When the remediation began, the plan had always been to sell off a couple of the lots in the area to repay our taxpayers for the cleanup that they essentially paid for,” said Town Administrator David Drumeler.
The 1.37-acre site, he said, could accommodate eight building lots of two family houses. But the Town Council believes Secaucus would be better served if the area is permanently preserved as open space, and has submitted at $1.7 million grant to the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund.
“The grant, if we get it, would give us the money to preserve the entire tract as open space,” Drumeler explained. “Essentially what we would be doing is selling the development rights to the lots to the open space fund and the entire parcel will remain open forever.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.