Engineers will soon begin a new round of environmental testing at the former home of the Keystone Metal Finishing plant, which years ago was found to have contaminated the groundwater beneath nearby residences.
Although the land was remediated more than a decade ago – and local and federal engineers have found the groundwater to be safe – Keystone’s dark history has long concerned residents who fear for their property values and their health.
The testing, which should begin within the next three weeks, was requested by Mayor Michael Gonnelli. Periodic ongoing monitoring at the location dates back to the late 1980s, when problems were first discovered on the property.
A 1.37-acre site, located along Humboldt Place and Raydol Avenue in a mostly residential neighborhood, Keystone Metal Finishing operated in town from 1947 to 1991, when the plant closed after the owner’s death. Remediation of groundwater and soil at the site began in 1996, two years after the plant was demolished. Since then, the town has continued to monitor the success of the remediation and any environmental impact of the contamination.
“The $60,000 will allow us to determine if the plume has gotten smaller and what the contamination levels are right now.” – Gary Jeffas
The latest round of testing will largely focus on groundwater, although some air quality tests may be conducted in residences near the site, if necessary.
The cost of the testing will be covered by a $60,000 grant from the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation (HCEDC) awarded to Secaucus in late August.
“The mayor had a concern for this particular site, which has been a problem for the town for a while,” said HCEDC Executive Director Elizabeth Spinelli. “We’ll be looking at the contamination, what’s there now, what’s happened to it in the last couple of years. Sometimes these problems remediate themselves over time. But other times you find that more proactive things need to be done. So, that’s what we’re trying to find out at this site.”
The $60,000 grant to Secaucus is part of a $200,000 pool of money the HCEDC received from the federal government.
Long history of problems
Environmental problems at the Keystone site date back to 1991. That year, Keystone owner Joseph Karet died and the town discovered 45 unsealed drums on the property that contained several contaminants, including cyanide, alcohol, hydrochloric acid, and other hazardous materials. Various chemicals used for metal plating had also been dumped directly into the soil.
Testing by the state Department of Environmental Protection determined that the site was eligible for money under the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) superfund program, a governmental initiative to cleanup uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.
Money from the EPA allowed the town to determine the extent of contamination.
Town officials learned in 1997 that contamination from the Keystone site had spread to several nearby homes and was present in deep level groundwater. Despite having this information, town officials, under the administration of former Mayor Anthony Just, didn’t inform the public or affected property owners. The information was not publically released until 1999.
After Just left office, the town spent $750,000 to remediate the land. In addition, a number of monitoring wells were installed to allow engineers to conduct ongoing tests of groundwater, both at the Keystone site specifically, and at off-site locations near some of the affected homes.
“The $60,000 will allow us to determine if the plume has gotten smaller and what the contamination levels are right now,” said Town Councilman Gary Jeffas, who represents the 1st Ward, where the Keystone site is located. “This is really a testing phase so we can get an idea of what the current status is. For some time, the residents in that area have been asking for further testing to see what the impact – or lack of impact – is on their homes.”
The last time the site was tested was in 2008, according to Michael Heumiller of Birdsall Services Group-PMK, the engineering firm that will conduct the new round of testing.
“We’ll be sampling for constituents that were previously detected in the groundwater, volatile organic compounds,” said Heumiller, who will serve as project manager for the testing. “We’ll be looking to see that the levels of [contaminants] are continuing to decrease, and that they are within a safe range. And if for some reason they’re not, and something is elevated, then we’ll need to figure out the steps that will need to be taken to address that.”
Pending the outcome of the test results, engineers will determine whether additional remediation is required or not.
Heumiller said the testing will take about two months to complete.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.