Honeywell International Inc. recently announced that it has begun the next phase of chromium cleanup at sites along Jersey City’s West Side, work that will culminate in the construction of the Bayfront development, a planned mixed use residential community the city hopes will be a linchpin to waterfront development along the Hackensack River. According to officials from Honeywell, who briefed area residents on its environmental cleanup plans at a public meeting held on June 26, areas that are to be redeveloped for residential use will be remediated by removing contaminated soil that is currently on the site. Areas that are to be used for open space and park land will be capped.
Cleanup of the site is part of a 2008 settlement agreement Honeywell reached with the city and community groups to remediate 100 acres of chromium-contaminated land along Route 440 and the Hackensack River that was once home to the Mutual Chemical Company. The affected site also borders the Droyer’s Point section of Society Hill.
Under the 2008 agreement, the city agreed to turn over 35 acres of municipal land to Honeywell and the company agreed to cover the cost of the environmental cleanup, which is being conducted under the watch of a federal monitor. In addition, Honeywell was given the right to develop the entire 100-acre site, but was required to split the profits from the future development with the city 60 – 40. (Honeywell will get 60 percent of the profits from the Bayfront development; the city will get 40 percent of the profits in exchange for the 35 acres of municipal land the city turned over to Honeywell to make the development possible.)
‘They are going above and beyond to clean the soil and taking every step necessary.’ – Steven Fulop
The next phase of sites to be remediated include a strip of land along Kellogg Street and the land along Route 440 that is currently home to the Jersey City Incinerator Authority (JCIA), the Department of Public Works (DPW), and the Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority (JCIA). The city already has plans to relocate the JCIA and the DPW to a new location on Linden Avenue. Some JCMUA functions will also be relocated and the agency’s current home will be downsized to make way for Bayfront.
Honeywell said this new phase of environmental cleanup will be completed in 2016, at which time groundbreaking on Bayfront will begin.
Jersey City’s history chromium contamination
In the early 1900s, Hudson County was known as the chromium ore processing capital, thanks to three large processing plants based here.
For nearly six decades, the Mutual Chemical Company, which was later taken over by Honeywell, ran a chromate chemical plant on Jersey City’s West Side. In addition to its refined products, according to the Hackensack Riverkeeper, the company also produced approximately 1.5 million tons of toxic waste containing hexavalent chromium that was dumped onsite.
Elsewhere, PPG ran another chromium chemical plant on Garfield Avenue for nearly 40 years. The Occidental Chemical Corp. ran a third similar facility in Kearny.
Since then, hexavalent chromium, a byproduct of chromium production, has been linked to cancer and other diseases.
From about 1895 until 1954, the Mutual Chemical Company was one of the largest metal refinishing plants in the country. Allied Signal purchased Mutual Chemical in 1954, which later merged with Honeywell in 1999. While Honeywell and Allied Signal were never in the chromium ore processing or metal refinishing business, they ultimately inherited the environmental problems created by the company they acquired.
Cleanup stems from lawsuit
After the chromium plants closed, huge swaths of land throughout Jersey City were found to be contaminated with the material. Sites that had already been developed had to be remediated while other sites were considered too dangerous to develop because of their exposure to hexavalent chromium.
New Jersey reached a settlement with Honeywell International, PPG Industries Inc., and Occidental Chemical Corp. to reimburse the state for cleanup costs associated with dozens of chromium-contaminated sites, including sites in Jersey City. The settlement stems from a 2005 lawsuit the state filed in Hudson County Superior Court against Honeywell International, PPG Industries Inc., and Occidental Chemical Corp.
The state lawsuit alleged that after the three companies folded their plants, New Jersey taxpayers were left paying millions of dollars for land remediation and ongoing monitoring of these sites. Under the settlement, the three companies have agreed to reimburse the state $5 million each and help cleanup sites throughout Hudson County, including sites in Jersey City, which their industry contaminated, either directly or indirectly.
In a separate lawsuit filed by the Hackensack Riverkeeper and the Jersey City-based Interfaith Community Organization, a federal judge ruled that Honeywell was responsible for removing contaminated land on the West Side that bordered the Society Hill development. An appeals court later let this ruling stand, and Honeywell was forced to begin the remediation that is currently taking place along Route 440 and Kellogg Street.
Riverkeeper: ‘Good job so far’
Residents and others who have been briefed on Honeywell’s plans said they were satisfied with the company’s efforts thus far.
“This is good. This is progressing about the way we hoped it would,” said Hackensack Riverkeeper Captain Bill Sheehan, who attended the June 26 community briefing. Sheehan and his Riverkeeper organization sued in federal court and fought a long legal battle to get Honeywell and PPG to assume responsibility for cleaning up the chromium contamination left behind by companies they acquired. “There have been some people who have said, ‘Well, why can’t this be turned into open space?’ But we knew all along that, in an urban community such as Jersey City, this land would be remediated for redevelopment and reuse for some purpose. Honeywell has been doing a good job so far and I’m happy with where things stand.”
Gerald Eglentowicz, a Droyer’s Point resident and new father who also attended the June 26 briefing, said that he, too, was content with the information shared by Honeywell.
“I work in this same business, so I came here with a lot of questions, which they answered,” said Eglentowicz, president of the demolition and environmental company that bears his name. “I think their plans make sense and it sounds like they are doing all the right things to protect the community.”
The company’s plans also have the blessing of new Mayor Steven Fulop, who had a private briefing with Sheehan and Honeywell officials on June 26.
“They are going above and beyond to clean the soil and taking every step necessary,” Fulop said. “This is one of the largest cleanup operations in the country. It’s not going to be perfect, but it is effective.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.