Home > Uncategorized > DEP calls toxic landfill leachate “natural”

DEP calls toxic landfill leachate “natural”

Leacahe seep kills all vegetation (at southwestern corner of landfill, between D&R Canal and Delaware River).

Landfill leachate seep kills all vegetation (at southwestern corner of landfill, between D&R Canal Path and Delaware River).

[Update: In response to critical comments: The focus of this post is not the oily sheen. Even though that sheen is located a couple of hundred feet downstream of an oil and gas distribution facility, the toe of slope of an old landfill, and old chemical drums, I do not disagree that it could be natural.  Please focus on the the following questions:

  • is the source of the flow a leachate seep? Or normal runoff, wetlands discharge, or ponding water?
  • what is the source of the iron? Is it the landfill or is it natural? If it's natural, why is this the only place I see it a along the riverbank?
  • was the vegetation killed by natural ponding water? Or by some toxic condition?

end.]

I came across this DEP whopper while reading the press clips this morning, and it pinned my lie detector meter: DEP: Scary orange goo near the Delaware River is just rust

ALEXANDRIA TWP. – The orange substance leaking from the landfill on the Frenchtown-Milford Road near H.J. Opdyke Lumber is harmless, said a spokesman from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Larry Ragonese said the bright orange rivulet trickling from the corner of the old Riegel Paper landfill into the Delaware River is rusted iron, not a toxic chemical. “Fortunately, it’s nothing bad”, he said. It’s a natural occurrence.”

Since when is landfill leachate a “natural occurrence“? On what basis and monitoring data has DEP claimed that this leachate is “nothing bad“? How does DEP know what was disposed of in that landfill? Has the landfill been properly closed in compliance with DEP regulations? What does the groundwater monitoring data say? Have the Delaware River and adjacent streams been sampled (water column and sediments)?

Despite the 95 degree heat and high humidity, I took a little ramble at that landfill today. I walked the perimeter of the landfill, the top of the landfill, the zone between the landfill and the river, a stream corridor just north of the landfill, and the Delaware River frontage. And what I saw was not pretty.

I saw several leachate seeps, that looked to be composed of ferrous metals and oily substances that created sheens on the water. (Landfill leachate is typically composed of a soup of toxic chemicals.) Vegetation adjacent to the seeps was completely dead. Leachate seeps were discharging directly to a stream from stream banks just north of the landfill. Leachate seeps were discharging directly to the Delaware River via overland flow just south of the landfill. Very old sediment control fences were down and totally ineffective. Any landfill cover and/or cap was breached in numerous places by roads, paths, and vegetation. I saw only one groundwater monitoring well, that was located on the eastern edge of the landfill, just off County Route 619, but none between the landfill and the Delaware River on the western landfill perimeter, the likely direction of groundwater flow. The monitoring well had not be sampled for some time (the lock was rusted),  there were no security or public access controls (like a fence), no hazardous cleanup signs posted, and it looked like someone had recently attempted to locate monitoring wells because vegetation had recently been cleared in some areas. There appeared to be numerous violations of DEP regulations.

Based on the above observations and DEP press office “natural” comments, I filed an OPRA request for the groundwater monitoring data, leachate sampling data, the DEP approved landfill closure plan, surface water monitoring data, and recent inspection reports.

We will keep you posted. Below are photos documenting the above observations. See captions for details.

Landfill gate - no access controls or hazard signs. Cap breached. Looks like no one has been there in years.
Landfill gate – no access controls or hazard signs. Cap breached. Looks like no one has been there in years.
Rusting monitoring well. Lock was rusted and loooked like no one had opened it in years. Located on eastern perimeter, not along Delaware River side.

Rusting monitoring well. Lock was rusted and looked like no one had opened it in years. Located on eastern perimeter, not along Delaware River side.

leachate seep kills all nearby vegetation. Old sediment control fence totally useless.

leachate seep kills all nearby vegetation. Old sediment control fence totally useless.

Toxic leachate seep has killed vegetation. There wer dozens of similar sites, covering thousands of square feet.

Toxic leachate seep has killed vegetation. There were dozens of similar sites, covering thousands of square feet.

Leachate runoff kills vegetation and discharges directly to Delaware River in background.

Leachate runoff kills vegetation and discharges directly to Delaware River in background.

Old mileage marker rusts (forground) - DEP leachate "rust" kills nearby vegetation along southern edge of landfill, just 75 feet from Delaware River.

Old railroad mileage marker rusts (foreground) - DEP leachate "rust" kills nearby vegetation along southern edge of landfill, just 75 feet from Delaware River and in floodplain.

Oily rusty leachate seeps into stream just north of landfill approximately 200 feet east of Delaware River.

Oily rusty leachate seeps into stream just north of landfill approximately 200 feet east of Delaware River.

Leachate seeps through stream bank into Delaware tributary just north of landfill.

Leachate seeps through stream bank into Delaware tributary just north of landfill.

rusty stream bank from landfill leachate seeps is not "natural".

rusty stream bank from landfill leachate seeps is not "natural".

oily sheen on water in stream from leachate seep. This is not "natural".

oily sheen on water in stream from leachate seep. This is not "natural".

what's that item (center of picture, 30 feet in background)?

what's that item (center of picture, 30 feet in background)?

Â

Let's get a closer look - looks like a barrel - surely nothing "natural".

Let's get a closer look - looks like a barrel - surely nothing "natural".

Yup, its "Lubriplate" Surely no hike in NJ is compelte without coming across a barrel of toxic waste - it's only "natural"!

Yup, its "Lubriplate" Surely no ramble in NJ is complete without coming across a barrel of toxic waste - it's only "natural"!

drums at south western toe of slope, along D&R Canal path by pedestrian bridge

drums at south western toe of slope, along D&R Canal path by pedestrian bridge

Maybe that's what killed all the natural vegetation in this leachate seep just north of the landfill.

Maybe that's what killed all the natural vegetation in this leachate seep just north of the landfill.

Leacahte runs under D&R Canal.

Leachate runs under D&R Canal Path into Delaware River.

leachater runs under D&R Canal and kills natural vegetation on its way to the Delaware.

leachate runs under D&R Canal Path and kills natural vegetation on its way to the Delaware.

Delaware River, adjacent to landfill. Delaware is important water supply for downriver communities.

Delaware River, adjacent to landfill. Delaware is important water supply for downriver communities.

Crown Vantage landfill Superfund site, about 1 mile north of Riegal Paper Co. landfill, looking from the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River:

Crown Vantage Superfund site on Delaware River

Crown Vantage Superfund site on Delaware River

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  1. Julie Groth
    June 29th, 2010 at 10:46 | #1

    Woah, this is appalling! Kudos to you for tromping around out there in the woods to get to the truth. The pictures speak for themselves. This orange, greasy mess certainly does not look “natural” to me, any more than the oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t think the Leni Lenape saw creepy stuff like this in the water as they canoed down the river years ago.
    I suppose DEP will say they lack the funding to do a sufficient job of staying on top of these things, and that is probably true. But this is everybody’s Delaware River–we drink from it, we play in it. I swim in it with my grandchildren! Gov. Christi needs to know this is NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

  2. Bill Wolfe
    June 29th, 2010 at 12:00 | #2

    Hey Julie – agree, DEP needs to do a lot more. I filed an OPRA to get data and DEP records on teh site.

    But teh guy who desrves the credit is an Alendria resident named Rick Toone – read about his work in the story I lined to, incuding the comments that made it easy to fuid this mess!

  3. isbjorn
    June 29th, 2010 at 14:32 | #3

    How can Bigley (in the article you cited at top of post) say “there’s nothing toxic [in the landfill]” and then go on to say that not only was some of the paper company’s waste dumped there but also (as paraphrased by the article’s author) “the bottom 15 feet or so are filled with cars, refrigerators and washing machines”??

    Either he is purposefully obfuscating the truth or he is too dimwitted to connect the dots (the multitude of persistent toxic chemicals in cars, refrigerators, etc.–esp. from the years they were likely dumped there–tells us there must be toxins in the landfill). In either case, his statement that the paper company only dumped wood & wax paper seems pretty suspect.

    And clearly you didn’t.

    Thanks, Wolfe, for filing the OPRA request & for the photos, post, etc. I hope that Frenchtown Burough councilman St. Onge’s “curiosity” is strong enough that he pushes the DEP. Are you going to send him your OPRA findings?

  4. Bill Wolfe
    June 29th, 2010 at 14:52 | #4

    isjorn – yup, you nailed it.

    Check this out. The Crown Vanatage landfill half a mile up the river is a Superfuind site. It received waste from the Riegel Paper Co. – the same source of waste for this “natural” landfill!. According to a recent story:

    “The primary contaminant common to both the landfill and the mill are polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. PCBs are believed to cause cancer and cause serious harm to the immune, neurological and reproductive systems. PCBs were used in the paper-making process.”

    link: Milford site expected to join Superfund list
    http://www.nj.com/news/local/index.ssf/2009/03/milford_site_expected_to_join.html

  5. Bill Wolfe
    June 29th, 2010 at 14:53 | #5

    oops – and the Milford Riegel Paper Co. site is also a Superfund site!!!

  6. Bill Wolfe
    June 29th, 2010 at 15:11 | #6

    Please read the Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study for the Crown Vantage landfill, originally owned by Riegel paper Co. and that accepted wastes from the Riegel Paper Co.:

    http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/crownvantage/Crown_Vantage_Landfill_RI-FS_Work_Plan_Vol_I_Part_1.pdf

  7. michele mcbride
    June 29th, 2010 at 17:07 | #7

    Absolutely appalling… great work, Bill!

  8. wetlandwatcher
    July 3rd, 2010 at 10:41 | #8

    Harmless, naturally occurring oily sheens and fuzzy growths occur in wetlands as a result of iron oxide bacteria and the breakdown of organic matter. The areas of blackened leaves, stained orange by iron oxide, are places that were inundated by water during spring, and have since dried up. The land fill has been cleaned and capped for years, not withstanding whatever has been dumped lately, like drums and tires. This investigation pops up every spring when joggers hit the path, and the result is always the same, no big deal.

  9. July 3rd, 2010 at 12:17 | #9

    Wetlandwatcher – The source of iron that is being oxidized is from materials disposed of in a landfill. While oxidation is a “natural” chemical process, a landfill and leacahte are not natural.

    Yes, wetland do “breakdown” organic matter – but the source of the organic matter is key. In this case, it is not naturally occuring, but from land disposal of waste.

    The landfill was never “cleaned”. It may not even have been closed in accordacne with all DEP landfill closure requiremetns. The cap has been breached in numerous locations, runoff controls have copmpeltely broken down, adn leacnhate is now breaking out to the surface and directly impacting surface waters (the lattter a violation of the state and fedral Clean Water Act).

    Sorrry wetlanddswatcher, you are simply wrong. You cna argue the relative magnitude of the toxicity and water quality impact, but no way can you call this “natural”.

  10. wetlandwatcher
    July 3rd, 2010 at 15:14 | #10

    Bill: I did not say that the landfill was natural, I said that the iron oxide and oily sheens were natural. Also, wetlands don’t breakdown organic matter, the oxidation/reduction process does. Wetlands slowdown the breakdown process resulting in the buildup of organic matter, like blacked leaves which would usually dry up and disappear in an upland situation. What’s emanating from the landfill has been tested and constitutes rusty groundwater welling up from the void dug into the riverbank. The silt fences were installed as an erosion control measure after the landfill was capped, not to contain leachate (by definition, not necessarily toxic). Since the soil on the site has been stabilized, they should be rolled up and removed along with any other trash. While the landfill undoubtedly contains waste such as steel, iron, lumber and other recyclables, you have no evidence that what’s emanating is toxic.

    Love the Blog.

  11. Bill Wolfe
    July 3rd, 2010 at 17:02 | #11

    WW – the iron oxide (if from metal in landfill) can not possibly be natural.

    The oil sheen (if from organic material seeping from landfill) can not possibly be natural.

    I took 24 hours of college chemistry, so I know what a redox reaction is and I also know how wetladns function, so please, lets not go there.

    The blackened leaves and stressed adn dead vegetation I saw and photographed were NOT assocaited qwith natrual wetlands, but from the runoff and seepager of landfill leachate.

    The leachate certainly is toxic, to the plants I depicted.

    I never said the silt fences were installed to contain leachate – I know thay are designed to contain surficial runoff – you need to check my bio, as a co-author of DEP’s Stateweide Landfill Closure Plan (way back in 1988!) I have some knowledge of what engineering controls are.

    I certainly have evidence that what is eminating adn seeping from that landfill is toxic – the photos show dead vegetation. THe vegetation is dead in precisely the locations of leachate seeps, adn is healthy in all otehr areas.

    Its a no brainer that the landfill is the source of the leachate and that it is toxic to plants.

    Now we need to understand off site water quality, wildlife, and ecological impacts.

    (while you’re at it, hit the above link for teh RI/FS for Crown Vanatage landfill and google for the HRS scoring – not surface water HRS score. Then do the saem exercise for this landfill!

  12. Bill Wolfe
    July 4th, 2010 at 12:00 | #12

    Questions for WW adn geologists out there:

    The RI/FS for the Crown Vantage landfill, just 1/2 mile north in same proximity to Delaware River, found that there was high iron content in deep groundwater. Is it possible for that groundwater to be the source, via discharge to land surface? Would this groundwater discharge be possible wothout contact with the waste dispsosed in bottom of landfill(i.e, cars, refrigerators, et al)?

    Is this why some claim the rust is “natural”? Are folks saying the soruce is NOT the landfill, but natual high iron content groundwater?

  13. July 8th, 2010 at 07:22 | #13

    Bill — great post. For additional information about the sites, look at the detailed book we wrote in 2005-2006. This toxic issue is an ongoing issue. The book is for download and sharing…please distribute to anyone interested: http://www.ricktoone.com/2009/08/crown-vantage-landfill-superfund.html

  14. July 8th, 2010 at 09:46 | #14

    Hi Bill,

    The Hunterdon County Democrat will be doing a follow-up story on the landfill and its orange leak very soon with further information from the DEP. I’d be interested in interviewing you as a concerned citizen — are you an Alexandria Twp. resident?

    If willing, please give me a call or e-mail: 908-782-4747, ext. 645
    or tfasanello@hcdemocrat.org

    Anyone reading this post, if you ever want to talk about this issue or any other, please feel free to use my contact information.

    Thank you.

  15. August 19th, 2010 at 20:30 | #15

    Yikes, lots of nice pretty pictures but I can see how this could become a big problem if preventative measures aren’t taken anytime soon.
    -Jack

  16. Crlstn
    September 11th, 2012 at 10:55 | #16

    Just happend to stumble on this site; I work for the environmental division of a county health department in NJ. Just wanted to saw WW is right, Bill is wrong.

  17. September 11th, 2012 at 12:07 | #17

    @Crlstn

    Hey Karl – are you still an intern at the Ocean County Health Department?

    My guess is that if you now work there, you did not “stumble” upon this site.

    What specifically are you claiming that WW is correct about? What specifically are you claiming that I am “wrong” about?

    What data have you reviewed? Have you visited the site?

    I have –

    Are you too – like DEP – claiming that the landfill leachate is “natural”?

    (BTW, I took over 20 hours of college level chemistry, so I know just a little bit about ox/redox – including 2 semesters of organic, 1 semester of analytic, and the 2 semester overview courses – Chem 101, 102)

  18. September 11th, 2012 at 12:10 | #18

    @Crlstn

    Are you claiming that this is NOT a leachate seep, but merely ponding water?

    What is the source of the iron?

  1. July 15th, 2010 at 21:06 | #1
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