EPA Eyes Superfund Status for the Oranges

The EPA is proposing adding the Orange Valley Regional Ground Water site in Orange and West Orange, New Jersey, to the Superfund National Priorities List of the nation's most hazardous waste sites.

The EPA says testing has identified the subsurface presence of tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), and dichloroethylene (DCE), which are industrial solvents, in ground water from public water supply wells. EPA cites tests of the wells from January through June 2009 as confirming the "constant presence of the contaminants in the wells" under scrutiny.

"Now there is no imminent public risk currently because those wells that were impacted have either been taken out of service or have treatment systems on them to treat the waters," said Elias Rodriguez, a spokesman for the EPA.

But the EPA believes finding the source of the toxic plume is critical. "With PCE and TCE. we know they can have serious impacts on human health including liver damage and the do increase the risk of cancer," Rodriguez said.

The contamination issue first surfaced in the early 1980s when the local water utility started treating the water to strip out the solvents which are also known as volatile organic compounds.

The City of Orange's water system is currently managed by United Water Resources. The UWR web page on Orange's water quality said that the city's water is currently treated with "tower aeration to remove volatile organic compounds." The website also stated the water "meets — and often surpasses — all the health and safety standards" set by the U.S. EPA and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

"The wells of concern which serve around 10,000 people are located in Orange however the potential plume covers both Orange and West Orange," EPA's Rodriguez said. Rodriguez says mapping the under ground  plume will help officials prevent additional migration of the toxics and develop a  clean-up strategy. "We certainly want to try and get at the source of the contamination and address it at the source."

The EPA says there are many potential sources of the contamination and part of the Superfund process is trying to identify the responsible parties.

"For all Superfund sites EPA works to identify companies and people responsible for the contamination and require them to pay for the clean-up," Rodriguez said. 

Jeff Tittel with the New Jersey Sierra Club said the call for Superfund status for the area "was long overdue," and he called for the wells that are still open to be closed.

New Jersey currently has 115 Superfund sites, the most in the nation.

There will be a 60-day public comment period on the EPA's Orange and West Orange proposed NPL listing.