As construction is getting ready to begin, one of Jersey City’s biggest projects is at the center of discussion for environmentalists who are looking for answers now.
The Bayfront Project is a massive redevelopment plan which includes 8,100 residential units, 23 acres of open land, and a million square feet of office space. The land that the project is being built on, however, has 100 acres of chromium contamination.
Previously, Mutual Chemical Company occupied the land along the Hackensack River from 1895 to 1954. When the plant closed in 1954, AlliedSignal bought it in that same year. 45 years later, AlliedSignal merged with Honeywell, and Honeywell became the name of the new corporation.
Prior to the merger, Mutual Chemical Company was dumping hexavalent chromium into the river and the land was contaminated, which became a problem when commercial buildings were operating in the late 1900’s.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Valley Fair Department store was built on top of the patched chromium-contaminated land. Shortly, the walls of the store began to crumble from chemical moving the soil, and buildings were evacuated, leaving the area empty.
Since then, Jersey City sued, and reached a settlement with Honeywell to clean up the toxic waste. The city and Honeywell then became partners in revitalizing the area. The development plans has some people worried.
Professor Anna Brown, who teaches at Saint Peter’s University in the Political Science and Social Justice departments, is concerned about the lingering effects of the chemicals on future buildings.
“But the question is did you really contain that material,” asked Brown. “Is this really safe? I’m not sure that we know….So the question is do we know that that’s safe with construction starting in 2016.”
Professor Brown understands that Honeywell needs to make money.
“The question also is can we really trust Honeywell to clean up the site,” asked Brown. “When you are working with corporations, they’re in it to make money. They have to, that’s how they stay afloat. They’re saying that ‘we’re going to revitalize communities and make the state more prosperous.’ That may well be the case, but are people going to be subjected to carcinogens, to allergies, dermatitis, to dementia because of this chromium dust, and the possibility of chromium in the water. How will we really know that it’s cleaned up?”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the side effects of heightened exposure to hexavalent chromium are: respiratory complications, gastrointestinal, neurological, and dermal effects in humans. In animals, gastrointestinal effects were prevalent.
Honeywell was contacted for this article, but has not responded back for a comment. Clean up began on the site to remove the chromium and should be completed by the end of 2016. The entire project is not expected to be open to the public until 2043, according to the Jersey Journal.
The other concern is the risk of building along the water. Scientists say climate change will mean rising sea levels and this could have an impact on the project in the future.
“That’s what’s very interesting in the sense that we need development, we need jobs, yes,” said Brown. “But at the same time, if the water’s are rising in the seas, as many scientists are showing that they are, you’re going to have a real problem in about 34 years with this stuff. You’re building it on the waterfront as if climate change somehow doesn’t exist. As if it’s just non-existent and we’re just going to keep going on as usual and hope for the best? You’re not going to prevent this from happening.”
N.A.S.A. predicts that the global sea level will rise one to four feet by 2100 as a result of the melting ice caps in the Arctic Seas. Rising levels, also mean that coastal areas can be submerged or partially submerged in time.
For the contractors and developers of the Bayfront Project, Professor Anna Brown hopes they are planning for climate change.
“What I would do is first, do some research on development in the name of climate change,” suggested Brown. “What does that look like? You’re not going to be able to stop this development because people have too much of a stake in it, investors, the city, people who want jobs, people who want their neighborhood cleaned up. But what you want to know is how do we build and to face that reality. I don’t think a lot of people have thought about it or written about it.”
Captain Bill Sheehan, of the Hackensack Riverkeeper, says that climate change and the rising water levels should not impact the project.
“The elevation of that land will be high enough to withstand the expected rising in water levels,” Stated Capt. Sheehan. “Other neighborhoods may not be able to because they were built at or below sea levels.”
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency stated last year, in response to Capt. Bill Sheehan , that they will evaluate the Hackensack River to see if it will be added to the Superfund program. The river has been severely polluted since the Mutual Chemical Company was located next to it.
According to the E.P.A., the Superfund program takes responsibility of “cleaning up some of the nation’s most contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters.”
The Hackensack Riverkeeper group is currently awaiting to hear further updates from the EPA. So far, the agency has released findings for their September study, which can be found here.
“Hopefully, by the end of this year, we will have word from the EPA on where the river stands,” said Sheehan. “What we’re worried about is the ability of the contaminates that could work its way up the mud, and affecting fishing, and making people ill. The idea was something that we talked about at length, myself and staff attorney. The only way we were able to get the river up to standards is get federal action because through the state, there’s too much politics involved.”
With the help of the Superfund, clean up of the river can be sped up. Companies and people found litering or being the cause of pollution can be made responsible for clean up by the federal agency.
As far as looking at the Bayfront Project itself, Professor Brown acknowledged people’s attraction to what’s new, but wants people to refocus their attention, and discussions, on the bigger picture that is climate change.
“We’re enticed by shiny things,” said Brown. “We love the new apartments, we love the views, and that’s great, but where is the consciousness of this reality of climate change? I don’t really see people talking about it, living it.”
Captain Sheehan state that once the chromium is cleaned up, he will not have any environmental concerns over the project.
“If they were cutting forests or cutting down wetlands to build this, I would be against this. This was a site that was filled with hexavalent chromium that can get people sick and once it’s removed, it will be a healthy place for people to live and work.”
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Enjoyed reading this and the questions it raises about health and safety. There are also other questions about gentrification of Bayfront and West Side that our blog, Jersey City Today, will be covering soon. Love this blog and the various stories that are told so well.