Groups warn of dioxin danger in New York Harbour

New York Harbour and Newark Bay could be flooded with dioxin contamination if a dredging and blasting plan to open the area to larger ships goes ahead, a coalition of green groups has warned.

The groups, including NRDC, Baykeeper, and Green Faith say the 10-year multi-billion dollar dredging project run by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Port Authority, in order to open the watercourses to larger ships, is on a collision course with an underwater Superfund site, for which a clean up plan had been devised.

The site, known as the Diamond Alkali Superfund, is strongly contaminated with dioxins which settled in the sediment after flowing down the Passaic River from a chemical plant in Newark. The plant used the dioxins to manufacture ‘Agent Orange’ during the Vietnam War.

Such is the danger from this dioxin contamination that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has banned crabbing and recommended strict limits on the consumption of many types of fish in the bay. Scientists have called Newark Bay one of the world’s worst dioxin-contaminated sites.

Now, the groups warn, the current dredging plan will release the dioxin laced sediment into the water current.

“It’s like dropping depth charges into one of the biggest toxic waste dumps on the East Coast with no thought at all about the consequences,” said NRDC attorney Brad Sewell. “This has the potential to be a win-win situation. Hazardous material must eventually be removed from the Bay anyhow. But, without safeguards they are going to wind up spreading toxic contamination into important recreational and commercial waterways.”

The dredging plan would also undermine the clean up effort before it even begins, as it would scatter the pollution from the site. Legal experts working for the coalition say this would also shift the cost of the clean up on to the American taxpayers instead of the company responsible for the dioxin contamination.

As a result of the dredging plan, the coalition has delivered notice of intent to sue the Engineers Corps’ and the Port Authority for violating the federal Resource Conservation Recovery Act and National Environmental Policy Act. The suit aims to force the agencies to develop a safe plan for removing the contaminated sediments before proceeding with the massive underwater dig.

By David Hopkins

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