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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regional administrator Judith A. Enck disclosed that the EPA has begun removing more than 2,000 drums and containers of toxic substances

from the Superior Barrel & Drum Company facility in Elk Township, New Jersey and sending them out of the area for proper disposal.

The 5.5 acre Superior Barrel and Drum site was a drum recycling and reconditioning business that allegedly cleaned and reconditioned metal and plastic drums for resale, reuse or disposal. Information indicates that the facility began operating in the 1980s and stopped operations sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. In August 2013, the EPA found thousands of drums and containers at the site abandoned and left in a state of disrepair. Many had holes, missing tops, bulging on the sides or bottoms or were leaking their contents onto the ground. The EPA, after being contacted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), has been working for over four months to bring conditions at the site under control and work toward the removal of the containers and hazardous materials. 

“The abysmal storage conditions and poorly managed toxic chemicals found by EPA at this facility are unlawful, threaten the environment and are simply unacceptable,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA regional administrator. “The EPA has worked for months with the state and local governments to get the hazardous materials at this site under control and protect this community.”

Information provided by DEP indicates that in early 2010, in response to complaints that the number of drums and containers at the facility was growing, the DEP got the owner to initiate a plan to remove drums, containers and rinse water. DEP stated that this effort was making slow progress for months but stopped, leading to DEP administrative enforcement actions against the company. The DEP formally requested assistance from EPA on August 29, 2013, when it became clear in their view that the owner had no intentions of addressing the problems at the facility.

EPA was asked by DEP to evaluate the facility and take appropriate actions to remove any threat posed by substances in the drums and other containers.

After the facility owner refused access to the site, EPA requested that U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in New Jersey obtain warrants from a federal judge that would allow EPA to enter the property to conduct cleanup work. Under a September 12, 2013 warrant, EPA gained access to the site, installed fencing, warning signs and round-the-clock surveillance and sampled the contents of drums and containers.

The EPA took samples of the contents of the approximately 2,000 drums and containers and stabilized leaking containers and drums by placing them or their contents into more secure containers. The samples revealed that the drums and containers held hazardous materials, including corrosive and flammable chemicals, benzene, toluene, trichloroethylene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, polychlorinated biphenyls  and lead. Exposure to these pollutants can have serious health effects.

On September 27, 2013, EPA obtained a second federal warrant allowing the agency to remove the deteriorated containers of hazardous materials from the property. The EPA is now transporting and properly disposing of the contents of the drums and containers at regulated hazardous waste disposal facilities out of the area. The EPA has developed a plan to ensure that the removal of the chemicals is done safely. Fire department and hazardous materials response teams have been consulted. The EPA also continues to monitor the air surrounding the work areas to protect the public and to keep the municipal government and local community informed. The EPA has spent about $800,000 on the cleanup so far and expects to have completed the removal of drums in the spring.

The EPA is coordinating with Elk Township, the local fire and police departments, the Gloucester County Hazardous Materials Response Team and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on the ongoing investigation and cleanup at the facility.

While this site is not on the Superfund National Priorities List, the Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. The EPA is currently searching for parties legally responsible for the contamination at the site in order to hold them accountable for the costs of investigation and cleanup.  

Published in the March 2014 Edition of American Recycler News