On climate risks, hazards containment, and the Lower Raritan’s “Dark Waters”

By LRWP Board President Heather Fenyk

In the opening scene of Mark Ruffalo’s devastating new true-story legal thriller Dark Waters, released this week in New Jersey theaters, we watch as a car travels rural roads to a swimming hole. In the dark of night three teenagers exit the car near a “no trespassing” sign, jump a fence, and dive in. The camera pans to signs marked “containment pond,” where chemical byproducts of Dupont’s manufacturing plants – specifically Perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA – are ostensibly “contained”.

The year is 1975. PFOAs are unregulated. Things end badly. We soon learn that PFOA is related to an abundance of health risks. The film traces a decades-long corporate cover-up of these risks, as well as loss of life and tremendous suffering. The film also makes clear how exceedingly difficult it is to contain toxic pollutants.

The issue of historic pollutant containment is the focus of a report released last month by the US Government Accountability Office that identifies the nation’s Superfund sites deemed most “at risk” of climate crises including flooding, coastal inundation, and wildfire. Of the 945 sites on the GAO list, 24 are in our 352-square mile Lower Raritan Watershed. That’s an incredibly disproportionate 4% of the most at-risk toxic sites in the United States. Our almost 900,000 watershed residents don’t have to travel rural roads to encounter pollutant hazards, they are proximate to where we live and work. More info on the GAO report, and a list of these sites, is on the LRWP website.

GAO-identified Superfunds in the Lower Raritan that are at-risk of natural hazards impacts (2019)

Of course the GAO only looks at Nonfederal Superfund sites. Here’s a map of all Known Contaminated Sites (KCS) in the watershed, many more of which are likewise at risk.

Not surprisingly, the concentrated band of sites that runs through the middle of the watershed traces along the Raritan River and feeder waterways. Our challenge will be containment of hazards impacts, particularly tough when stilling ponds and uses are proximate to flooded waters.

One of many Raritan River-adjacent landfills/Superfund sites at-risk of flood impacts
Photo by Alison M. Jones, No Water No Life – taken during a LightHawk flight, April 2019

2 Comments On “On climate risks, hazards containment, and the Lower Raritan’s “Dark Waters””

  1. Was anyone informed that there was a heating oil spill in the canal in Boyd Park several months ago? I was literally in tears. There’s a few of us who are regularly down river keeping an eye out and picking up debris and garbage on a daily basis.

    Reply

    • Hi Matthew. Thank you so much for debris/garbage pick up! Do you have more information on the heating oil spill? Was NJDEP (1-800-WARN-DEP) called? Please do notify the LRWP as well if you become aware of any polluting of this type: #908.349.0281. If you have established a case with NJDEP regarding the heating oil spill (or any other issue), please share the case # and we can follow up as well.

      Reply

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