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Councilman: What Are Dangers of Leaking Contaminants?

Pfizer presents its remediation plans for the Cyanamid site to the township council.

Representatives from Pfizer spoke before the township council Monday about their plans for the that is located mostly in Bridgewater—but for the council members, the biggest concern centered around what could be done if any of the contaminants from the site leak into the air during remediation.

The site is a total of 570 acres, with most in Bridgewater and 10 acres crossing over into Bound Brook, and Pfizer has been working on the remediation since it obtained the property when it took over Wyeth in 2009.

Currently, the plans are to implement remediation, ensure remediation activities can facilitate the use of the property, enhance the ecological aspects of it and position it as an asset to the community.

Representatives from Pfizer presented a video to the council about the remediation plans.

About $200 million has already been invested into the site to investigate remediation, and Pfizer is waiting on a ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency to determine what method is employed to remediate the property.

The one plan Pfizer hopes is chosen will cost $155 million for design and construction, with a total of $205 million once that is completed, including maintenance and monitoring.

All costs will be paid by Pfizer.

The plans include treating waste material, constructing low permeability covers to prevent future contact with materials, constructing protective barrier covers, preserving wetland ecological habitats and long term monitoring.

From there, once the remediation is complete, Pfizer is hoping for some commercial development, a possible trail network and the possibility of an ecological preserve.

Russell Downey, director of Pfizer’s Global Engineering Special Projects, said Pfizer is putting in a collection trench for treating water from recent flood events, and to protect from ones in the future.

“Other infrastructure will be built for flood control and enhancements, and improvements in case of flood events during construction,” he said.

Proposed plans that are not being as vehemently considered by Pfizer, Downey said, are because they require less treatment on the site.

But for Councilman Filipe Pedroso, his biggest concern was the potential harm to residents and people driving through the area if any of the contaminants were to leak.

“You said some of the covers will be reducing the potential of breaching contaminants, but that does not mean 100 percent,” he said. “What about the potential leakage of contaminants into the air? What kind of harm could that do to the surrounding area and people?”

Downey said there are caps to prevent the direct contact to contaminants and minimize any leaching.

“There are some areas that are highly contaminated and we are looking to do treatment on those,” he said. “The groundwater collection and treatment plant we will be running for the foreseeable future. We would have to do that.”

In addition, Downey said, Pfizer has tried to put together a plan that would require the least amount of disruption.

“We are looking at plans that are in ground so we don’t have to manage hundreds of acres,” he said. “We are putting in plans for air monitoring on a seasonal basis to show that there are no impacts to current neighbors and others.”

But Pedroso questioned what would happen if there was a leak or some other kind of accident, and whether the residents or others driving through would be in any kind of danger.

“I’m not hearing an answer to the question, if there is an issue where the contaminants leak, how dangerous is it?” he asked.

Downey said Pfizer will be working directly with the local community to find means to control the emissions, and the caps should be enough to keep anything from leaking out.

“For air emissions, we’re using methods to have ground shrouds so ground contaminants would be captured in the system for treatment,” he said. “We chose a remedy that would have the least disruption and prove to the community that it will effectively capture emissions so there is no harm to the community.”

Steven Kemp, senior director with Pfizer Global Engineering, said they will be ensuring that accidents won’t happen, and will look for fallback positions.

“We have to consider accidents and things going wrong,” he said. “We are looking at a failsafe for the treatment system and ways to design those out of the system. A lot of work still needs to be done to figure out how to do that in a safe way, and we will be asking those questions as we go forward.”

“We are confident this can be done because it has been done at many other sites,” he added.

The goal of the project is complete the remediation around 2018 or so.

The EPA is expected to put out a proposed plan within a week, with a six-week period that will include public hearings expected around the beginning of March.

Once those are complete, Pfizer will move forward toward creating a legal agreement with the EPA that should take about a year, before the engineering and design process for the remediation begins.

“Pfizer has to put financial assurance to guarantee the remedy,” he said. “That includes implementation and long-term care.”

“We are going to put up the money necessary, and then it’s our money at stake, we will be held financially responsible for the site,” he added.

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