EPA Finalizes Next Steps for Sherwin-Williams Site
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced this month that it has finalized its plan for the next phase of cleanup of the Sherwin-Williams Superfund Site in New Jersey. The plan, which was first proposed in April, requires dredging of contaminated sediments and capping of floodplain soil in bodies of water in Vorhees, Lindenwold and Gibbsboro municipalities.
The EPA reports that contaminants from the Sherwin-Williams/Hilliard Creek Site, the Route 561 Dump Site and the United States Avenue Burn Site have moved downstream to Kirkwood Lake, Silver Lake, Bridgewood Lake and Hilliards Creek.
“This final decision addresses the communities’ expressed desire that we clean up contamination in these waterbodies, and it protects people from exposure to arsenic and lead contamination in the soil and sediment while preserving valued community wetlands,” said acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan.
“Finalizing this cleanup plan, which reflects close coordination with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, allows us to move forward with our continuing work to protect the communities impacted by this and the other associated sites.”
Superfund Site History
Dating back to the 19th century, the Superfund property was originally owned by Lucas Paint Works. Sherwin-Williams bought Lucas in the 1930s and expanded operations at the site. The facility was then closed in 1977 and sold to a developer in 1981.
The Sherwin-William’s Hilliard Creek property is one of three that make up the Sherwin-Williams' Superfund site in the area. The others include a 2.9-acre Route 561 Dump Site and an 11-acre United States Avenue Burn Site, both also in Gibbsboro.
According to the EPA, the plant's soil and groundwater are contaminated with lead, arsenic and volatile organic compounds, while the sediment in and near the creek contains lead and arsenic. White lead was ground onsite, and the plant eventually produced 24 varieties of varnish as well as a variety of toxic pigments, according to the EPA's site description.
Raw materials were mixed and processed in multiple buildings throughout the site, and nearly 200,000 gallons of naphtha, xylene, mineral spirits, toluene, solvent blends and aromatic naptha were stored there.
The operation included 20-foot-deep lagoons for wastewater and paint sludge; above-ground tank farms; a railroad line and spur; drum storage areas; and large-scale manufacturing operations.
The EPA reports that from the mid-1800s until 1977, the owners discharged materials from the lagoons directly into the creek; improperly stored and handled materials, leading to spills and releases; and allowed leaking tanks that resulted in "widespread contamination" involving "high levels of various contaminants."
Since 1999, the site has been operating under an Administrative Order of Consent. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection had several AOCs with Sherwin-Williams dating back to the 1970s.
Jurisdiction for the cleanup was passed to the EPA in 2001 and in 2005—under EPA's oversight—Sherwin-Williams conducted a remedial investigation with field sampling and related activities to evaluate the nature and extent of the contamination.
In 2015, the EPA announced that initial cleanup—Operable Unit 1—would involve the remediation of about 33 homes in the area. Following this process, soil would be excavated and disposed of at licensed facilities, then backfilled, replanted and restored.
At the time, authorities completed evaluations on about 55 homes in all—primarily properties adjacent to the site and those exposed to flooding and surface water runoff from it.
A month after the initial cleanup announcement, the EPA extended the period for public comment on the endeavor, which delayed operations.
The EPA later reported that Sherwin-Williams had “removed 8,096 cubic yards of sludge from a former lagoon area, removed 44,785 gallons of liquid waste, installed a soil vapor extraction treatment system to reduce the volatile organic compounds in the soil near two former plant buildings, installed fencing to limit access to some source areas and taken other steps to address the pollution.”
The following year, phase two—Operable Unit 2—of the cleanup plan was initiated. The new action related to the Route 561 Dump Site and involved soil in contaminated areas to be removed and disposed of off-site, from 2 to 4 feet in some areas to up to 14 feet deep in the most contaminated spots. Areas would then be capped—with fresh soil or, in parking lot areas, with asphalt.
Sediment in the contaminated streams was also slated to be removed and disposed of off-site. Surface water would then be monitored for contaminants to determine if further action needed to be taken.
At the time, lead levels in the soil on the sites were reported to range up to 200,000 mg/kg in the most concentrated area—that’s 500 times the residential standard. Arsenic levels reached as high as 14,000 mg/kg, more than 700 times the residential standard. The most concentrated levels of both are in the Route 561 site. Sherwin-Williams was reported to participate and fund the second phase of cleanup operations.
At the end of last year, the EPA announced the proposal for the next phase of cleanup, which is estimated to cost $36 million.
The plan involves backfilling the affected area with clean soil, follow-up groundwater and surface water monitoring and institutional controls in the form of deed notices. The wetland areas are also slated to be restored with vegetation and soil similar to its original state.
According to the EPA’s press release, in areas of the Superfund site where paint solvents are present, the agency will use subsurface treatment methods to treat the harmful chemicals. Other areas contaminated by paint solvents will receive injections of non-hazardous additives to the subsurface soil in order to biologically break down the contaminants.
The EPA reports that the specific types of additives will be determined by the agency as part of the design of the cleanup. Soil gas collection systems are also slated for installation onsite to help collect and treat harmful vapors.
Throughout this phase of the cleanup, the EPA will monitor and further study the cleanup progress to ensure the effectiveness and plans to conduct a review of the cleanup every five years.
In August 2020, the EPA announced it had finalized its plan to address contamination at the site. The affected areas requiring cleanup included a 20-acre area where the former paint manufacturing plant operated, Hilliards Creek headquarters and other adjoining areas, which include approximately six residential properties. Hilliards Creek also flows through the site and into Kirkwood Lake.
In addition to additive injections, soil gas collection systems will be installed to collect and treat vapors from the breakdown of paint solvents.
In regard to the excavation and disposal of floodplain soil and sediment containing arsenic and lead, surface water will be monitored during the implementation of the remedy and the wetland areas will be restored with vegetation and soil similar to what previously existed.
According to its press release, the EPA will oversee the construction of a system to temporarily divert streams during the dredging of 128,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from Silver Lake, Bridgewood Lake, Kirkwood Lake and Hilliards Creek.
Under the plan, 42,000 cubic yards of the two top feet of soil located within the floodplains will also be removed and capped, including treatment, transport and disposal of excavated sediment and soil off-site at a permitted facility.
The EPA will also put institutional controls in the form of deed restrictions into place and conduct a review within five years to ensure the effectiveness of the cleanup.
The estimated cost of the waterbody cleanup is reportedly approximately $90 million.