EPA strikes cleanup deal 36 years after informing polluter about toxic liability

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed settlement with Stepan Company to address contaminated soil at the Maywood Chemical Company Superfund Site in Bergen County, New Jersey.

Under the proposed agreement, Stepan Company, a potentially responsible party for the site, will be required to remove and dispose of contaminated soil from several non-residential properties that are part of the site, at an estimated cost of $8.6 million.

EPA first notified Stepan Company of its potential liability for site-related contamination in 1987 because it owns site property, produces specialty chemicals on portions of the site, and is a successor to Maywood Chemical Company.

A series of explosions in the chemical company’s metals shop rocked an area within a 5-mile radius of the Bergen County borough in 1953.

The site includes more than 90 properties in Maywood, Lodi and Rochelle Park, where Maywood Chemical Works processed radioactive thorium ore on site from 1916 through 1955 that produced residual radioactive waste.

Other processing activities generated various types of chemical wastes including lanthanum, lithium compounds, detergents, alkaloids, essential oils, and products from tea and cocoa leaves.

Chemical workers used waste materials as fill on site and at nearby properties, spreading chemical and radioactive contamination over much of the local area.

The original Maywood Chemical Works began operating in the late 1890s, and it pumped process wastes to diked areas west of the property.

State Route 17 was built in 1932 through the disposal area, causing process wastes to migrate through runoff onto nearby properties.

In addition, radioactive material was spread to nearby properties because the waste materials were used as mulch and fill. The radioactive material was also transported along Lodi Brook and Westerly Brook through soil and sediment.

Although currently an underground culvert, Lodi Brook was formerly an open channel. Contamination was spread over much of the local area.

The Stepan Chemical Company bought the Maywood Chemical Works in 1959 and while it discontinued many of Maywood Chemical’s operations in the 1960s, it remains the current owner of the property.

In addition to agreeing to perform the work covered in the latest agreement, Stepan recently completed the successful cleanup and restoration of several residential properties in the area.

“This settlement holds polluters like Stepan Company responsible for cleaning up the chemical contamination, which is work needed to address the risks posed to people’s health and the environment,” said EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. “EPA is working with our state partners and to clean and restore Superfund sites in New Jersey and across the country.”

Stepan Company has agreed to carry out EPA’s chosen cleanup plan for a part of the site known as Operable Unit 1 (OU1). This plan aims to address the soil contamination by various chemicals and waste, such as metals, VOCs and SVOCs, at several site properties. Under the plan, the company will:

  • Remove and properly dispose of about 19,690 cubic yards of contaminated soil.
  • Place site use restrictions to prevent future exposure to the remaining contamination.
  • Pay $362,800 to EPA for past cleanup costs and reimbursing EPA for future oversight costs.

Stepan Company has already completed the cleanup work for several residential properties within OU1. Under EPA’s supervision, the company removed and properly disposed of about 18,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from around the properties and restored the properties to their original condition.

The proposed consent decree also resolves payment for costs of initial response work incurred by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and provides for payment of NJDEP’s future oversight costs. 

The proposed consent decree, which has been lodged in the U. S. federal district court for the district of New Jersey, is subject to 60-day public comment periods once notice is published in the Federal Register and New Jersey Register. The Federal Register notice was published on October 6, 2023, and the New Jersey Register notice is forthcoming. At the close of the comment periods, the United States and NJDEP will evaluate the comments and decide whether to proceed and then, if appropriate, seek final approval by the court.

For more information, and to view the proposed consent decree and to give comments, please visit this page: https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees

Visit the Maywood Chemical Co. Superfund site profile page for additional background and site documents.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.