Waterway cleanup proposed in three South Jersey towns tied to Sherwin-Williams Superfund

Silent smokestacks from the original factory at the former Lucas Paint Works are a familiar part of the Gibbsboro skyline, but the tranquil scene belies the ground and water contamination is still being addressed in a federal Superfund cleanup with Sherwin-Williams, the successor to Lucas. Silver Lake (foreground) is one of the waterways contaminated by lead and arsenic. Courier-Post File Photo

Posted on April 6, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released Thursday a proposal for the next phase of the Sherwin-Williams/Hilliards Creek Superfund site.

The proposal calls for dredging of contaminated sediment and excavation and capping of floodplain soil at Silver Lake, Bridgewood Lake, Kirkwood Lake, and Hilliards Creek between Gibbsboro, Voorhees and Lindenwold.

Silver Lake and the creek and their sediments were contaminated with lead and arsenic from paint manufacturing by the Gibbsboro plant of Lucas Paintworks, the predecessor to Sherwin Williams.

“The cleanup of these water bodies has long been sought by these communities and we are proud of this proposal,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan. “The proposed cleanup addresses arsenic and lead contamination that poses serious risks to people, fish and wildlife.”

The plan is based on what Sherwin-Williams calls a “comprehensive feasibility study” it prepared in evaluating remediation alternatives for contamination of Hilliards Creek and floodplain, Silver Lake, Bridgewood Lake and Kirkwood Lake.

Ed Kelleher of Voorhees protests against Sherwin-Williams and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) in 2016 to persuade them to dredge Kirkwood Lake, part of a Superfund cleanup of waterways and other sites contaminated by a paint company operation. On Thursday, April 1, 2021--five years later-- EPA releases a  cleanup plan for the affected waterways in Gibbsboro, Voorhees and Lindenwold.

It has been five years since Voorhees residents called for cleanup of Kirkwood Lake and Hilliard’s Creek and demonstrated at a prior public hearing. Since then, the EPA has given other areas of the Superfund site — a dump; a site where paint wastes were burned in Gibbsboro; and residential properties along Kirkwood Lake — cleanup priority in order to avoid further waterway contamination.

The latest plan calls for dredging 128,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from Silver Lake, Bridgewood Lake, Kirkwood Lake, and Hilliards Creek and would include construction of a system to temporarily divert streams during the cleanup.

Additionally, the EPA proposes to remove approximately 42,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the top two feet of soil within floodplain areas and then cap the contaminated soil below two feet level.

Alice Johnston, leader of the Kirkwood Lake Environmental Committee, has questions on the time frame for the next phase.

“While it is a clear step forward that these cleanup efforts are now in the forefront of the final planning stages, it will be important to ascertain the timeline for remediation to be completed and the methods and scope of the work being done.” said Johnston, whose lakeside property was cleaned of contaminated soil in 2019.

She said residents again are seeing “progressive vegetative growth” again in Kirkwood Lake but are “hopeful remediation efforts will be quickly forthcoming.”

Spatterdocks choking Kirkwood Lake in Voorhees have been sprayed with an herbicide to kill them every year pending dredging of the contaminated lake, part of a Superfund site that was once a former paint factory in neighboring Gibbsboro.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club is not impressed with parts of the EPA proposal.

“Unfortunately, EPA’s plan to cap the site will fail. If we allow lead and arsenic to stay in the ground, it will impact drinking water, streams and even worse vapors from the contamination will end up in homes,” said New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel. “EPA should not be capping contaminated materials at the site, especially if it’s located in a floodplain. The cap will wash out along with the toxic materials underneath it.”

Instead, he suggested removing all of the contaminated soil.

“These areas have been suffering for too long, we need to make sure they get a full cleanup. If hazardous materials such as arsenic and lead are left in the ground, there will be major health and environmental implications.

Tittel said both EPA and New Jersey need to make sure Sherwin Williams is “held accountable for fully cleaning up their toxic disaster.”

What to know

The EPA will host a virtual public hearing on the plan for community input at 7 p.m. April 12 and accept written comments on the proposed plan through May 3.

To register for the public meeting visit https://epa-sherwin-williams-ou4.eventbrite.com. To learn more about the public meeting, contact Pat Seppi at Seppi.Pat@epa.gov or 646-369-0068.

A copy of the remedial action plan and information on EPA’s virtual public meeting and the public comment process are available at www.epa.gov/superfund/sherwin-williams and on the Sherwin-Williams project website at www.SWHilliardsCreek.com

Written comments on the EPA plan may be mailed or emailed to Julie Nace, Remedial Project Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 290 Broadway, 19th Floor, New York, NY 10007 or to nace.julie@epa.gov

Carol Comegno loves telling stories about South Jersey history and our military veterans. Her book, “The Battleship USS New Jersey: From Birth to Berth” is the definitive history of the battleship. If you have a story to share, call her at 856-486-2473 or email  ccomegno@gannettnj.com.

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