GEMS ruling applauded by S.J. officials

By DEBORAH HIRSCH Courier-Post Staff January 9, 2009

Local government officials Wednesday applauded a recent federal court ruling requiring the trust in charge of cleaning up a contaminated Gloucester Township landfill to continue weekly tests for radioactive materials.

The GEMS landfill off Erial Road was the dumping ground for toxic industrial and municipal waste dating to the 1950s. The federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Protection declared it a Superfund site in 1982, but it wasn't until 1999 that low levels of radium and uranium turned up in environmental tests.

A trust made up of the companies and government agencies that dumped materials in the landfill worked out an EPA-approved plan to clean up the site that included pumping wastewater through the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority wastewater treatment plant in Camden.

A federal judge ordered the plan to proceed in 2005, despite objections from Camden and Gloucester county officials, residents and environmental groups.

A few months later, the trust sought court permission to reduce the amount of environmental tests.

Although radioactive materials coming from the site have tested within safe levels over the past three years, government officials lobbied to keep the weekly tests.

Constant testing is the most responsible thing to do, especially because the cleanup is slated to take 30 years, said Gloucester Township Mayor Cindy Rau-Hatton.

Said Jane Nogaki, vice chairwoman of the N.J. Environmental Federation, "It's critical that there be a consistent record of what the radionuclide levels are coming out of that landfill. At any moment they could change."

U.S. District Court Judge Jerome Simandle upheld the weekly testing for radioactive agents on Dec. 17.

U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., called the decision a victory for the health and welfare of the community. If there ever should be a spike in radioactive material, Andrews said, officials would know within a week.

Andrews said he still preferred to have wastewater treated right at the landfill, but at least constant testing will give them legal grounds to request that procedure if toxic levels ever climb.

"We're going to insist that the testing be stringent and careful and frequent," he said.

Gloucester Township Council President Glen Bianchini said the township also still is considering the landfill for a solar power project.

Reach Deborah Hirsch at (856) 486-2476 or dhirsch@camden.gannett.com

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