EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Some of the people who live down the hill from Price's Landfill said they were glad to hear the federal government is taking steps to clean up the Superfund site, but after so many years have passed, they wonder how many health problems originated at the contaminated pit.
"My mother died of cancer. My father died of cancer. I have a brother and two sisters who had cancer. My baby sister and myself, we had cancer," said Luebirta Ames, 72. "You see, I don't have anything good to say, because when I look at the pit, and I told them the kids were screaming out there on the pit, and all that money they got, they weren't decent enough to put a fence on it until later."
Ames moved to the area in the 1950s with her family. She now lives a short distance away on Elm Street in Absecon.
"We're blessed that anybody's living in the area," she said.
She was angry that for years she and other people in her family were unaware of the chemicals that lay underground.
"My daughter, I made her soak because she had a skin problem. Didn't know I made her soak in contaminated water," Ames said. "Her skin would swell up and break open."
Ames wanted public officials to explain what would happen and where. "When they go on in there, they have space suits, masks. But what do we got on? Nothing."
Price's Landfill, commonly known as Price's Pit, is a 26-acre landfill off Saw Mill Road, mostly in Egg Harbor Township near the border with Pleasantville and Absecon.
It was a private landfill that accepted about 9 million gallons of industrial waste over 18 months in 1971 and 1972. This year, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has proposed spending $16.4 million to build a wastewater-treatment plant that would treat the water, then transport it to the Atlantic County Utilities Authority for further treatment.
Construction should begin by late August, with the project up and running in two years, EPA officials said.
The groundwater is now polluted with heavy metals, including lead and cadmium, along with volatile organic compounds, according to the EPA. All have been found to be detrimental to human health.
The EPA labeled the site "the most serious environmental problem in the United States" in 1981.
Residents drank polluted well water until the state closed the wells and extended water supply lines to homes in the area that year, and the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority relocated several nearby wells.
There are now 102 monitoring wells that track the pollutants, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna said.
Over the years, Hajna said, groundwater has flowed northeast. Today, he said, it has reached the wetlands surrounding Absecon Creek.
The contaminants reach 150 feet below ground, EPA spokeswoman Elizabeth Totman said.
The site was later fenced off, and a small, temporary pilot plant was finished in 2001. The plant treats about 75,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater daily, Totman said.
In 1988, more than 50 defendants agreed to settle litigation for $17.5 million, with much of the money going toward remediation and treatment of the site. The settlement allocated $250,000 to the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority for relocating five wells.
Another $524,000 was paid into a 21-year trust fund for 101 children who could develop health problems from drinking the water, with $393,000 remaining after legal fees. However, in 2002, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office said fund attorney Carl Valore made $484,423 in loans from the fund, while at the same time refusing the beneficiaries' request for loans. At the time, Atlantic County Prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz said no money had ever been paid out for cancer claims.
Valore was disbarred and pleaded guilty to misusing funds invested by former clients and misappropriating trust-fund money, and was sentenced to prison in 2004. The New Jersey Lawyers Fund for Client Protection, which pays debts to the clients of crooked lawyers, susbequently paid out almost $1.7 million for this and other claims, the most ever by the fund.
"They stole the money, as everybody knows," Ames said.
Ames' sister Olivia Dorsey, 70, now lives on Plum Street, a short distance from the dump. She suffers from headaches and other problems, she said.
"It's just one thing after another," she said. "I've had so many problems."
She lives close enough to still smell the toxins, she says. And she's skeptical that anything will be done.
"We've already been stepped on," she said. "Not just me, the whole neighborhood."
But for the people who live "under the pit," life has not been easy.
Rich Ford, 44, grew up about a block from the dump. When he grew up, he said, the ground would sometimes crack and orange and green liquids would ooze out.
He moved away from the area in his early 20s, but returned in 2005 to build a home on Plum Street where he grew up. Intending to stay a couple of years before moving South, his loss of work and the collapse of real estate prices have kept him in place.
Ford has never had cancer, but wondered what the future holds. One man he grew up with had testicular cancer, while another woman had to have her liver removed.
"We drank that water for years," he said. "It wasn't too good, but it was water."
Chemical present at Price's Landfill
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has identified 10 chemicals in the groundwater near Price's Landfill, a private dump where more than 9 million gallons of industrial effluent were dumped in 1971 and 1972.
1,1-Dichloroethylene and 1,2-Trans-dichloroethylene: Chemicals made in the manufacture of perfumes, lacquers and thermoplastics. Short-term exposure may cause central nervous system depression. Long-term exposure may cause liver, circulatory and nervous system damage. There is not enough evidence to say they cause cancer.
Acetone: A flammable chemical used in manufacturing processes. Skin contact can result in irritation and damage, while swallowing large amounts can lead to unconsciousness. The EPA removed it from its listing of most toxic chemicals in 1995.
Benzene: A solvent for resins, oils and paint as well as part of motor fuel. Short-term exposure can cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches and eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation, and, at high levels, unconsciousness. Long-term exposure can cause blood disorders; reproductive effects have been observed in women. Classified as a carcinogen.
Cadmium: Byproduct of smelting zinc, lead or copper. Breathing high doses can irritate and damage the lungs and cause death. Long-term exposure can lead to kidney stones and affect the skeleton. A suspected carcinogen.
Chloroform: Formerly used as a dry cleaning spot remover and to remove greases, in fire extinguishers and anesthetic. Longterm effects include hepatitis, jaundice, depression and irritability and other effects on the blood, liver and kidneys. Some studies suggest a link between this and cancer of the large intestine, rectum and bladder.
Lead: Can damage children's central nervous system, leading to behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems and headache. Adults can suffer from reproductive problems, high blood pressure, nerve disorder, concentration problems and muscle and joint pain.
Tetrachloroethylene: Widely used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing. Long-term effects include neurological, liver and kidney problems. Reproductive problems, like spontaneous abortions, also have been observed in people who work closely with the chemicals. It was classified between a probable and possible human carcinogen.
Trichloroethylene: Used as a degreaser, as well as spot-remover, rug cleaner and typewriter correction fluid. Exposure can affect the central nervous system, causing dizziness, headaches, confusion, euphoria, facial numbness and weakness. Other kidney, immunological, endocrine and developmental effects have also been seen. It is associated with several kinds of cancer, especially of the kidney, liver, cervix and lymphatic system.
Vinyl chloride: Created through the production of plastics. Long-term effects include central nervous system damage, along with the potential to cause cancer and liver damage after higher, longer-term exposure.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency
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