GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - It will take nearly a quarter-century and millions of dollars to clean up soil and groundwater contaminated by sewage and chemical waste that was improperly handled at Emmell's Septic Landfill, federal environmental officials said Thursday.

The Environmental Protection Agency designated Emmell's a Superfund site in 1999, two decades after operations there ceased. Subsequent testing detected iron, poly-chlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, according to project manager Joe Bowers.

Neighbors fired questions and complaints at Bowers during a 90-minute public information session at the Galloway Township branch of the Atlantic County Public Library.

"I'm glad the government is coming in and taking care of this, but I'm concerned about my property value," resident Dawn Toscano said.

By 2003, the EPA had connected 36 nearby houses to the public water supply and removed 28,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the 38-acre site.

Emmell's had a permit from state Department of Environmental Protection during its 12 years in business, Bowers said.

"They just didn't quite follow the rules," he said.

Jack Verseput, who lives behind the site, complained that the EPA had not notified him of the meeting and that 2 p.m. start time was inconvenient. "We've been left in the dark," he said.

Verseput, his wife, Lisa, and Toscano and her husband, Vincent, made up the neighborhood representation.

They expressed concerns that the treatment plant would make too much noise once operations begin in June or July 2010. Once it goes online, the plant will run 24 hours a day for 20 or 25 years, Bowers said.

"If we don't take action, it would take 70 or 80 years (for the water) to clean naturally," Bowers said.

The EPA will mail a fact sheet about the project to neighbors within the next month, Bowers said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is the project contractor.

E-mail Emily Previti:

The Environmental Protection Agency already has decided how to remediate polluted on-site groundwater at Emmell's Septic Landfill Superfund site, but is still studying how to best address soil and off-site groundwater contamination.

On-site water contamination

Contaminants: iron; volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, up to 4,000 parts-per-billion.

How it's handled: Water will be pumped from 80 feet below the surface into an 8,400-square-foot treatment facility planned for the east end of the site. Once purified, the water will be flushed through pipes to recharge basins on the western edge of the property.

Neighbors' concerns: Disturbing the groundwater could cause the contaminated liquid to spread. EPA tested water annually through on-site monitoring wells and private wells at homes along Moss Mill Road no further than three-quarters of a mile from Emmell's. Officials might expand testing to include more nearby residential properties and will run more frequent tests on-site until results indicate that contaminant levels have stabilized below those that are concerning.

On-site soil contamination

Contaminants: Polylchlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The odorless, tasteless, heat-resistant carcinogen was used in light fixtures until scientists realized the health risks of its environmental buildup. The substance takes decades to break down to the point that it is no longer harmful to those exposed. PCBs are present in soil at Emmell's and not the water there because PCB molecules bind readily to soil particles and therefore rainwater usually will not carry them deep into the soil.

How it's handled: A small portion of soil is laden with levels of PCB high enough - above 50 parts-per-million - to be considered hazardous waste. That means it must be shipped to landfills regulated by the Toxic Substance Control Act. The rest can go to any landfill.

Neighbors' concerns: Potential for exposure for people who hunt or ride all-terrain-vehicles - which constitutes trespassing - on the site.

Off-site soil contamination

Contaminants: Iron; VOCs at or below 50 parts per billion.

How it's handled: EPA likely will add off-site pumping stations and extend pipes to divert nearby groundwater water to the on-site treatment facility. Further away, EPA will pump air into subsurface soils to encourage naturally occurring micro-organisms to clean water.

Neighbors' concerns: That cleanup will not happen before eastward-moving contaminated water - called a plume - reaches the Saw Mill ponds on the Richard Stockton College campus that feed streams leading to Mill Pond two miles away in Port Republic.

Water and soil test results through 2006 are available at the Galloway Township branch of the Atlantic County Public Library, 302 E. Jimmie Leeds Road. People who want more recent data should file a Freedom of Information Act request with the Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.gov

Sources: Project Director Joe Gowers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Port Republic Mayor Gary Giberson; Agency for Toxic Diseases & Substances Registry

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