Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

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The Maywood Chemical Superfund Site is located on more than 90 properties in Maywood, Lodi and Rochelle Park, Bergen County, about 10 miles west of New York City. From 1916 through 1955, the Maywood Chemical Works processed radioactive thorium ore on site, which resulted in residual radioactive thorium waste. Other processing activities generated various types of chemical wastes. These waste materials were used as fill on site and at nearby properties, resulting in chemical and radioactive contamination over much of the local area.

The original Maywood Chemical Works began operating in the late 1890s. Operations from 1916 to 1955 included thorium processing from monazite sands, which resulted in residual radioactive thorium waste. In addition, other processing operations generated various waste products, including lanthanum, lithium compounds, detergents, alkaloids, essential oils, and products from tea and cocoa leaves. Maywood Chemical pumped process wastes to diked areas west of the plant. In 1932, State Route 17 was built through the disposal area. Process wastes migrated onto nearby properties. Some of the waste materials were dug up and used as fill dirt and mulch for local properties. Waste materials were also transported via the old Lodi Brook stream channel, which was subsequently replaced by a storm water drainage system. The result was chemical and radioactive contamination over much of the local area.

The Stepan Chemical Company (later, the Stepan Company) bought the Maywood Chemical Works in 1959. The Stepan Company is currently the owner/operator of a portion of the original Maywood Chemical Works property. Many of Maywood Chemical's operations were discontinued in the 1960s. The Stepan Company currently focuses on the production of specialty chemicals.
The Stepan Company property had contaminated soil, groundwater, buildings and three Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensed burial pits. Other properties with site-related contamination included the MISS, 60 residential properties, three properties owned by the state or federal government, four municipal properties and 20 commercial properties which are referred to as the Sears and adjacent properties.

In the late 1960s, the Stepan Company took corrective measures at some of the former disposal areas on the original Maywood Chemical Works property, both east and west of State Route 17. The Stepan Company's corrective measures included relocation and burial of about 19,100 cubic yards of excavated waste materials on property currently owned by the Stepan Company. The company sold parts of the original Maywood Chemical Works property after relocation of the waste materials.

In 1980, radiological contamination was accidentally discovered by an area resident on property formerly owned by the Stepan Chemical Company. From 1980 to 1983, radiological testing by the State, EPA and the DOE revealed extensive low-level contamination at several locations. These studies were the basis for the site being added to the EPA’s National Priorities List in 1983. The site was assigned by Congress to the Department of Energy (DOE) in 1984. DOE then placed the site in its FUSRAP program. In 1986, in conjunction with DOE's radiological characterization of the Sears and adjacent properties, EPA performed a preliminary study of chemical, non-radioactive pollutants. EPA's study indicated the presence of elevated concentrations of volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, metals, pesticides and other hazardous substances. In late 1987 through the spring of 1988, in conjunction with DOE's studies and investigations, EPA collected split samples of soil and groundwater on the Stepan Company property. The data indicated the presence of radiological contaminants in the soil and non-radiological contaminants in the soil and groundwater.

This site is being addressed through federal and potentially responsible party actions, with EPA oversight. The USACE cleanup work is funded by continuing Congressional appropriations under FUSRAP. The purpose of the FUSRAP program was to clean up contaminated sites where work was performed as part of the Nation’s early atomic energy program. Because environmental concerns at the Maywood site were similar to those of FUSRAP sites, DOE assigned the Maywood site to FUSRAP. A 1990 Federal Facility Agreement between DOE and EPA defined the steps, responsibilities and schedule for cleanup activities at Maywood. Responsibility for cleanup of the Maywood FUSRAP site subsequently transferred from DOE to the USACE in October 1997.

Stepan Company is responsible for non-FUSRAP contamination, as defined in the Federal Facility Agreement, on or emanating from former Maywood Chemical Works properties. Stepan is conducting response activities under three EPA enforcement orders.
Site cleanup work has been divided into four operable units (OUs) to systematically address the contamination by responsible entity and media type, as follows: OU1 – Non-FUSRAP Soil and Source Areas; OU2 – FUSRAP Soil and Buildings; OU3 – FUSRAP Groundwater; and OU4 – Non-FUSRAP Groundwater.


The site is being cleaned up by two separate entities – the federal government’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Stepan Company, a responsible party. The USACE is responsible for radioactive contamination and all contamination on or emanating from an 11.7 acre government-owned property, which is known as the Maywood Interim Storage Site (MISS). The USACE cleanup work is funded by continuing Congressional appropriations under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP). Stepan is responsible for non-FUSRAP contamination on or emanating from former Maywood Chemical Works properties. Radiological soil cleanup work is underway and additional remedies for groundwater and chemically-contaminated soil are in development.

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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

The USACE is responsible for addressing FUSRAP contaminants associated with former thorium processing operations and is remediating the site’s radiological contamination above site-specific risk-based cleanup goals. The remedy for the FUSRAP soil and buildings cleanup calls for the excavation, removal and off-site disposal of contaminated materials. It also calls for institutional and land use controls in areas where inaccessible contamination remains at levels higher than the unrestricted criteria, as well as for properties cleaned up to meet commercial land use criteria. The USACE is also responsible for all contamination (radiological and non-radiological) at the MISS. More than 70 properties (including residential and municipal properties) have been cleaned up by the DOE and the USACE under FUSRAP. To date, more than 700,000 cubic yards of contaminated materials have been permanently removed from the site, significantly reducing the potential for exposure to contamination. 

A separate FUSRAP groundwater cleanup plan is being implemented by USACE to address contamination affecting the groundwater associated with the MISS. The site and surrounding area has a public water supply which is not in the vicinity of the site’s groundwater contamination. Results of a well search in a radius of the site indicate that no potable wells are located in potentially contaminated groundwater. The FUSRAP groundwater remedy includes restrictions for drilling wells in areas with contaminated groundwater.
The USACE conducts an annual environmental monitoring program that includes sampling of air, water and streambed sediment to aid in the evaluation of potential hazards to the off-site population.
The Stepan Company is responsible for conducting the cleanup of non-FUSRAP chemical contamination in soil and groundwater on the Stepan Company property and Sears and adjacent commercial properties.

The non-FUSRAP soil remedy has been selected with site-specific, risk-based cleanup goals and land use restrictions for areas with commercial use goals.

EPA conducts Five Year Reviews to determine if the remedy is protective of human health and the environment.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

OU1 - The OU1 soil remedy calls for excavation of chemically-contaminated soil with off-site disposal and in situ treatment of a limited amount of soil with vapor extraction if it is deemed viable during a preliminary study. Five areas of concern have been identified on three separate properties. Some of the areas will require land use controls to restrict certain future uses, such as residential. EPA and Stepan entered into a Settlement Agreement to perform the remedial design.  The remedy is currently in the early stages of the remedial design process and will include a significant amount of pre-design soil investigation work consisting of up to 600 soil samples on 11 acres to more precisely define the nature and extent of contamination. The design will be followed by implementation of the remedy. USACE radiological soil cleanup work must precede the OU1 chemical soil work.

OU2 - The USACE continues to clean up the remaining FUSRAP contaminated soil and buildings in accordance with the selected remedy that calls for excavation and off-site disposal. Stepan Company’s NRC license for the storage of thorium-bearing materials was terminated in February 2016, following the successful cleanup of the three burial pits by the USACE.

OU3 - The FUSRAP groundwater remedy calls for removal and treatment of contaminated soil affecting the groundwater, long-term monitoring and institutional controls to prevent well installations in areas of contamination. Following the removal of contamination sources, the overburden groundwater will be tested and may require in situ treatment if contamination levels remain elevated. USACE is currently removing soil that is a source of groundwater contamination and conducting groundwater monitoring work.

OU4 – Non-FUSRAP groundwater is being investigated by Stepan. Based on investigation results, remedial alternatives will be evaluated for selection of a groundwater remedy. Separate tracks for soil and groundwater cleanups were developed, so that soil contamination affecting groundwater will be addressed before a groundwater remedy begins

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