Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

Superfund Site:

MONTCLAIR/WEST ORANGE RADIUM SITE
MONTCLAIR/WEST ORANGE, NJ

Cleanup Activities

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Background

The site is located in Montclair and West Orange, New Jersey. The 120-acre area included 469 residential properties and 10 municipal properties. Soil at the site was contaminated with radioactive waste materials suspected to have originated from nearby radium-processing facilities that operated in the early 1900s. Houses were later built on or near radium waste disposal areas. Some of the radium-contaminated soil was used as fill in the low-lying areas, and some was mixed with cement for sidewalks and foundations. This site is similar to the nearby Glen Ridge Radium Superfund site, which also had radium-contaminated soils from the same sources. Because of their proximity and the similarity of the contamination, EPA addressed the two sites jointly. Following emergency actions to protect human health and the environment, and the completion of the site’s long-term cleanup, EPA took the site off the Superfund program’s National Priorities List in September 2009.

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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

Emergency Actions: In 1983, EPA installed temporary ventilation systems to reduce radon concentrations in 38 homes at the site and at the nearby Glen Ridge Radium site. In addition, shielding from gamma radiation was installed in 12 homes. The radon systems were upgraded to higher efficiency units in 1990 and 1991. Two additional units were also installed at that time.

Soil and Structures: In 1989, EPA selected a remedy to address the most severely contaminated properties, and deferred selecting a remedy for the remaining, less contaminated properties and contaminated public areas and streets until the site’s 1990 Record of Decision, or ROD. The selected remedy for all affected properties, regardless of the degree of contamination or property type, involved the excavation and off-site disposal of all radium-contaminated soil, followed by restoration of the properties. The contaminated properties were categorized into 15 construction phases, to address the most severe contamination first.

Cleanup activities began with an investigation of the properties to determine the location, magnitude and extent of contamination. Detailed excavation and restoration plans were developed for each property where contamination was found. Property cleanups ranged from the removal of a few cubic yards to excavation of contaminated fill material from an entire parcel. In some instances, this included material beneath the basement slab. At the most extensively contaminated properties, the occupants were temporarily relocated while the cleanup was carried out.

Groundwater: A groundwater investigation for the project areas determined that no further action was necessary.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

 

Radium research and the radium-products industry were prevalent in northern New Jersey from the early 1900s to the late 1920s as medical, commercial and military uses were found for the metal. Radium was used to destroy cancerous tissue and was applied as self-illuminating paint in watch and instrument dials, gun sights and survey equipment. Several companies involved in radium research, radium extraction and radium products were located in the urbanized areas of Essex County during that period. By the early 1930s, increasing awareness of the hazards of radium, and the discovery of richer uranium ore in Africa, caused the radium industry to disappear from this area. However, the discarded materials from this industry (process residues, sandy tailings and even some unused product) were suspected to have been left behind.
While some of this waste remained on the factory properties, it was believed that other waste materials were carted to rural areas where they were dumped along with other refuse. After 1920, these areas were developed for residential use. During residential development, channeling and diversion of surface runoff was necessary, and earth was moved during the construction of roads and houses. Contaminated material mixed with non-contaminated soil and fill material.

As part of a program to investigate former radium-processing activities, the State of New Jersey identified a number of homes with high levels of radon gas and radon decay products, as well as excessive levels of indoor and outdoor gamma radiation in the project area. New Jersey requested EPA assistance. In 1981 EPA conducted a helicopter survey that identified areas where surface gamma radiation was significantly above background. Additional site investigation work took place and EPA listed the site on the National Priorities List in 1985.

This site required immediate emergency actions and a permanent long-term cleanup strategy that focused soil, structures and groundwater. In 1983, EPA installed temporary ventilation systems to reduce radon concentrations in 38 homes at the site and at the nearby Glen Ridge Radium site. In addition, shielding from gamma radiation was installed in 12 homes. Those radon systems were upgraded to higher efficiency units in 1990 and 1991, with two additional units installed at that time.
In 1989, EPA selected a remedy to address the most severely contaminated properties, and deferred selecting a remedy for the remaining, less contaminated properties and contaminated public areas and streets until the site’s 1990 Record of Decision, or ROD. The selected permanent remedy for all affected properties, regardless of the degree of contamination or property type, involved the excavation and off-site disposal of all radium-contaminated soil, followed by restoration of the properties. The contaminated properties were categorized into 15 construction phases, to address the most severe contamination first and to minimize neighborhood disruptions due to construction work.

Cleanup activities began with investigations to determine the location, magnitude and extent of contamination. Detailed excavation and restoration plans were developed for each property where contamination was found. Property cleanups ranged from the removal of a few cubic yards to excavation of contaminated fill material from an entire parcel. In some instances, this included material beneath the basement slab. At the most extensively contaminated properties, the occupants were temporarily relocated while the cleanup was carried out. A groundwater investigation for the project areas determined that no further action was necessary.

 

The site was successfully cleaned up through a series of emergency and long-term actions. EPA began construction of the permanent soil remedy in 1990, with all cleanup and restoration activities completed in December 2004. The site is no longer a threat to human health and the environment and EPA deleted the site from the Superfund Program’s National Priorities List in September 2009.

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