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EPA Selects Cleanup Plan For Grand Street Mercury Superfund Site in Hoboken; Demolish Building and Permanently Relocate Residents

Release Date: 10/06/1997
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(#97129) NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Standing outside the empty apartment building known as the Grand Street Mercury Superfund site in Hoboken, New Jersey, U.S. EPA Regional Administrator Jeanne M. Fox today told the former residents that EPA has decided to demolish the building and relocate them to permanent housing. Senator Frank Lautenberg, Representative Robert Menendez and a representative of Senator Robert Torrecelli joined Ms. Fox to make the announcement. The residents were ordered by the Hoboken Health Department to vacate their mercury-contaminated condominiums by January 11,1996. Since then, the federal Superfund program has been providing temporary relocation benefits, including housing, for the families while EPA investigated the extent of the mercury contamination in the building and on the property.

"As always, the primary factor in our decision was the health and safety of the community," said EPA Regional Administrator Jeanne M. Fox. "We also recognize the enormous hardships the residents have had to endure -- facing exposure to a dangerous substance, the loss of their homes and the stress of living in temporary housing. We hope that this decision will allow them to once again put down roots for themselves and their families."

The Hoboken Health Department took the unusual action of ordering the people living in the building to vacate their condominiums after the New Jersey Department of Health received results of laboratory analyses that revealed elevated levels of mercury in urine samples collected from the residents and two workers at the site. Twenty of the thirty-one tested had abnormally high mercury levels for an average adult; including five out of six children. Three of the children had mercury levels over three times the maximum normal adult level. Long-term human exposure to mercury can cause severe damage to the central nervous system and the kidneys.

On January 22, 1996, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued a Public Health Advisory based on the mercury in urine concentrations and elevated mercury vapor concentrations inside the building. The results of EPA's investigation revealed mercury contamination throughout the building, including the brick walls, and in the soils located at the site.

In making the decision to demolish the building, among the considerations were: the long-term uncertainty of ensuring the safety of future residents if the existing building was cleaned up; the documented, significant elevated current and future risks to human health and the environment posed by the site; the residential zoning of the area, and the potential future use of the property. The decision reflects the overwhelming consensus of the comments received from the public.

The plan also calls for the removal of the demolition debris for treatment and/or disposal off-site. Due to the high concentration of liquid mercury in flooring at the site, careful attention will be paid to ensure that the local community is not exposed to mercury vapors during demolition. Excavation and off-site disposal of soils on the property contaminated with unsafe levels of mercury, and monitoring to determine if mercury contamination of the groundwater has occurred are other actions required by the decision. EPA estimates the total costs of these measures will be roughly $14 million.

Today's decision means EPA can help residents begin to normalize their lives by relocating them to permanent housing. The decision also means that EPA can begin negotiations with those responsible for the contamination.

"The Grand Street site provides a vivid example of why the federal Superfund Program is so essential," added Jeanne Fox. "Without Superfund, and its directive to use permanent solutions to the extent practicable, the individuals and communities directly affected by contaminated properties would have nowhere to turn, and sites like Grand Street might be left standing unused behind locked gates."

The final listing of the Grand Street site on the National Priorities List, which was announced last week, means that EPA can move ahead with the permanent relocations and begin the process of acquiring the site.

Both the General Electric Company (GE) and the Cooper-Hewitt Electric Company manufactured mercury vapor lamps in the building at 722 Grand Street from about 1910 to about 1965. The building was purchased by a group of working artists in August 1993 and then converted to condominium living/working spaces.

Under a Superfund Unilateral Administrative Order, issued on February 24, 1997, which was later amended, two responsible parties, GE and another former owner of the building, John Pascale, Sr., have been ordered to provide site security and building maintenance, and to conduct several other activities.

For more information contact:
Rich Cahill, Press Office
EPA Region 2
290 Broadway
NY, NY 10007-1866
Voice: 212-637-3666 FAX: 212-637-5046 E-Mail: