For the past eight years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has assured residents of South Plainfield, N.J., that it is safe to swim in Bound Brook, even though the stream runs alongside a Superfund site — the EPA's designation for the country's worst toxic waste sites.
EPA officials say they weren't surprised that the electrical capacitors were found, and on a subsequent visit to the site they discovered dozens more.In late April of 2007, however, local activists found along its banks two electrical devices, originally built to be used in household appliances, which had been leaking high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls into the muck. PCBs, which were used until 1979 as an insulator in the devices, are a probable cause of cancer.
The Superfund site encompasses several buildings where the Cornell Dubilier electronics company manufactured electronic goods from 1936 to 1962. After the company left the site, several companies operated there until the EPA recently began to demolish the buildings, which the agency said were contaminated with PCB-laced dust.
"The fact that there are PCB capacitors located in and around the site is not shocking to us. That is why it's a Superfund site, and that is why we are cleaning it up," Patricia Carr, an EPA spokeswoman, told the Center for Public Integrity. "We may not have seen it earlier because of recent erosion or heavy rainfall that might have uncovered them, but we are going to continue the cleanup as planned."The EPA speculated that the capacitors most likely were exposed because of recent flooding and erosion.
The Cornell Dubilier site is one of 114 across the country where human exposure to contaminants is not under control, according to the EPA. The site has been on the National Priorities List — the EPA's list of the most hazardous sites in the country — since 1998, but observers say work at the site has been slowed by Superfund's financial problems.