Several government and elected officials in the area have submitted letters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding the health of Kirkwood Lake in Voorhees.
The letters came as a result of the EPA recently asking for public comments on a proposed plan to remove lead and arsenic from a site in Gibbsboro as the next phase in the overall remediation of the Sherwin-Williams/Hilliards Creek Superfund site.
Mayor Michael Mignogna, environmental attorney Peter Fontaine on behalf of Camden County and Congressman Donald Norcross all criticized EPA plans to remediate the Superfund site in stages, with Voorhees’ own Kirkwood Lake scheduled last.
At a series of public meetings over the past several years, EPA officials have outlined their belief that Kirkwood Lake, the furthest downstream body of water in the entire Superfund site, could be re-contaminated if work isn’t first completed upstream.
However, local officials worry Kirkwood Lake may not survive into the early part of the next decade when EPA officials have estimated that remediation work on the lake would begin.
The Sherwin-Williams/Hilliards Creek Superfund site is a result of a paint plant operated by John Lucas & Company and later Sherwin-Williams from the mid-1800s through 1977.
Through that time, the plant improperly stored materials at sites in Gibbsboro and discharged materials into surrounding waterways that eventually flowed downstream to Kirkwood Lake, leaving it contaminated with lead and arsenic.
In his letter to the EPA, Norcross described the EPA’s plan for remediating the Superfund site in stages as “insupportable” and “ignores the pressing need” to remediate the entirety of the site at once.
“Kirkwood Lake continues to be heavily silted, and the risk of the lake ‘dying’ outright with each passing year of no action increase unabated,” Norcross said. “The death of the lake would not only be a great environmental tragedy but would risk the contaminants that currently settle in the lake to be deposited in Cooper River downstream.”
Norcross echoed concerns put forth by Camden County officials at a public meeting in April, where they painted a grim picture of Kirkwood Lake, which the county owns.
At that meeting, officials said Kirkwood Lake was becoming progressively shallower as the years go by, dropping from its oldest known depth of about nine-and-a-half feet to four-and-a-half feet by 1979, then dropping further to recent measurements of about two-and-a-half feet.
County officials fear the shrinking lake depth will result in a diminished carry capacity, which would lead to dangerous materials such as lead and arsenic being transported downstream from Kirkwood Lake to the Cooper River through the form of suspended sediments.
In his letter to the EPA, Fontaine noted there are specific areas of the Hilliards Creek that contain up to 221,900 parts per million of lead, which exceeds the safe level by a multiple of 1,000 and would meet the definition of hazardous waste.
Fontaine said those areas were subject to flooding, and so the EPA’s sequenced remedial approach to the entire site was “unreasonable.”
“EPA must revisit its cleanup approach by eliminating the multiple operable unit/phased remedial approach and by accelerating permanent remedial action across the entire site,” Fontaine said.
In a separate letter to the EPA, Mignogna also said the demise of Kirkwood Lake would have a negative environmental impact through the Cooper River and beyond, and said Voorhees residents who live along Kirkwood Lake are also in agreement against the sectional remediation of the Superfund site.
“The EPA is responsible to remediate contaminated sites safely and efficiently. The EPA has yet to provide an acceptable reason for this ongoing, excruciating delay,” Mignogna said.
As for when the EPA will address comments from the public in regard to this most recent proposal, EPA press officer Elias Rodriguez said when the EPA reaches a Record of Decision for this phase of the project, it will also release what’s known as a Responsiveness Summary.
Rodriguez said the remedial project manager, Superfund advisor and team most familiar with the proposed plan would have reviewed submissions, with the EPA releasing official responses to the comments and recurring themes.
Rodriguez described comments from the public as critical to the entire Superfund process.