HomeVoorhees NewsFrustration continuing to grow from residents about Kirkwood Lake

Frustration continuing to grow from residents about Kirkwood Lake

Kirkwood Lake, last on the list of projects to be completed at the Superfund site in Gibbsboro and Voorhees, is expected to be cleaned within the next decade

Voorhees resident Alice Johnston has lived near Kirkwood Lake for essentially her entire life. She can remember playing in the water when she was younger, not thinking twice.

For years, Johnston and her friends would swim, paddle boats along the water and fish during the summers.

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“We lived on a lake, that’s what kids do, right?” Johnston said.

But for far longer, the lake and its sediments have been contaminated as a result of improper handling and discharge decades before Johnston was born.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, John Lucas & Company and eventually the Sherwin-Williams Company operated a paint, varnish and lacquer manufacturing facility in Gibbsboro along Hilliards Creek. Direct discharge of materials via numerous methods led to widespread contamination.

Hilliards Creek flows for more than a mile, eventually discharging into Kirkwood Lake and Johnston’s immediate backyard. The lake is now part of a Superfund site requiring attention to take care of contaminated material.

Currently, Johnston says plans from Sherwin-Williams to orchestrate the cleanup include six residences along Steven Drive in Voorhees, one of which is Johnston’s. According to Johnston, they are preparing for Sherwin-Williams to begin a six-month construction project to remove soil and earth five feet deep across the residences.

The project would require building a temporary road and removing the majority of the backyards of the residents due to contaminated material.

Information provided by Elias Rodriguez, a public information officer with the EPA, says cleanups have been ongoing in recent years at several locations along the Superfund site, having cleaned up approximately 10 properties.

“Sediment within Hilliards Creek and Kirkwood Lake are contaminated, as well as the adjacent floodplain soils,” said EPA officials. “Several residential properties have been cleaned up by Sherwin-Williams to date. Sampling continues on a number of properties where cleanup is anticipated.”

But Johnston calls the current plans regarding the residences backyards’ unacceptable.

“A lot has been done in the past five years, but as far as the lake is concerned, [Kirkwood] lake is continuing to die because it’s not being remediated,” Johnston said.

The Sun reported back 2016 the EPA would come to a decision regarding how to clean up Kirkwood Lake before sometime before 2020. Kirkwood Lake stands as the final part of the Superfund site to be remedied due to it being downstream from the source of the original contamination; work to save the lake itself is expected to not begin for nearly a decade.

EPA officials said the “general approach” to contaminated sites is to address the “most highly contaminated areas first and then proceed with cleanups in less contaminated areas.”

“As EPA and Sherwin-Williams work to address contamination upstream first at the Route 561 Dump Site, the United States Avenue Burn Site and the area of the Former Manufacturing Plant, cleanup of Kirkwood Lake is anticipated to be the last step in this process,” EPA officials said. “It is estimated that it would be eight years before cleanup of Kirkwood Lake would begin.”

Johnston says that dealing with the residential properties near the lake but not the lake itself is a waste, as contaminants will simply overflow back into their lands over the next several years before the Kirkwood Lake is addressed, once again contaminating the areas.

“They want to come in and start cleaning residential properties, but they still don’t have the plans in place for remediating the lake,” Johnston said. “Once they remediate the properties, the water still continues to come over the banks of everyone’s properties whenever it rains.”

Overall, according to EPA officials, it is estimated it will take 10 additional years to complete cleanup of the entire Superfund site, depending on the investigation of all bodies of water, including Hilliards Creek and Kirkwood Lake, to be completed this year, following the selection of a cleanup plan in 2020.

The EPA says it is aware of community concerns.

“The EPA has had an ongoing dialog with Kirkwood Lake residents and is aware of their concerns about the speed of the lake cleanup,” EPA officials said.

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