$4.2M Superfund settlement helps pay to expand Sourland Mountain preserve

A multi-million dollar settlement stemming from long-standing pollution in Central Jersey is paying for the expansion of protected open space at a nearby preserve.

Wyeth Holdings, a subsidiary of Pfizer, has agreed to pay $4.2 million to New Jersey to compensate for natural resource damages related to groundwater pollution at the American Cyanamid Superfund site, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe announced on Friday.

“This agreement demonstrates how the state and responsible parties can work together for the public good,” McCabe said in a statement. “I applaud Wyeth for working cooperatively with DEP’s Office of Natural Resource Restoration to amicably resolve their liability and to enhance natural resources in the Raritan River watershed. Cooperation like this ensures that our time is better spent restoring and improving outdoor spaces for the enjoyment of all New Jerseyans.”

The sprawling American Cyanamid site, which spans 435 acres between Bridgewater and Bound Brook along the Raritan River, was home to a variety of chemical and pharmaceutical companies throughout the 20th Century, until operations ceased in 1999. That work left the area tainted with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxic metals.

The site was placed on the national Superfund list in 1983. Wyeth took ownership of the site, and responsibility for its cleanup, in 2009.

Cleanup work at the American Cyanamid site remains ongoing, with groundwater treatment having started last year and soil remediation still being planned. The site is currently a poster child for Superfund sites that are increasingly threatened by flooding as the climate changes.

“[Wyeth] and its parent corporation [Pfizer] are pleased to have been able to work with the State of New Jersey to resolve these matters in a way that will have a positive impact on human health, welfare and the environment,” Kim Bencker, a Pfizer spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Pfizer, and its subsidiaries and affiliates, including Wyeth, have a long-standing commitment to protecting the environment, the health and safety of the general public and our employees, and the communities in which we operate.”

The new settlement, which was first proposed in May, includes $2.8 million to help the New Jersey Conservation Foundation preserve hundreds of acres of open space in East Amwell. The remaining money is for the DEP’s Office of Natural Resource Restoration, to fund future projects.

Prior to this new settlement, Wyeth entered into a consent decree with the DEP, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2017. Under that agreement, money from Wyeth for the pollution of river sediments was used to pay for a dam removal on the Millstone River, among other projects.

In a separate announcement on Friday, the NJCF said it had closed on a $4.15 million deal to purchase and protect 268 acres in East Amwell. Most of that money came from the $2.8 million dedicated by the Wyeth settlement; the rest was pooled together by New Jersey Green Acres Program, Hunterdon County, East Amwell Township, Hunterdon Land Trust, Raritan Headwaters Association, The Nature Conservancy, and an anonymous foundation donor.

That tract of land, which was purchased from landowner John Higgins, connects 150 acres of previously-preserved land in East Amwell with more than 600 acres of preserved land in Hillsborough, creating a single preserve of more than 1,000 acres in the Sourlands. The land provides key habitat to New Jersey’s wildlife, protects drinking water supplies and expands outdoor recreation opportunities for New Jerseyans. The NJCF said it expects to purchase another 110 adjacent acres by the end of the year.

“With this acquisition, the new preserve in the beautiful Sourland Mountains now totals over 1,000 contiguous acres for public enjoyment and wildlife habitat protection,” said Michele Byers, the NJCF’s executive director. “We’re very grateful to all of our partners for making this purchase possible, and we are thrilled to make this spectacular land available to the public.”

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Michael Sol Warren may be reached at [email protected].

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