Environmental Investigation Underway at Construction Site Where Grease Trucks Once Parked

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—An environmental investigation into contaminated groundwater is reportedly underway on "Lot 8," the former site of the city's famous grease trucks.

Presently an active construction site, the property was once home of the Johnson family mansion, before it became a fraternity house that was bulldozed and turned into a parking lot in the 1960's.

In 2016, Rutgers will be opening a 15-story privatized dormitory in conjunction with New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO).

The planned greenspace in the center of the U-shaped building is already being marketed as "The Yard," by the developer.

But the site is still the subject of an environmental investigation and cleanup that started in 2013, according to signs posted recently on the fencing surrounding it.

DEVCO head Chris Paladino told New Brunswick Today: "Prior to [DEVCO's] acquisition of 46 College Avenue from Rutgers University last year, University representatives had identified that there was a small occurrence of TCE (Trychloroethylene) in the ground water under one of the former buildings at the site owned by the University."

The history of TCE at the old Grease Trucks site remains unclear.

Trichloroethylene is used as a machine-parts degreaser, and it has been used in the past as an anasthetic and a dry-cleaning solvent. It was also once used to extract vegetable oils from soy, palm, and coconut plants, and to decaffeinate coffee.

As Paladino puts it, "[DEVCO's] Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) researched the potential historical use of TCE at the property… The results of this research did not identify any historical use of TCE or related products."

TCE is a contaminant because it causes cancer in animals and possibly humans, it may very well contribute to Parkinson's disease and cause heart defects in newborns, and it can affect people's nervous systems, possibly causing permanent numbness.

Trichloroethylene can also affect people's heart rates, causing abnormal heart rhythms or rapid breathing.

Acute exposure to TCE might make someone feel drunk – the effects are similar to those felt by alcohol drinkers. Dizziness, headaches, and confusion would occur at first, and higher doses might knock someone out. Even higher exposure might kill someone.

DEVCO, according to Paladino, also "[conducted] additional groundwater testing throughout the site and offsite, high-vaccuum extraction of groundwater and soil vapor, and post remediation sampling," finding the groundwater to be clean, both on the site and uphill from the site.  

The trichloroethylene appears to have been removed: "Post-remedial testing indicated clean groundwater conditions at the location where the TCE was previously located. Based on these results, no further action is warranted or required by regulations."

According to Paladino, LSRP Thomas Waldron of the Louis Berger Group is working on a Response Action Outcome (RAO) for this site, a statement that the site has been found to be clean.

The RAO is a modern equivalent of a "No Further Action letter," a document that would have been issued by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

A 2009 law, the New Jersey Site Remediation Act can be credited or blamed for the changes to the process.

The idea behind the law was to cut down on bureaucracy and delays in site approval by shifting work from state employees to people hired by the developers.  Since its passage, it has cut wait time for approvals from years to months.

In the old approach to cleanup, the developer would hire a cleanup consultant to look at the contamination on a site and come up with an investigation plan.

The plan would then be handed in to the NJDEP for approval. However, those approvals often got stuck in traffic behind other plans and petitions for months, and the NJDEP would sometimes ask for changes to the plans. 

Once NJDEP approved the plans, they led to investigations of the site and a cleanup plan, which would also be submitted to the NJDEP, resulting in further delays.

Sometimes the NJDEP would respond with a wish for more testing and investigation.

If and when the remediation plan got okayed by the NJDEP, then the consultant would go ahead and clean up the site, detailing what they did and sending the report back to the NJDEP.

If the NJDEP thought the cleanup was okay, it issued a No Further Action letter.

Under the new system, the cleanup consultants, now called LSRP's, need a state license.  As we reported, they are supervised by a state licensing board that includes a Rutgers University professor.

The consultants are now responsible for learning the rules of site cleanup, investigating what poisons might be lurking in the ground and devising plans to remove them, cleaning up the property, and preparing paperwork – without needing the NJDEP's okay at each step of the way.

When the consultant is done, they issue a RAO and submit it to the NJDEP along with the paperwork showing how the site was tested and cleaned up.

The NJDEP files the papers, and skims through the documents, if it needs to. The NJDEP has three years in which it can invalidate a RAO.

Usually, the NJDEP merely sends back the postal receipt for the submitted papers.