Toms River’s Path to Redemption: From Toxic Site to Open Space

The transformation of a Superfund site to a recreational space should not neglect its cancer cluster history

Key Takeaways:

  • The former Ciba-Geigy property, now a Superfund site due to chemical pollution, is set to be converted into 1,000 acres of open space.
  • Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the site’s toxic history and the cancer cluster in Toms River that resulted from it.
  • The Mayor proposes an exhibit documenting the damage from the pollution, preservation of a significant portion of the site, and a fund for cancer cluster victims.
  • Public comments on the proposal are encouraged to ensure a comprehensive, community-backed development plan.

The Proposed Redemption of a Superfund Site

In the heart of Toms River, New Jersey, an environmental albatross awaits its transformation. The former Ciba-Geigy property, recognized as a chemically polluted Superfund site by the EPA since 1983, is slated to become 1,000 acres of open space. This endeavor, proposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as part of a settlement with BASF Corp., the current owners of the property, aims to restore the land damaged by years of toxic chemical dumping.

While this news signals a potential triumph for environmental remediation and a boost to the quality of life for Toms River residents, the proposition is not without its controversies and complexities. Indeed, it illuminates the challenge of healing a community grappling with a haunting legacy of environmental toxicity.

Remembering the Cancer Cluster of Toms River

The history of the site is a grim reminder of the devastating impacts of industrial pollution on health. It was the source of a cancer cluster in Toms River, where a pattern of cancer emerged among residents, linked to the groundwater pollution from the property. This chilling chapter in Toms River’s history remains deeply ingrained in the community’s consciousness and, as Mayor Maurice Hill asserts, should not be forgotten in the face of the site’s transformation.

Mayor Hill urges the DEP and BASF to remember the profound impacts of the cancer cluster on the community. His proposed additions to the settlement include an exhibit documenting the environmental, health, and economic damage caused by the pollution. He also advocates for the reservation of a portion of the site for perpetual preservation and the creation of a fund to compensate the victims of the cancer cluster.

Marrying Progress with Remembrance

Hill’s propositions are not merely suggestions but necessitate active implementation. The planned environmental center should host a comprehensive exhibit narrating the site’s history, the community’s struggle, and the remediation process. This exhibit could serve as a symbol of environmental resilience, a testament to the community’s endurance, and a constant reminder of the severe consequences of negligent industrial practices.

Hill also insists on securing 255 acres of the site for Toms River Township. This would allow the community to hold a piece of the land, maintaining a level of control over its use and preservation. Lastly, the establishment of a fund administered by a local trustee to compensate the victims of the cancer cluster is of paramount importance. This would ensure some degree of justice for those affected.

Embracing the Future, Acknowledging the Past

As the largest single-site preservation agreement through the state’s Natural Resource Damages program, the DEP-BASF proposal represents a significant milestone in environmental rehabilitation. It paves the way for the creation of a nature preserve, park, trails, a boardwalk, and an environmental center, enhancing the recreational offerings for Toms River residents and potentially boosting the local tourism industry.

However, the transformative proposal should not erase the bitter history attached to the site. The legacy of the cancer cluster of Toms River must be appropriately addressed in the remediation process. The community, bearing the scars of the past, has the opportunity to shape its future, turning a tragic chapter into a story of resilience, recovery, and redemption.

As Toms River stands on the brink of this transformation, it is crucial that the voices of its residents are heard. Public participation in the 30-day comment period is encouraged, ensuring a comprehensive, community-driven development plan. The transformation of the site, if executed with the right balance of progress and remembrance, can serve as a powerful symbol of the community’s resilience and commitment to safeguarding their environment.

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