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Barrels Of Tainted Soil Move To Tennessee

July 30, 1987

MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) _ Eighty-four barrels of radium-tainted soil were loaded Wednesday onto trucks bound for Tennessee, part of a pilot program to find a home for 15,000 barrels of contaminated soil in northern New Jersey.

Skeptical and bitter residents of this community, where 5,000 barrels have sat in front of four houses for two years, watched from their front lawns as the shipment was hauled away.

The two truckloads of Montclair soil will be mixed in at a processing plant Oak Ridge, Tenn., with highly contaminated dirt in hopes of bringing up the level of radiation to qualify it for disposal in three federal dumping grounds.

If the plan succeeds, the state Department of Environmental Protection said it might retain a company to haul off the remaining barrels.

John Chando, president of the company, TFC Nuclear Associates of Moorestown, said if it gets the contract, the Montclair dirt could be removed in about two months. He did not have an estimate for the 10,000 barrels of contaminated dirt in the town of Kearny.

Montclair residents said they were not getting their hopes up. They said they won’t take down yellow ribbons tied to trees symbolizing their claim that the state is holding them hostage on the issue.

″This is one way to appease the neighbors. That’s all they’re doing,″ said Walter Frager, a 27-year resident.

The dirt was excavated in 1985 from beneath 12 homes in West Orange, Montclair and Glen Ridge after state officials found unacceptably high levels of radon in the houses.

Radon, a radioactive, odorless, colorless gas emitted by radium, is linked to cancer. A defunct radium-processing plant in West Orange is thought to be the source of the radon, which also occurs naturally.

The Montclair barrels were stacked on the front lawns of four homes. The residents of those houses were told to leave and were given temporary housing by the state.

Despite the possible risks, no court has determined the drums pose an immediate health threat.

Still, many homeowners are not convinced. Along with removing the barrels, they want the state to help them deal with the radon gas seeping into their basements.

Most residents already have installed basement vents and taken other steps to keep the radiation at a safe level.

″I have lived with a machine working in my basement. I have lived with lead on my walls to keep down the gamma radiation. The state has been dragging its feet in getting this done,″ said Harriette Nash, a 12-year resident.

However, LaVonne Hopkins, a six-year resident, said the pilot program was a good sign.

″It’s a step, a small step forward,″ she said. ″But it’s a long way before they find a solution.″

Environmental Protection Department officials said this week it will take a couple of months to study the results of the $123,000 pilot program before deciding whether to hire TFC to move the rest of the barrels.

Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson has called that delay unacceptable. A township attorney filed suit Monday in the Appellate Division of Superior Court in Trenton seeking the removal of the remaining barrels.

″We see no reason why this program will not work,″ Jackson said Wednesday.

In early June, the state selected a wildlife preserve in Jackson Township as the storage site for the 15,000 barrels. Local obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the transfer, but the state Supreme Court lifted the order July 8, and the state has not abandoned the preserve as a potential site for the soil.