CARTERET - The company proposing to handle one of New Jersey’s biggest and riskiest toxic cleanups has been cited for violations during previous New Jersey projects, a Kane In Your Corner investigation finds. And some environmentalists say that proves the company, Soil Safe Inc., can’t be trusted with a project this important.

With 15 of its 125 acres covered with cyanide-tainted sludge, the old American Cyanamid property overlooking the Rahway River is one of New Jersey’s most toxic sites. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is in the final stage of approving a plan to cap it with 1.6 million tons of “mildly contaminated” soil mixed with cement. The proposal was already controversial. A recent Kane In Your Corner investigation found the NJDEP ignored repeated warnings from staff that the project could make the situation worse. The agency issued conditional permits in May, despite numerous reports and memos warning that the weight of the soil and cement could squeeze toxic sludge into the Rahway River.

The latest questions surround the track record of Soil Safe, a Maryland company that specializes in disposing of contaminated soil. Soil Safe says it has worked on thousands of projects nationwide, but News 12 New Jersey’s Walt Kane found the company broke the rules in its previous projects in New Jersey.

In Gloucester County, where Soil Safe is currently working on a remediation project, the NJDEP cited the company for bringing in 200,000 tons more contaminated dirt than their permit allowed, in 2007 alone.

In Salem County, Soil Safe closed the City of Salem Landfill at no cost to taxpayers, but documents show the company brought in soil that was above the limit for arsenic and other contaminants. It’s unclear whether the overly contaminated soil was used – Soil Safe insists it was not – but the state fined the company more than $50,000 and ordered them off the landfill within six months.

New York/New Jersey Baykeeper Debbie Mans says, “The company has a record in this state of not complying with their permit. So I don’t know why you’d want to invite them to re-create that situation in another town.”
Those sentiments are echoed by Bob Spiegel, of the Edison Wetlands Association. “Why would you want to have a company like Soil Safe with the reputation that it has, operating like the Wild West?” he wonders.

Al Free, the Licensed Site Remediation Professional overseeing the Rahway River project, calls Soil Safe “one of the best remediation companies that I’ve ever worked with.” Free said Soil Safe asked him to speak to News 12 New Jersey on its behalf, and notes: “None of those (previous New Jersey) violations caused any contamination whatsoever; they are at best administrative.”

Ken Kloo, the assistant NJDEP commissioner charged with making the final approval decision on the Rahway River project, said he was not aware of Soil Safe’s previous New Jersey violations until Kane In Your Corner brought them to his attention. An agency spokesman later said that others within NJDEP were aware of the company’s history and still considered Soil Safe’s track record to be good.