With help from U.S., Camden to clean up three brownfield sites in city

 Officials (from left) Jim Harveson, director of Economic Development, Camden Redevelopment Agency, Judith A. Enck, EPA regional administrator, Salvation Army Maj. Paul Cain, and N.J. Congressman Donald Norcross announce funding Monday for brownfield cleanups in Camden. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Officials (from left) Jim Harveson, director of Economic Development, Camden Redevelopment Agency, Judith A. Enck, EPA regional administrator, Salvation Army Maj. Paul Cain, and N.J. Congressman Donald Norcross announce funding Monday for brownfield cleanups in Camden. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Camden has new money to clean up three more of the nearly 150 “lightly contaminated” brownfield sites scattered across the city.

Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck said the funds will help address New Jersey’s “toxic legacy.”

That legacy includes a 1920s building on Cooper Street in Camden, where the RCA Corporation once turned metal into radios.

“There was a fire, water used to extinguish the fire at the building in the 1970s caused toxins from the metals to seep into the concrete floors,” Enck said.

A warehouse at East State Street and River Avenue and lot 18 at the Harrison Avenue Landfill are also on the brownfield cleanup list.

Once remediated, the warehouse could be used for retail businesses. Parts of the old city dump are slated to become a waterfront park and be restored as wetlands.

The chemicals discovered at the brownfields include arsenic, heavy metals, dioxin, volatile organic compounds and PCBs.

“Brownfields are generally lightly contaminated properties. Could be a corner gas station, it could be an old junkyard, it could be an old landfill,” Enck said.

The contamination can be severe enough to threaten public health, and the environment.

When a property is highly contaminated with toxins, the EPA classifies it as a superfund site. New Jersey has more superfund sites than any other state, Enck said.

U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, who represents the state’s 1st Congressional District, said too often businesses have left without cleaning up their mess

“They just threw things out the back door and let the next guy find it,” Norcross said.

The EPA awarded Camden $600,000 for remediation work at the three sites. The city has another $344,000 to investigate contamination at a fourth location — Camden Laboratories on Davis Street.

James Harveson, director of economic development at the Camden Redevelopment Agency, said he can’t wait to figure out what’s underneath the mounds of debris and trash. “What a mess,” he said.

There’s bound to be unhealthy chemicals on the site, but he’s hoping the assessment won’t find that the groundwater is contaminated.

“That takes years to remediate,” Harveson said.

State and local officials, who gathered to announce the funding Monday at the Ray and Joan Kroc Salvation Army Corps Community Center, said the property is one of the best examples of what a brownfield site can become.

The land used to look liked an overgrown forest in a bad, scary movie, said Salvation Army Maj. Paul Cain.

“Literally trash everywhere, a lot of illegally dumped items. We found car carcasses and smashed-up boats, a smashed piano and a lot of technology items that were just dumped here,” Cain said.

Today the center’s ballfields, pool, fitness center and chapel are a gathering place for families and children on Harrison Avenue. The center, which sits on 24 acres, is adjacent to more than 50 undeveloped acres that used to be part of the landfill.

Harveson said there’s a vision for building a solar panel farm on 15 acres of the landfill that could generate 2 to 3 megawatts of power. With some tax breaks, those solar panels may someday fuel the neighboring Kroc Center.

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