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Berry's Creek: A Glance Backward and a Look Forward

Berry’s Creek is a tidal tributary in Bergen County, New Jersey between the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers, which extends almost seven miles from its discharge into the Hackensack River upstream towards its origins just south of Teterboro Airport (Figure 1). The approximately 12 square miles of the Berry’s Creek watershed (about 8% of the total Hackensack River watershed) includes numerous marshes, channels, wetlands, and drainage ditches that serve as habitat to hundreds of plant and animal species (USEPA et al., 2005). Widely recognized as one of the keys to the sustained ecological viability of the Meadowlands, Berry’s Creek and its associated canals also hold the distinction of being one of the most contaminated waterways in northeastern U.S (USEPA, 2008a).In 1929 the F.W. Berk Company (later known as the Wood-Ridge Chemical Company) opened its doors as a mercury reclamation and recovery center. This facility would process spent or off-spec fungicides, pesticides, batteries, thermometers, dental amalgams, and other mercury containing wastes and remove or recover the mercury for re-sale or reformulation into new products (USEPA, 2006). By 1974, when operations at its 40-acre site ceased, the plant had changed owners and names several times and some estimates have indicated that up to 270 tons of mercury could have been discharged into portions of Berry’s Creek, but the actual amount of mercury released from point sources on the Creek is unknown (i.e., could be more or less). Based on one study, at its peak operation, between two to four pounds of mercury were being released into Berry’s Creek every day (NJDEP, 1992). Additional investigations are ongoing that will provide further data on the validity of these estimates. In 2005, USEPA completed its Framework Document for Berry’s Creek (USEPA et al., 2005), which attempts to establish the guidelines for the characterization and investigation of the mercury and other heavy metal contamination present in Berry’s Creek sediments. Critical to the success and effectiveness of these upcoming characterization activities is an understanding of not only how the contaminants were released but also the most probable (and implementable) remedial alternatives available for the waterway. Our presentation provides both a historical perspective on the discharges into Berry’s Creek and establishes an ecological framework in which to consider and carryout future cleanup actions.