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EPA Proposes Massive Cleanup Project For Part Of Passaic River

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Parts of the Passaic River have been infested with cancer-causing chemicals for years.

The water is so dangerous fishing in the river has been banned.

Now, a major step forward in recovery is in motion as the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its largest proposed Superfund cleanup in the nation, CBS 2's Christine Sloan reported Friday.

"This river is heavily contaminated with dioxin, PCBs, heavy metals like led and mercury, pesticides," EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck said.

Due to all of the pollution in the water, New Jersey residents haven't been able to eat any of the crab or fish in the river. People aren't even allowed to swim, and wildlife is in danger.

"It is a witches' brew of chemicals that unfortunately some of them cause cancer," Enck said.

The EPA has proposed a dredging project for an 8-mile stretch of the troubled Passaic River, Sloan reported.

It is estimated to be a $1.7 billion project. The EPA said the cost will be paid for by the 200 companies that polluted the river, not by taxpayers.

"Right here in Newark, a company manufactured agent orange that was used during the Vietnam War and it was dumped into the land, it seeped into the river," Enck said.

Back in the 80's, former Gov. Tom Kean Sr. had the Diamond Alkali plant -- the company responsible for agent orange -- covered in cement to stop more chemicals from leaking into the river, Sloan reported.

EPA Proposes Massive Cleanup Project For Part Of Passaic River

The 8-mile stretch between Newark and Lyndhurst was described by Sen. Cory Booker as the state's biggest crime scene, WCBS 880's Levon Putney reported.

"Was assaulted, poisoned and left for dead," Booker said.

A group representing 67 companies that have agreed to pay and help with clean up opposes the EPA's plan.

"We're focusing on the lower 17 miles of the river. This plan is only for the lower eight miles," said Jonathan Jaffe, of the lower Passaic River Study. "Our plan would help clean up the river quicker."

A delegation of lawmakers, however, say it is time to stop the fighting.

The Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel agrees with that sentiment. His aunt and uncle lived along the river and both died of liver cancer.

"For my family that actually grew up in this neighborhood, who lived in this area for close to a hundred years, maybe this toxic legacy will be over one day," Tittel said.

The EPA's proposal calls for moving the massive amounts of sediment in the river out of New Jersey by train.

Enck told Putney the project would place a protective cap over the dredged area after the contaminated soil is removed.

Residents will have a chance to voice their ideas and concerns at several public meetings. The final plan on the project is expect to come out early next year.

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