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History of the Lower Passaic

The industrial history of the Lower Passaic began in the late 1820s. Dundee Dam, Dundee Lake and Dundee Canal were built to encourage new boat transportation on the River. In the decades that followed, factories sprung up along the Lower Passaic River and drew power for their manufacturing operations from the Dundee Dam.

A number of manufacturing facilities operated along the banks of the Lower Passaic River during the 19th and 20th centuries. One of those facilities was the Diamond Shamrock site in Newark that produced Agent Orange during the 1960s for the Vietnam War.

The urban and residential development surrounding the Lower Passaic River, combined with associated population growth, have resulted in poor water quality, contaminated sediments, bans on fish and shellfish consumption, lost wetlands and reduced habitat for fish and wildlife.

In the early 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found contaminants, including significant amounts of dioxin, in the lower six miles of the Passaic River. In 1984, the Agency added the Diamond Shamrock site to the Superfund National Priorities list. This Superfund site is made up of two properties on Lister Avenue in Newark, and was later extended to include the Newark Bay Study Area and the Lower Passaic River Study Area.

Occidental Chemical Corporation and its related parties inherited the liability for the cleanup of the dioxin and other contamination from the Diamond Shamrock site. These entities are not members of the Lower Passaic River Study Area Cooperating Parties Groups (CPG), which has developed the Sustainable Remedy

Over the years, wetlands have been filled and riverbeds bulk-headed to foster development of this major metropolitan area, home to 1.3 million people in four New Jersey counties. Although progress has been made to cease industrial discharges, urban run-off and combined sewer overflows continue to discharge to the Passaic River. Wildlife is returning, but more work is needed.