Sierra Club Opposes Housing Development on Toxic Site

The NJ chapter of the Sierra Club has submitted an official statement to the Watch from Executive Director Jeff Tittel expressing their strong opposition to residential development of the contaminated Belmont Ave site.

Update: While this letter of opposition was written by the NJ Sierra Club during the early stages of the approval process for the Belmont Ave development in April 2018, the Mayor and Council just quietly held a small groundbreaking ceremony at the site last week on Feb 21, 2020.

The few attendees of the Feb 21, 2020 groundbreaking ceremony for the 81-179 Belmont Ave site. Strangely absent from kicking off this $60 million project are Councilwoman Marie Strumolo-Burke (this is her own Ward), and any local politicians up the chain, such as Senator Teresa Ruiz, Freeholder Carlos Pomares, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, or Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.

Neither the public nor the press were notified of the event. This is highly unusual for Mayor Melham and the Council, who practically hold a press conference if they replace an empty roll of toilet paper in Town Hall.

All bizarre secrecy aside, this project is now in full swing again.

We are deeply honored to have Jeff Tittel, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, write a detailed letter stating their strong opposition to the residential development currently being proposed for the controversial Belmont Ave / former Pathmark property in Belleville.

Despite very vocal opposition from residents and public advocates, the Belleville Council is pushing forward with plans for a mixed-use development that includes 232 residential housing units on this property.

This nearly 10-acre lot is the site of the infamous Thomas Edison Battery and Chemical Works, a massive industrial complex which operated from 1906 until it ceased operations in 1970.

The pollution and the environmental effects of the Edison facility had such an impact on Silver Lake and its local residents that there is an entire chapter devoted to it in a book called “Edison’s Environment: Invention and Pollution in the Career of Thomas Edison“, written by West Orange resident Dr. George Hill.

Dr. Hill was even kind enough to join us at a recent Belleville Planning Board meeting as well.

Jeff Tittel is widely respected, a top environmentalist, and regarded as one of the most influential individuals in New Jersey. Needless to say, his opinion is highly sought after. We appreciate that he has taken his time to consider our issue, and vocalize his strong objection on behalf of the Sierra Club to what the Council is proposing.

A copy of his original letter is provided at the end of the article.

For Immediate Release

March 29, 2018

Contact, Jeff Tittel | New Jersey Sierra Club | 609-558-9100

Sierra Club Opposes Housing Development on Toxic Site

Bellville, NJ- There will be a special meeting at the Belleville Planning Board on Thursday, March 29, 2018 starting at 7 PM at the Belleville Town Hall Council Chamber to discuss the redevelopment of a 9.5- acre property at 81-179 Belmont Ave as mixed-use including 232 residential units. The property was part of the Edison Chemical Works and used as a battery manufacturing facility for over 60 years. High concentrations of hazardous contaminants materials associated with the current/former operations have been found in investigative soil sample and groundwater analysis. Owners of the property, Boiv Belleville MCB, LLC, plan to cap the contaminants.

“We oppose the mixed- use residential development project in Belleville Township because we are concerned about people living on a toxic site that is not properly cleaned up. Capping the toxic metals will fail and will only put more people at risk. The project is also too dense for the site. The town needs to go back and plan for the site so that it is first properly cleaned up and restored and then come up for a proposal for development that would fit in with the character of the community,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

To determine if there had been releases of oil and/or hazardous materials associated with the current/former operations of the property, Whitestone Associates, Inc. completed a Phase Il Site Investigation (SI) at the subject property in 2007/2008. The results of soil sample analysis indicated the presence of lead, mercury, and nickel at concentrations above the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP’s) Residential Direct Contact Soil Cleanup Criteria but below the NJDEP’s Non-Residential Direct Contact Soil Cleanup Criteria. The results of the groundwater samples from borings and wells indicated the presence of aluminum, antimony, arsenic, beryllium, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, sodium, and/or zinc in each of the eight temporary well points at concentrations above the NJDEP Groundwater Quality Standards (GWQS).

“We are gambling with people’s future. The toxic site will not be safe enough to even work on. Soil and groundwater samples taken from the Belmont Ave. property indicated higher than standard levels of toxic metals like arsenic, mercury and lead.  Belleville Planning Board should step back and create a cleanup plan for the property, with input from the town. There are contaminants at the site, in both the soil and groundwater, and no one wants to see Belleville Township become a toxic community,” said Tittel.

The southern portion of the subject property was operated as the Edison Storage Battery, Co. Chemical Works. The property was utilized as a battery manufacturing facility from at least 1906 until 1969. These structures included a “cobalt building”, a hydrogen plant, a hydrogen purifying furnace, an oil house, an iron mixing room, an iron reduction furnace, storage rooms for nickel, iron oxalate, and nickel hydrate, a laboratory building, a machine shop, a boiler house, coal bins, and a gas tank.  The northern portion of the property was operated as the Thomas A, Edison, Inc. Active Material Division Chemical Plant. It included a central heating plant, a nickel sulfate building, a nickel hydrate building, an iron reduction building, an iron sulfate building, a hydrogen generating building, a red iron oxide manufacturing building, and an oil house. In addition, several materials storage tanks are depicted, including three oil tanks surrounded by a concrete dike, an acid tank, and a caustic soda tank.

“The plan encourages overdevelopment on a toxic site that has not been properly cleaned up. It would allow toxic contaminants to be capped in the ground.  Capping will fail and will put more people at risk. Development on the site would also increase runoff and flooding to surrounding areas. We’re calling on the Belleville planning board to reject this dangerous sprawl project that would be a disaster for the town,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. The proposal will only bring in more pollution and traffic congestion. It is important that people come out and speak against this development proposal in Belleville Township.”

Jeff Tittel’s letter of opposition to the Belmont Ave development

Related coverage:

Belleville redevelopment: Apartments on Belmont Avenue battery factory site?

Belleville redevelopment: 232 apartments OK’d for factory site on Belmont Avenue

For more information, visit the Sierra Club’s website:

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Lee "Griff" Dorry - Founder, watchdog, and public advocate. ♫ They've got strings, but you can see, there are no strings on me. ♫