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Related links:  Hackensack River      Riser Ditch      NJDEP

Berry's Creek
Story by Sabrina Patel
June 2004

berry2b.jpg (62216 bytes)
[Larger map]

Berry's Creek is indicated in yellow.
It begins at Riser Ditch (below Teterboro Airport), passes through the Meadowlands Sports Complex and exits into the Hackensack River.


[Map] from Route 120/Paterson Plank Road north to Teterboro Airport --
includes tide gate locations
The surface of Berry’s Creek reveals small, rhythmic ripples continuing concentrically in unpredictable patterns. Although the flow of this creek found in the Meadowlands produces a calming sound and atmosphere, it is what lies beneath the surface of this creek which should concern any citizen of Bergen County. Although this may sound vaguely reminiscent of some ludicrous horror movie involving the Loch Ness Monster, the reality of the situation is really more threatening than many may guess.

Berry’s Creek has been tested on several occasions and has been found to contain high levels of heavy metals, two of which are chromium and mercury. Both of these contaminants have been tested and found to be toxic. In past years, Berry’s Creek has been declared as a Superfund Site. Although the term “Superfund Site” has often been used to describe Berry’s Creek, most people do not completely understand what this term denotes. In 1980, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) was instated by Congress; this act was created in response to certain environmentally hazardous sites which were referred to as Superfund Sites. Through this program, measures were taken in order to respond to the hazards posed by contaminated sites. The sub-department that currently deals with monitoring Berry’s Creek is the NJDEP. In order to fund the overseeing and cleanup of this site, private funds, as opposed to public funds, are used.

These shockingly high levels of mercury contamination in Berry’s Creek are by no means the result of some natural process. Through a landmark NJ court case, Ventron Velsicol was assigned responsibility for the contamination of Berry’s Creek and the surrounding area. It was found that they had dumped untreated waste materials onto the property nearby the creek. The mercury from these materials was discharged into the creek and nearby lands via drainage ditches. From circa 1929 until 1974, it was found that approximately two to four pounds of mercury a day were draining from the factory into Berry’s Creek. Despite their attempts to install a waste treatment facility, mercury was still found to be leaking into the surrounding area. Although the Ventron facilities were abandoned and demolished in 1974, by that time, the ecosystem of the area had been significantly disrupted and damaged.

In the tract which defines Berry’s Creek, an estimated 268 tons of toxic waste, most of which is mercury, can be found. Perhaps what is even more shocking is that after significant testing, it has been found that for a distance of roughly several thousand feet, the concentration of mercury in Berry’s Creek is the highest found in fresh water sediments in the world. This mercury is classified as methyl mercury, and one of its foremost properties is that as it mixes with other elements, the mercury continues to be released. The contamination of Berry’s Creek has progressed so far, that the oxygen levels within this body of water has been so radically decreased, that fish can no longer populate Berry’s Creek. When these facts are accounted for and considered, the environmental status of Berry’s Creek is most certainly worthy of closer scrutiny and sorely needed community concern.

Although mercury content of some creeks in New Jersey may not seem to pose a threat to many, it is a significant health hazard. The methyl mercury found in Berry’s Creek is the most toxic form of mercury. Studies have been conducted, and it has been found that it can have negative effects on the immune and nervous system, and can affect an individual’s senses of touch, taste, and sight. It is can severely alter or damage developing embryos, which are five to ten times more vulnerable to the effects of mercury than adults. Human exposure to mercury in waterways usually is a result of ingesting the element. Therefore any contaminated fish that are eaten from that area, or any drinking water obtained from that area, can be potentially harmful to anyone who consumes them.

Although the dangers of mercury are most certainly a point of concern, all efforts are currently being exhausted by the NJDEP in order to keep the public safe and unexposed to these dangers. The most any citizen can do about Berry’s Creek is to express their concern to their local government. They should also keep themselves well-informed of the environmental status of the Meadowlands, especially Berry’s Creek.
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