Residents and business owners in parts of Monmouth County, New Jersey, have been warned of potentially hazardous materials at a nearby former industrial site after firefighters found leaking containers and materials on fire at the location.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has started overseeing the sampling and removal of around 200 to 300 chemical drums and containers found at the former manufacturing facility in Howell Township, it said in an April community update. It is not yet clear what type of chemicals the drums and containers hold, the EPA said.
EPA spokesperson Stephen McBay told CNN Sunday there is “no immediate need for evacuations” as the agency actively conducts cleanup at the site.
The cleanup comes after a local fire department discovered materials burning inside an old metal structure at the site on February 9, the EPA said. Firefighters found numerous drums and smelled a chemical odor before putting out the fire and called in other agencies for support in addressing potentially hazardous materials.
In March, the EPA said the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection assessed the site and found roughly “200 to 300 55-gallon drums and containers, many of which were either bulging, rusting, denting, or leaking.”
The department then asked for assistance from the EPA, which said it found “breaches in the front fence of the property and no fence securing any other side of the property.” The EPA also observed containers that were leaking and labeled as hazardous materials, it said.
The site is the former location of Compounders Inc., which manufactured chemical compounds, including glues, adhesives, and asphalt materials, according to the EPA. Compounders operated until 2019. The current owner – who has not been publicly identified – purchased the business in 2021.
When asked by CNN if criminal charges are pending over the disposal of potentially hazardous material at the site, the EPA’s McBay said the agency “does not provide information on ongoing or potentially ongoing enforcement actions.”
Residents given evacuation plan
Resident and business owners within a mile of the site were sent a letter on March 30 from the Howell Township Office of Emergency Management, warning of potential hazardous materials at the site. In addition to the large number of drums found, the letter said authorities also found “spilled materials on the ground and open drums, as well as solid waste.”
The letter included links to Howell Township’s website, with community updates on the EPA’s work at the site. On March 9, advice was posted for evacuation routes around the 15 Marl Road site to be used in case of an emergency event, such as a fire.
Residents at a community meeting on March 21 were told the evacuation plan was created “out of an abundance of caution.”
There are at least three schools and two child care centers in the area, according to an April community update.
The letter from the township’s Office of Emergency Management added, “We estimate the risk of a release of any potential hazardous material to be very low. After all drums are removed from the property, an investigation will be ongoing with the State NJDEP and EPA to determine what, if any, impacts have occurred to groundwater, soil or surface water.”
The EPA has placed 24/7 security on the property and said it has installed a perimeter fence “to ensure there is no illegal trespassing on or around the site.”
CNN’s Gili Remen and Emma Tucker contributed to this report.