Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Uncertainties Dept.: Will Union, NJ Facility Sale/Clean-Up Be An Echo Of Merced, CA, Or Of Flint River (Albany, GA)?

I have been thinking about this sort of half-baked piece in, overnight. I was debating about whether I would mention it, at all.

I initially decided that I wasn't going to comment on it, because it seems to be mostly an anonymously-sourced rumor piece. But oddly, I awoke a 4:40 -- thinking about the legacy facility in Merced, California -- now alleged to be contaminated (down to the water table) with Chromium 6. And I thought I should mention that connection, for posterity.

So, the gist of the present story -- as local rumor would have it -- is that Merck has apparently shifted strategy, and rather than offering a long diligence period to potential buyers of the Union (Morris Ave.) facility (a legacy Schering-Plough property), Whitehouse Station is now placing a premium on speedy bids. That leaves only a tiny bit of time for diligence. Including environmental due diligence.

The NJBiz piece goes on to connect this to talk of environmental contamination, at the site. Were that to turn out to be true, it would hardly be surprising. This is an old facility, manufacturing APIs since at least the late 1960s, if memory serves. And, as would be true with most older high-throughput pharmaceutical "raw materials" manufacturing sites of that era, many a now-shunned substance would have been used, and used in quantity, during that now largely by-gone era.

Let's just hope it's not contaminated with the Erin Brockovich style hexavalent chromium. [Even so, it is likely to have at least some Tulene, and DiChloroMethane resdiues -- as the legacy Merck Flint River (Albany) site did/does.]

But a Chrome-6 water-table situation is what Merck is slowly litigating/working its way out of, in Merced, CA. [And Merced was also a legacy acquisition property for Merck, I believe, via the ancient Baltimore Aircoil operations.] In any event here is a bit of the NJBiz piece -- do go read it all (and judge for yourself):

. . . .Merck & Co. appears to be changing course when it comes to marketing one of the many properties it hopes to unload in New Jersey, an industry source told Grapevine.

The 54-acre site, a former manufacturing complex in Union, is believed to have “a lot of environmental challenges,” the source said.

That led the drugmaker to initially offer a longer timeline for selling the property, giving would-be buyers a chance to gauge the scope of any contamination before making a decision.

But Merck recently accelerated that timeline and is looking for buyers who would close quickly, the person said. Such a move shifts “significant risk” to the purchaser when there is possible contamination at stake, and that could cut into the buyer pool. . . .

We will now wait and see. Of course, we will keep an eye on this facility's sale process, and any ensuing environmental bits of litigation -- especially anything like the Merced, California ones. "Now go get some coffee -- and make it fresh, with cold water from the chromium 6 contaminated pipes there, okay?" Eek.


Anonymous said...

It was common knowledge within S+P that in the 'old days' there were open retention pits where the company was allowed to dump manufacturing spillage/waste. These eventually were capped and allowed to overgrow with grass and trees. This was a common practice in NJ for many of the pharma companies. Look up the history for Ciba-Geigy, Roche and Merck.

For a more interesting story, go check out the history of Westinghouse in Bloomfield NJ. It dumped spillage of the uranium processing for the bomb during WWII in a local landfill and down the drain.

Anonymous said...

Condor - another interesting chemical waste site in the area to look into would be the former Lockheed - Martin site in Watchung on route 22 that is now home to the Watchung Square shopping mall. During excavation they unearthed scores of (mostly) sealed 55 gallon drums of waste. There were Public Notices placed in the local papers (Star-Ledger being one) asking former site workers to come forward with what they knew of the site.

I had a family member (in-law) who had worked there for a spell and was an engineer on the project that became stealth technology. His opinion was there were some very volatile and experimental chemicals laying around in a site that was not a hard core R&D or manufacturing facility.

Not too much of a stretch to have similar problems just a few miles away in Union. Also not a stretch for the site to be retail space at some later point.