The far-reaching environmental consequences of mismanaging pharmaceutical manufacturing are clear in the story of the American Cyanamid site Pfizer ($PFE) acquired responsibility for in 2009. Although the government made its cleanup a priority in 1983, problems remain and Pfizer is shouldering the cost.
Pfizer took over the site as part of its $68 billion acquisition of Wyeth and since then has reimbursed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) cleanup program at an estimated cost of $200 million. The latest phase of the project is a small-scale trial of onsite cleanup methods which, if successful, will help eliminate some of the more persistent, troublesome contaminants. The trialing of two onsite methods--alone and in combination--comes after the team ran into difficulties when transporting materials away from the 435-acre plot in Bridgewater, NJ.
"In the past when we moved the materials and then treated them, [benzene] emissions were released. That's why we're doing this in place," Dakon Brodmerkel told NJ.com. Brodmerkel works for CH2MHill, the contractor hired by Pfizer to handle the cleanup. The problematic materials are two forms of an acid tar--one viscous and rubbery, the other hard and crumbly--that treatment systems installed to cleanup groundwater are unable to process. CH2MHill found the materials at two locations where American Cyanamid produced benzene, toluene, and xylene, chemicals that have been used in drug manufacturing.
The trial of methods to clean up the materials is taking place over winter to cut the risk of major weather events, such as the hurricane that flooded the site in August 2011. Over winter there are also fewer people using the nearby paths and ballpark, which were built on 140 acres of land decontaminated in the first wave of the cleanup effort.