Rides We Like: The Revere Chemical Superfund Site
(2017) Sign your name as DeRewal in the Bucks County hamlet of Revere and you're likely to get attitude. “Like” and “Chemical…Site” are not usually two items to go in a headline. They counteract each other. Like is positive connotation. Chemical Superfund Site is foreboding and awful. The area is something that is now rideable, thanks to the never-ending efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But it wasn’t always clean.
Several decades ago the northern portions of Bucks County had an unsaid law. Neighbors don’t peek over neighbors’ fences. What ensued was a company dumping toxic chemicals on unlined land. The local creek, Rapp Creek, was a wasteland. Those living nearby would state things would just fall over and die. Of the waste dumped at Revere Chemical site EPA representatives found (among others) benzene, beryllium, lead, chromium, copper, arsenic, mercury, sulfuric acid, and ammonia. According to those who lived through the contamination, nothing would grow in the area for three decades. Perhaps it was better not to peek over the fence to this property; it could have been fatal.
It all started in 1963 when Manfred T. DeRewal Sr. purchased 113 acres to use as a dumping ground under the guise he was building a retirement facility. He had been freshly chased out of the lower Bucks County region for illegal chemical activity. For much of the 1960s, his chemical company accepted waste from other companies. DeRewal turned profits by extracting metals from waste. The remaining products he held in lagoons that would often overrun during heavy rains. This relatively small property was doing immense damage, some reports stating dumping 400 gallons per minute into Rapp Creek.
Specialists were called in when people realized green coloration was everywhere. Even the sheep were turning green. The mantra of not peeking over the neighbor’s fence was being circumnavigated by bringing in a non-neighborly entity. The scary part – one that should lift an eyebrow of any hard weathered cyclist – was the fact that DeRewal was known to load up trucks full of chemical waste and order his truckers to drive around until the waste was gone. They would simply leave the spigot open late at night along country roads in the county. They were not permitted to return until all of the sludge was gone.
DeRewal was taken to court several times. He lost four specifically. The residents of the small hamlet of Revere were afraid to take him on because of his clout. His ties purportedly went all the way up to the vice president. Locals who wanted reimbursement for having to drill new wells specifically sued him. He changed the name of the chemical company several times hoping the rebrand his terrible doings. DeRewal moved a scant four miles north to Bridgeton and was busted one year later. He then moved into Hunterdon County, NJ, after that. These names should sound familiar to any cyclist in the region. Something chased him hard enough to make him move to Costa Rica, a country without extradition to the United States. He died there in 2013 at the age of 85 without ever being held accountable for the damage he did in the upper tracts of Bucks County. Many of the people who worked for him had already mysteriously died of health reasons.
Why celebrate this 113-acre tract of wasteland? It signifies so many victories. The polluter taking advantage of a perfect situation was pursued enough to give up his liberty to move about Bucks County. Sure he fled the country as some would say isn’t a punishment, but he could never return without being taken to prison. The belief of not peeking over the neighbor’s fence was dissolved. The Clean Air Act was signed into law in 1972 largely on the momentum from chasing DeRewal. The Environmental Protection Agency managed to clean Revere enough for nature to take over. If anyone says the EPA has no purpose, I cite the case of the Revere Chemical site and leave it at that. Without the EPA, Rapp Creek would potentially still be oozing odd liquid, the livestock exhibiting a curious hue of green. The Delaware River, drinking water for some fifteen million people, would be in an awful state.
It is important to note this site’s importance in the life of a cyclist. I documented two signs along the perimeter cyclone fence telling people to keep their distance. Aside from riding along the shoulder of the heavily trafficked route 611 in upper Bucks County, the back road of Beaver Run was tranquil. Even the exceptional watershed, Rapp Creek, was quiet. When I stopped to photograph it almost felt as if the waterway wondered why I would have given up a wonderful momentous descent into a climb just to photograph its existence.
I’ve always wanted to write about this place. It boggled my mind as to why it took so long to figure out the simplest route to circumnavigate the site. Luckily it is clean enough to ride closely with a bike. As the photos show it is now a quiet place. There are eerie concrete roads to nowhere and telephone poles supporting wires to who-knows-where. A couple years ago a drilling company wanted to open the site to natural gas drilling. Luckily the Supreme Court held up a moratorium on it and the site has remained quiet.
As I continued down Beaver Run, the east side of the Revere property I observed the houses along the road. Though the garage doors were opened, front doors were ajar, and brush fires were smoldering in the backyard, I saw not one single person along the route. I’d like to think that instead of turning a blind eye to their neighbors’ doings, they were all inside sharing a cup of coffee. While I noticed a lack of people I also noticed the lack of fences separating neighbors, and that’s an improvement.
Epa Finishes Revere Cleanup * Site Of Former Bucks Chemical Company Is The 600th Superfund Project Completed. (1999, June 15). Retrieved August 17, 2017, from http://articles.mcall.com/1999-06-15/news/3246972_1_hazardous-waste-sites-toxic-chemical-drums-and-soil
Writer, A. C. (2013, October 15). The life and legacy of a Bucks County polluter. Retrieved August 17, 2017, from http://www.theintell.com/news/communities/palisades/the-life-and-legacy-of-a-bucks-county-polluter/article_6cebb44d-7d09-5593-85b1-7be3efbca13b.html