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Where Were You in 1917? | The History of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center

By Kevin Kubik

When I was growing up in Hopelawn, NJ only three miles from the Edison Facility, my parents, who grew up in nearby Perth Amboy, would tell stories from their childhood, of soldiers marching over the Raritan River Bridge on their way to Europe to fight in World War II.  Little did I know at that time that I would spend 30 years of my adult life working in the very facility that those soldiers departed from on their way to war.

Google Maps view of ammunition bunkers along the Raritan River

EPA’s Edison Environmental Center, located in what was once known as the Raritan Arsenal, has a storied past. It was commissioned in 1917 as the Raritan Arsenal and contained 275 buildings, most of which were ammunition magazines.  Its location next to the Raritan River made it an ideal ammunition facility as ships could easily be loaded and sent to points east during both World Wars. Many of the ammunition bunkers are still visible on Google Maps.

In its glory days, the facility occupied more than 3,000 acres and included what is today known as the Raritan Center Industrial Park, Middlesex County College, Edison County Park, 300 housing units developed into the College park Complex and the remaining facility belonging to EPA and the Government Services Administration (GSA).

Right before WWII, several warehouses were built on the facility and the Army started to assemble tanks and small arms.

Jeeps getting ready to be shipped.

They also began test firing machine guns and calibrated bomb sites utilized by the Army Air Corps (as the Air Force was called back then) in their bombers.

When WWII ended, several more warehouses were built to store the leftover military equipment until it was determined how to dispose of it.  In the 1960’s, the Army closed the arsenal and started selling off the property.  More than 2,300 acres were sold to developers for the Raritan Center Industrial Park.  Middlesex County College was opened in 1964 on a parcel of the property.  Thomas A. Edison Park was constructed next to the college on a piece of the former arsenal. GSA bought the rest of the land and used it for various purposes.  An environmental presence (a small laboratory and a mobile laboratory) has been on-site since 1966 and was known as the Hudson -Delaware Valley Federal Water Pollution Control Administration.

Federal water Pollution Control Administration mobile laboratory. (Photos c/o EPA’s Joseph Pernice)

In 1970, as part of the birth of EPA, several buildings housed many of the organizations that still exist today on the facility.  In 1986 EPA bought a total of 205 acres which included more than 40 buildings.  Over the years since 1986, many of the older buildings were either renovated or demolished and EPA now occupies 5 buildings and more than 50 trailers and modular structures.

So if you’ve ever wondered what you parents or grandparents know, now is the time to ask them and you’ll discover that they are a wealth of information.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik serves as the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center.  He has worked as a chemist for the Region for more than 29 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Historic Green Space

The main entrance of 290 Broadway in downtown Manhattan.

By Elias Rodriguez

Even as a skeptical native of Manhattan it was difficult not to be impressed by the meticulously planned office building at 290 Broadway where EPA’s New York offices are based. The 30-story granite-colored structure is sandwiched  in the Big Apple’s downtown area a mere stone’s throw from the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall and directly across from 26 Federal Plaza, its older, hulking sibling, which houses a similar beehive of alphabet soup agencies. Although the floors EPA occupies are managed by the U.S. General Services Administration and not EPA, we won’t quibble among feds. After all, we have the same uncle. Little did I suspect when I reported to work that this building has many stories to tell.

Unlike our cousins at EPA’s Washington, D.C.  headquarters, we occupy a relatively new edifice, which was originally designed and constructed in a manner sensitive to the environment and its impact on society. Opened in 1994, the 1.2 million gross square foot locale was dedicated to Theodore (Ted) Weiss (September 17, 1927–September 14, 1992), an eminent New York congressman who represented the area.  What are some of the building’s green features? Wind Power? Check. Energy-efficient lighting? Check. Our building literally speaks to us. “20th floor, bing, going up, 17th floor, bing, going down,” the elevator considerately declares for the visually challenged. Children who come to visit are intrigued by the elevator voice.

To add to its significance, 290 Broadway literally rests on holy ground. During excavation for the site, the remains of over 400 slave and free African Americans were discovered. As a consequence, the lobby and portions of the exterior make up parts of the African Burial Ground National Monument. The human remains were given a permanent resting-place there during a traditional reinternment ceremony October 4, 2003. Visitors and workers alike are mesmerized by the inspiring artwork and exhibits. Frank Bender’s “Unearthed” and Houston Conwill’s interactive “New Ring Shout”are only a few of the masterpieces that speak about America’s pain and passion for freedom. As a Nuyorican with African American, Spanish and Taino bloodlines, I could not be prouder to walk through our lobby every day. The U.S. National Park Service administers tours of the site, which serves as a powerful link between generations of Americans. Coming to work at EPA was already a fulfilling mission, but this skyscraper makes it a privilege abounding with noteworthy dimensions.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.