Top Soil Depot's Toxic Legacy: 30 Years of Poisoning the Pequannock River

By Christopher Lotito

By way of introduction, I want to note that my work as Editor and primary Author of has often posed significant challenges.  My favorite stories are the good news, the stories that talk about how wonderful our community can be.  This is one of the more difficult stories.  It is my hope that each reader will take the time to acquaint themselves fully with the facts, to ask the relevant questions they may have, and to consider carefully the information within.  Having spent weeks soaked in floodwater from the Top Soil Depot site in the fall of 2011, I admit to a great deal of concern for the health of myself and my family upon researching this article.  I have done my best to present the materials below in a reasoned and thoroughly cited manner and I hope that this will help all readers gain a full and robust understanding of the decisions that may face our community in revelation of these facts in the weeks and months to come.
~Christopher lotito

Wayne's Toxic Dump Site to Continue Operations

At center, Wayne's Top Soil Depot just downstream of the river's
hook, depicted in Cropsey's famed historic painting, Pompton Plains, NJ.
Tuesday May 8th 2012, the courts and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection reached an agreement that will permit Wayne's Top Soil Depot to continue the storage of cancer-causing PCBs, dioxins, heavy metals, and other toxic waste from the Marcal Paper Plant directly upstream of residential Wayne and Pequannock.  This 3 part series will explore the 30 year history of hazardous dumping at the site as well as the potential health impact for downstream communities.

Part I

A Dump Along the Pequannock

As early as 1985, Allan Rombough Sr., principal of Top Soil Depot, had earned the ire of the NJ DEP for raising the elevation of his dumping site, located in the flood way immediately adjacent to the Passaic River.

Once a shallow basin in the flood zone upstream of Pequannock's Village section and flanked by a Morris Canal historic site, this low-lying tract of land had been systematically filled with paper chemical byproducts, courtesy of Marcal.  PCBs, which cause birth defects, blindness, and liver failure, may have leached into the adjacent river, contaminating trout stocks and moving up the food chain into backyards and parks.

Marcal Paper Products Sign
Marcal Paper Products Sign (Photo credit: PLCjr)
Since the mid-1990's, local towns and the State of NJ have struggled to address healthy concerns associated with Rombough's toxic dumping of Kaofin at the site, but appear to have found the laws being breached to be either toothless or unprofitable to enforce effectively.

As of this writing, the principals of Top Soil Depot owe the NJ DEP over $2,000,000.00 in fines and there is no evidence to indicate that any of the illness-causing materials have been removed from the site.  Deputy Attorney General Robert J. Kinney has noted that if the laws are enforced, those fines could amount to over $80-million.

What is Kaofin?

Labelling PCB-containing transformers.
Labelling PCB-containing transformers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the mid-1990's, Marcal Paper Products contracted Top Soil Depot to dispose of its Kaofin(TM) toxic-waste.  What is Kaofin?  Kaofin is toxic waste, plain and simple, marketed as a consumer product.  Marcal Paper Products sells Kaofin, a recycled combination of chemicals left over from its paper manufacturing processes, as a powdery substance used to absorb liquids and spills.

The make-up of Kaofin itself appears to be a trade-secret (the term Kaofin is trademarked itself).  Kaofin particles are extremely fine and made to hold many times their weight and size in liquid.  The bulk of Kaofin is kaolin clay and cellulose fibers which are too fine for use in paper manufacture.  Heavy metals, PCBs*, and dioxins are also present in the product.

PCP, public domain from
PCP, public domain from (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A quote from a 2008 Court Opinion provides additional detail, "In 1992 and 1993, Marcal submitted tests of kaofin to the DEP that Marcal claims show that levels of PCP (Phencyclidine) as well as the levels of certain other elements were within the range acceptable to the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency."  -- (It is important to note that the quantities of PCP***, also known as the street drug "Angeldust," which are present in Kaofin are not readily available to the public, therefore it is impossible to speculate on the risk posed by that particular toxin within the scope of this article. An MSDS for Kaofin was also unable to be located.  ~ Editor)

  1. * PCB or Polychlorinated Biphenyl is a persistent organic pollutant banned for industrial use in the United States since 1979.  Quantities in drinking water greater than 0.5 ppb pose an increase in risk of feminine cancers and developmental problems in those contaminated.  (Figures on the amount of PCB present in Kaofin were not readily available at the time of publication.)
  2. ** Dioxin is a broad term for a wide number of compounds.  In general, dioxins can effect genes, preventing proteins and thus cells from replicating correctly, which poses a strong link to cancer.
  3. ***   PCP or Phencyclidine is a powerful hallucinogenic anesthetic which is often sold under the street name "Angeldust."

Top Soil Depot's Toxic Timeline

Operating since the 1980's, the Wayne Top Soil Depot site's history can be marked in court dates, fines, and DEP violations:

  • 1984 - Wayne Top Soil Depot first owned by Allan Rombough Sr.
  • 1985 - 1985 - DEP cites Top Soil Depot for placement of fill in a flood-way without permit.
  • 1992 - DEP cites Top Soil Depot for placement of fill in a flood-way without permit.
  • 1993 - Marcal packages waste product from its manufacturing processes as Kaofin, attempts to sell product at pet litter and fertilizer fill.  Marcal issues a report to NJ DEP stating quantities of PCP present in Kaofin are within tolerable standards (FDA & EPA standards).
  • 1994 - NJ DEP issues limited permit for the manufacture and use of Kaofin.  Wayne Top Soil Depot enters into continuing contract with Verniero Trucking then later Marcal Paper Products to stockpile Kaofin in the flood-plain just north of Passaic Water Commission drinking water intake pipe in Wayne NJ.
  • 1995 - 1997 - 79,000 TONS of Kaofin shipped to Wayne Top Soil Depot site.
  • 1996 - NJ DEP advises Marcal that Marcal has failed to submit required quarterly reports and is in violation of their permit agreement.
  • 1997 - NJ DEP rescinds previous permit for use of Kaofin and affirms the product as solid waste, not to be removed from the Marcal site, and unfit for consumer use due to concerns about its toxicity.  During this year, the NJ DEP affirmed that Wayne Top Soil Depot had discharged Kaofin into the waterways adjacent to its Wayne site.
  • 1998 - Report issued by Dewling Associates for Marcal delineates presence of Kaofin in the river around Wayne Top Soil Depot site.
  • 1999 - (Nov. 4) Marcal and Wayne Top Soil Depot ordered by NJ DEP to facilitate removal of Kaofin from Wayne site within 90 days.  -- During this year, a similar situation occurred in Tom's River, NJ where the NJ DEP ordered the removal of Kaofin from a site in that municipality. (
  • 2000 - NJ DEP issues report that additional Kaofin washed into the waterways during 1999 as a result of Hurricane Floyd.  -- In Tom's River, NJ 7,200 TONS of Kaofin removed in completion of NJ DEP orders.
  • 2003 - Amount of Kaofin at Wayne Top Soil Depot site estimated at 55,000 TONS
  • 2008 - Ruling issued on appeal of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection v. Marcal Paper Mills et al. affirming that Marcal and Top Soil Depot are in violation of NJ DEP regulations and are both responsible for the removal of Kaofin from the Top Soil Depot site.
  • 2009 - State affirms that 22,000 cubic yards of Kaofin were brought to the Top Soil Depot site during 2009, in violation of previous court orders.
  • 2011 - NJ courts attempt to jail Allan Rombough Sr. for repeated and wanton disregard of prior court orders to remove Kaofin from the Wayne site, Rombough claims mental unfitness and psychiatric tests are requested.
  • 2012 - NJ DEP enters into an agreement with Top Soil Depot to remove Kaofin from the Wayne site over the next 5 years, NJ courts agree to forgo further action in light of newly reached agreement.

Part 2, to be published Saturday May 19th, will focus on Top Soil Depot's 30 year history of river pollution and violation of numerous court and NJ DEP orders.  The most recent court decision will also be discussed. Part 3, appearing on Sunday May 20th will discuss the potential ramifications of Top Soil Depot's actions as well as what the most recent court decision may mean for municipalities downstream of the dump.

Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock Historic District, Open Space, and Flood Control Advisory Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.   Lotito's personal mission is to Reduce Taxes, Increase Services, and achieve greater Federal Funding for Flood Mitigation.   Christopher Lotito Profile

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