|Borne Chemical Company
Elizabeth, New Jersey
|Derelict Borne Chemical Company, Elizabeth, NJ 1997
Photo by Robert J. Baptista
The Borne-Scrymser Company was organized in 1874 with capital stock of $200,000. It refined and marketed lubricating oils for industries, including textile
mills, and had considerable export business. The officers of the company were J.E. Borne, president and treasurer; Charles E. Renshaw, secretary;
Theodore G. Sullivan, general manager; and George H. Kline, manufacturing superintendent. The company became a small part of the vast holdings of the
Standard Oil trust in 1893.
The original plant was an experimental facility in Brooklyn, capable of producing 450 barrels of manufactured oil per month. After a fire in 1883, the plant
was moved to a more industrial location in the meadow lands along the Arthur Kill waterway, at a 14-acre site at 632 South Front Street in Elizabeth. There
were various buildings interconnected with pipe racks and around 60 iron tanks for storing oils, with capacity ranging from 50-2,000 barrels each. Crude
oil was obtained from the nearby terminal of the Tuscarora pipeline which stretched to the oil fields of Pennsylvania. There were seven stills with a
capacity of 2,500-2,600 barrels each. Bulk storage tanks included one holding 35,000 barrels and two holding 15,000 barrels each. The waterfront refinery
was well designed for shipping, with a dock on the Arthur Kill and a railroad running directly into the plant. About 100 different grades of oil were
By 1890 the firm was well established as a global supplier of a wide range of petroleum lubricants which were replacing whale sperm and lard oils.
The plant was partially destroyed by a fire on a windy night in 1892. One of the first buildings damaged was the 450 foot long frame structure used as a
filter house. The fire boat Advance was called from Bayonne to fight the fire from the Arthur Kill. The fire burned itself out on the southern part of the
property, destroying the main buildings. The oil storage tanks, with thousands of barrels of oil, on the northern portion of the property, were not touched
by the flames. The plant capacity was estimated at 350,000 barrels of lubricating oils annually. The plant was said to be worth $750,000 with damage
estimated at $250,000. Over 200 men were employed at the time. The plant was soon rebuilt on an even larger scale.
The headquarters and a warehouse were located on the East River in Manhattan at 80-81 South Street, between Maiden Lane and Burling Slip, in the heart
of the old oil district near the Brooklyn Bridge. A devastating fire struck this facility in 1905, which started with the explosion of a barrel of kerosene on the
third floor of the five-story Borne-Scrymser brick building. The three-alarm fire, fed by kerosene, lubricating and engine oils, tar and oakum, blazed for six
hours and made a waterfront spectacle. The oil-soaked floors spread the fire quickly, and employees barely got out with the books. The valuable Inca
pottery collection of general manager Theodore G. Sullivan, collected in Peru, was destroyed. He had planned to donate it to the Metropolitan Museum of
In 1911 the Standard Oil monopoly was broken up, and Borne-Scrymser became an independent company. The plant had 60 workers in 1917.
In 1922 the company declared a 400 percent stock dividend and authorized an increase in capital stock from $200,000 to $1,000,000. Products for leather
tanning and dye tints for textiles were introduced. Some of the bulk tanks were leased to other companies for the storage of various petroleum and
chemical products. The administration building, depicted above, was built in 1941 and replaced the New York office. The name of the company was
changed to Borne Chemical in 1956.
When oil prices skyrocketed in the 1970s, the company began to sell recycled motor oil and auto transmission fluid. The NJDEP first identified a pollution
problem at the Borne site in 1978. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found in waste oil in the storage tanks. On February 15, 1980, Borne filed a
petition for bankruptcy. The Bankruptcy Court authorized the trustee to abandon the site on October 10, 1986. Between 1983 and April of 1985, NJDEP
negotiated with Borne Chemical's owners and waste generators to undertake removal and disposal of waste at the site. However, the parties were unable
to reach an agreement due to Borne Chemical's financial condition.
On April 4, 1985, the State formally requested authorization for $2,375,000 from the Spill Compensation Fund for the purpose of sampling, staging, removal
and disposal of hazardous waste materials at the Borne site. The NJDEP issued a directive on July 7, 1987, naming 28 corporations it believed were
responsible for removal of hazardous substances at the Borne site. The directive gave notice that failure to perform the required remedial and preventive
action within 30 days could result in NJDEP doing the required work with public funds, and that as a result the named parties could be liable for treble
damages for work done by NJDEP. By September of 1989, 18 companies entered into an agreement, entitled Administrative Consent Order II, with NJDEP to
comply with the directive. The site has not been listed as a Superfund site and is listed on NJDEP’s Known Contaminated Sites List (KCSL). The
environmental status as of October 2008 is summarized below:
1) Site is a Brownfields Development Area
2) Soil and groundwater investigations have been completed
3) Remedial Action Workplan (RAW) for soil awaiting approval by NJDEP
4) RAW for groundwater to be submitted later
5) Contaminated “Hot Spot” areas to be excavated and disposed off-site or covered by impermeable cap
Suprisingly, most of the buildings are still standing today, albeit in deteriorated condition. The City of Elizabeth views the brownfield site as a prime real
estate location and is seeking a developer to revitalize the property. The site is called the "South Front Street Redevelopment Project Area". Permitted
land uses include distribution and trucking service, light manufacturing, office and boat and marina-related facilities. But if you take the video tour of the
site (click link below) you will see drums of petroleum wastes still stored there, a clear indication the environmental cleanup is not finished.
1) F.W. Ricord, History of Union County, New Jersey, East Jersey History Co., Newark, 1897, p. 230-231; online at http://books.google.com/books?
id=hLLENPUr4q4C&printsec=frontcover#PPA230,M1, accessed May 6, 2009
2) "Fierce Fire Fight in the Oil District", New York Times, January 27, 1905
3) "Votes 400% Stock Dividend", New York Times, October 27, 1922
4) Paul T. Kostecki and Edward J. Calabrese, Petroleum Contaminated Soils, Vol I, CRC Press, 1989, p. 48; online at http://books.google.com/books?
id=_Db2UpvOdgAC&printsec=frontcover#PPA48,M1, accessed May 6, 2009
5) "Exxon Corp. v. Mack", http://nj.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.%5CNJ%5CNJ2%5C1989%5C19891128_0040085.NJ.htm/qx, accessed
May 6, 2009
6) "Quarter of a Million Lost", New York Times, January 27, 1892
7) "It's Borne Chemical Now", New York Times, August 18, 1956
8) John T. Cunningham, Made in New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1954, p. 163
9) "Master Plan: City of Elizabeth", October 2005; online at http://www.elizabethnj.org/planning_pdf/master_plan.pdf, accessed May 6, 2009
10) "Facility Detail Report-Borne Chemical", EPA, http://oaspub.epa.gov/enviro/fii_query_dtl.disp_program_facility?
pgm_sys_id_in=NJD002167237&pgm_sys_acrnm_in=RCRAINFO, accessed May 6, 2009
11) "Goethals Bridge Replacement Environmental Impact Statement", October 2008, http://www.goethalseis.com/get_involved/presentation_oct08.pdf,
accessed May 6, 2009
|"Borne Chemical Company, Elizabeth, New Jersey"
by Robert J. Baptista, May 7, 2009
|Trade Ads for Borne-Scrymser Products-1911-1921. Click to Enlarge
|Aerial Views of the Borne Chemical Company Site Near the Goethals Bridge-1991
Photos: Library of Congress
Borne-Scrymser Co. Plant, Elizabeth, NJ 1889