Ciba-Geigy Corp. settles toxic waste lawsuit with Toms River homeowners for $20 million

Ciba-Geigy Corp. settles toxic waste lawsuit with Toms River homeowners for $20 million

Source: http://www.app.com, June 13, 2011
By: Erik Larsen

A $20 million settlement has been reached between the former Ciba-Geigy Corp. and thousands of people who contended that the value of their property was diminished by the dumping of toxic waste near their homes in Toms River.

The plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit represent those residents who since 1995 lived in about 700 homes in the Oak Ridge neighborhood of Toms River.

That section of town abuts the southeast end of the 1,350-acre former Ciba-Geigy Corp. Superfund site. The production of industrial dye and resin began there in 1952, was scaled back in the early 1980s and ended in 1996.

John E. Keefe Jr. of Red Bank, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Monday that the settlement comes after a decade of litigation.

Superior Court Judge Jamie D. Happas granted final approval of the settlement last week during a hearing at the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick, Keefe said.

“We came to know well, and to respect greatly, the class representatives (residents),” Keefe said. “Their dedication and perseverance were matchless. We are delighted that they, as well the attorneys and support staff that worked so hard, well and long on this case, are now rewarded by a tremendous result.”

The suit was the third phase of litigation arising from contamination from the Ciba-Geigy site. Two other previous suits were settled. One sought damages for childhood cancer that residents maintained was caused by contamination from the site, and the other sought damages for adult cancer and medical monitoring. The company — now Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp. — did not acknowledge liability in either settlement and the amounts agreed to were not made public.

In 1982, Ciba’s dye plant was placed on the federal Superfund list after an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found high levels of cancer-causing chemicals on the property.

Removal of drummed waste from an unlined landfill on the Ciba site began in 2003, and excavation of polluted soil began in 2004. A contractor removed 47,055 drums, about 12,000 more than the EPA believed was in the pit.

The treatment of 342,877 cubic yards of contaminated soil — the EPA’s original estimate was 160,000 cubic yards — was completed in August 2010. In October, company officials said the $300 million clean-up was complete.

In 1992, two former Ciba executives and the corporation pleaded guilty to illegally dumping pollutants into two landfills on the company’s property, and agreed to pay fines.

The Ciba Superfund site off Route 37 west, which is bigger than the city of Hoboken, is the largest undeveloped piece of real estate in Toms River. With the exception of about 300 acres used in the chemical-making operations, the rest of the land is largely undisturbed.

Proposals in the past to develop the site for its economic potential have been contingent on removing 40,000 to 50,000 drums full of chemical waste that are stored three stories high, over an area about the size of a football field, called “Cell 1,” explained Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher.

The township had filed its own lawsuit to remove those drums, but consented to the suit being dismissed while both parties worked to mediate a solution, Kelaher said.

A resolution in the matter has been complicated by Ciba having been purchased by the German-owned BASF Corp. in April 2009.

“We are adamant in dealing with BASF that we want them to remove the drums from Cell 1,” Kelaher said.

Former Mayor Paul C. Brush, who is running to regain that post as a Democrat against Republican Kelaher, said the township should not have dropped the suit.

“This is a significant achievement for the residents of Oak Ridge and they are to be commended for their perseverance in their case against Ciba-Geigy,” Brush said. “Clearly, the residents of Oak Ridge were more persistent and determined than our township officials. If elected, I will certainly revisit the issue of Cell 1.”

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