Resident headed legal team in river pollution case victory

Resident headed legal team in river pollution case victory

Source:, September 22, 2011
By: Lindsey Kelleher

Township resident Michael Gordon, partner in the Springfield law firm Gordon & Gordon, served as lead counsel representing the State of New Jersey in a case that is holding two chemical companies financially responsible for pollution in the Passaic River.

The state is also represented by the Attorney General’s Office and special counsel from Jackson Gilmour & Dobbs of Houston.

Gordon has been involved with this case since its beginning in 1983, and represented former employees who worked for Diamond Shamrock/Diamond Alkali and residents who live near this pesticide and herbicide manufacturing plant. His previous experience working as a regulatory officer within the New Jersey DEP’s Division of Water Resources and after this as a community environmental lawyer in the Ironbound section of Newark helped prepare him for this case involving Occidental Chemical Corp. and Tierra Solutions Inc.

Judge Sebastian P. Lombardi, who presides in Essex County, ruled this past July that Occidental Chemical Corp. is responsible under state law for cleanup costs associated with pollution caused by the former Newark manufacturing plant, Diamond Alkali/Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Corp., according to a press release from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Occidental Chemical Corp. acquired and merged with Diamond Alkali/Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Corp. in the 1980s.

“This ruling marks an important step in the long history of cleanup of contamination that has severely harmed the lower Passaic River and deprived the public of safe enjoyment of this resource for decades,” stated DEP Commissioner Bob Martin in the press release.

“There was a lot of evidence provided by all sides in the case,” Lawrence Ragonese, the press director for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, told The Item of Millburn and Short Hills last month. “Based on a wealth of evidence provided to the court, Judge Lombardi ruled in favor of the DEP.”

According to Ragonese, the scope of the clean-up work has yet to be determined.

This September, Lombardi ruled that Tierra Solutions Inc. is liable under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act for past and future clean-up costs of this pollution. According to a press release, Tierra Solutions Inc. is the current owner of the Newark Lister Avenue site where the former Diamond Alkali/Diamond Shamrock plant was located.

The state is determining the value of the pollution damages, Gordon told The Item, and the cost of the clean-up could be in the billions. It could be another year to year and a half before that trial begins.

According to reports, Diamond Shamrock/Diamond Alkali operated a pesticide and herbicide manufacturing plant on Lister Avenue in Newark from 1951 to 1969 that polluted the river with an extremely toxic form of dioxin that resulted from the production of Agent Orange — a defoliant that was used during the Vietnam War — along with DDT and other chemicals.

“In this case, because of this ruling,” said Gordon, “it’s extremely unlikely for citizens to have to pay which is the motivation for the governor to continue the litigation where we received this ruling and to continue to pursue the other damages associated with the dioxin.”

Gordon noted that in 2005 the DEP on behalf of the state government filed litigation to make sure there were adequate funds to address the clean-up and get compensation for New Jersey’s citizens for the damages caused by the dioxin. Three years later, there was an agreement with the state DEP and EPA to remove dioxin sediments from the Passaic River, which was estimated to cost between 80 and 100 million dollars.

Gordon recalled another case he worked on as an environmental lawyer in the Ironbound section before 1983 that involved a warehouse fire next to an elementary school. The ruling in this case in which 10,000 drums of hazardous waste were found at this warehouse was that the NJDEP had to spend its own money on the clean-up. In more recent years, Gordon and his firm, Gordon & Gordon have represented the state of New Jersey in its litigation against the tobacco industry and the Township of Montclair in the Midtown Direct Case.

A graduate of Rutgers Law School in Newark, Gordon knew at an early age that he wanted to study environmental law since he was always environmentally aware.

“I wanted to help people who suffered from pollution problems and hazardous chemicals,” noted Gordon.

Gordon & Gordon was established in 1984 in West Orange. The firm relocated to Springfield six years ago.

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