Source: South Jersey Times, March 28, 2019
Posted on: http://www.advisen.com
Authorities in New Jersey on Wednesday announced four major lawsuits accusing chemical giants DuPont and 3M of wrecking the state’s natural resources at four industrial sites across the state and failing to clean up their mess for decades.
The suits, filed in state Superior Court in Gloucester, Middlesex, Passaic, and Salem counties, seek unspecified millions of dollars in natural resource damages claims for contamination of water, wetlands and soil with toxic cocktails of cancer-causing solvents, mercury, lead and other hazards.
The suits target DuPont for the pollution and, in two cases, 3M for producing some of the materials, known as “PFAS” chemicals (short for polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances), which were used in the creation of Dupont’s Teflon products and have been linked to various cancers.
Among the sites named in the complaints are two in South Jersey. One is the Repauno site in Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, the location of DuPont’s first research laboratory, where the company produced dynamite and chemicals for more than a century. According to the suit, DuPont left behind “a diverse and significant amount of hazardous waste” dumped into “unlined landfills, sand tar pits, pipes and ditch basins.”
The other South Jersey location is the Chambers Works site in Pennsville and
Carneys Point in Salem County, where gunpowder and other explosives were manufactured, along with various dyes and chemicals. This location is rife with metal contaminants, pesticides, PFAS and other cancer-causing materials and authorities now call it “one of the most contaminated sites in New Jersey.”
Also named is DuPont’s former facility in Pompton Lakes, where residents and environmental advocates for decades have accused state and federal officials of failing to make sure the company remediated the pollution left behind by an operation churning out gunpowder and explosives.
The fourth location is the DuPont Parlin site in Sayreville, where the company manufactured a wide array of products including camera film and car paint since the early 20th century. Authorities say the site is tinged with PFAS chemicals, which have been detected in the surrounding soil, water and air.
Local residents cheered at a news conference Wednesday morning in Totowa, about 10 miles south of Pompton Lakes, where state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, joined by Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe, said the state was “taking on DuPont.”
“We’re sending a strong message to polluters that no matter how big you are, or how powerful you are, or how long you’ve been getting away with contaminating our state’s natural resources, we are going to hold you accountable in court,” Grewal said.
The Pompton Lakes site saw decades of production of munitions materials, the byproducts of which were dumped in pits and lagoons around the company’s property and found their way into the surrounding environment, authorities said. More than 300 homes in the small Passaic County town still have filtering devices installed to prevent harmful chemicals from seeping into their basements.
Grewal said DuPont’s leaders “knew, or at the very least should have known, that its actions were contaminating New Jersey’s resources and harming the local community.”
A spokesman for DuPont, Dan Turner, said the company had not yet been served with the lawsuit.
“DuPont has worked under the direct oversight of NJDEP and (the federal Environmental Protection Agency) for more than two decades on remediating soil, sediment and groundwater both on and offsite at these locations,” Turner said in an email. “Fulfilling our remediation responsibilities has been and will continue to be a priority for DuPont.”
The announcement comes days after the DEP directed five companies, including DuPont and 3M, to disclose to the state all information related to their use and discharge of PFAS chemicals in New Jersey.
The suits marked a major reversal for authorities in New Jersey, who under former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration declined to go after corporations over their legacies of pollution. It also spurred optimism among local residents, who have sparred with Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration over how to address the problems in Pompton Lakes.
State and local authorities have resisted calls to have the Pompton Lakes site declared a federal Superfund and downplayed the hazard to local residents, even after a report from The Record newspaper and NorthJersey.com last year showed contamination was far worse than the company had acknowledged.
A representative from 3M did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
New Jersey authorities are also suing Chemours, which was spun off from DuPont in 2015, a move critics saw as an effort to shed DuPont of its hefty environmental pollution baggage.
A spokesman for that company, Thom Sueta, said in an e-mail Chemours was “surprised and disappointed” by the suits, which “appear to be coming out of left field.”
Sueta said the Pompton Lakes and Greenwich Township sites were “closed for years” by the time the company “inherited” them from DuPont, and said company officials were cooperating with state and federal authorities in cleanup and redevelopment efforts.
Lisa Riggiola, a founder of Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes and a former council member in the town, spent years alongside other local activists urging government officials to take action. She sat in the front row at the attorney general’s news conference, and said afterward the effort had been “a long haul.”
“I don’t want any generation besides the ones that are living there now to ever have to go through this again,” she said, adding that she recently moved from the town after selling her home at a loss.
Riggiola said she was heartened by the lawsuits but wants to see DuPont officials criminally investigated over their efforts to resist more robust cleanups and local residents compensated for their plummeting property values.
The New Jersey lawsuits seek compensation for damage to the state’s natural resources and do not include claims related to local homes and businesses.
The DuPont lawsuits mark another effort by Grewal to increase his office’s enforcement of New Jersey’s environmental laws since he was appointed by Murphy last year.
The attorney general said Wednesday that while the state for more than a decade avoided taking on new environmental lawsuits, his office has filed nine in the last year alone.
In addition to building a unit within the office devoted to environmental suits, the attorney general has brought on four outside law firms to handle the pollution cases on a contingency basis, according to retention agreements obtained by NJ Advance Media.
Grewal said after years of the state ignoring environmental cases, he would like eventually to see his office be able to handle such lawsuits on its own.
“The reason it took us 14 months to bring these cases is we had to rebuild that capacity,” he said.