NJ sues ExxonMobil again: 12+ acres contaminated in South Jersey
TRENTON — State officials have filed a new environmental lawsuit against ExxonMobil, this time faulting the oil company for pollution that is spreading from its 12-acre property in Gloucester County.
The Department of Environmental Protection says the company began dumping on the Lail site in East Greenwich and Paulsboro as far back as the 1950s but the toxic legacy endures.
A spokeswoman for the company on Thursday called the lawsuit "surprising" because ExxonMobil "has been working extensively with New Jersey Department of Environment Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up and restore the Lail site."
In 2015, the state settled a similar Natural Resource Damages lawsuit against the company. That litigation concerned contamination at the Bayway and Bayonne refineries and other facilities. The $225 million settlement, a fraction of what the state had spent years seeking in damages, did not protect the company from future litigation over the Lail property, the state Attorney General's Office said Thursday.
The settlement approved by Gov. Chris Christie's administration was opposed by environmentalists, who believed that the state should have obtained a greater payment. In 2017, voters approved a ballot referendum to require that settlements from natural resources lawsuits be used only for cleanups.
“We’re going to bring the hammer down on polluters and hold them responsible for the damage they’ve caused in the Garden State,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.
“We have strong laws on the books to require companies to clean up their mess, and we’re going to keep using them. That includes revitalizing New Jersey’s longstanding efforts to take ExxonMobil to task for contamination across the state. While the last Administration settled many claims with Exxon, they did not settle them all, and our action today continues the environmental efforts that New Jersey began over a decade ago.”
Grewal's office has filed five such lawsuits since 2018.
State officials said Mobil Corp. used the Lail property to dump drums of petroleum products and hazardous substances that leaked into "once pristine wetlands and waterways" in the tidal area of the Delaware Estuary, the Mantua Greek and the Delaware River. ExxonMobil purchased the land in 1999 after having used it for decades.
The site has been cleaned up over the years and the drums were removed in the 1990s after the state reached an agreement with the property owner and ExxonMobil, but state officials said inspections in 2017 found groundwater, soil, wetlands and sediment contaminated with cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs, which were banned in 1979. PCBs also were detected in fish from the waterways.
ExxonMobil spokeswoman Sarah Nordin said Thursday that the company has spent $47 million on cleaning up, sampling and monitoring the site, which it continues to do under the supervision of the state and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"ExxonMobil has conducted significant clean up and restoration at the site, including excavation, removing sediments, and replanting native vegetation," Nordin said.
"ExxonMobil takes its environmental responsibilities seriously and complies with all environmental laws."
The lawsuit says inspectors found an aluminosilicate material that was as thick as 9 feet in some areas.
The complaint says the pollution affects drinking water and recreation.
The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Gloucester County, seeks an unspecified amount to cover the cost of cleaning up the contamination.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.