These companies polluted NJ. Now state wants to make them pay
The state of New Jersey has filed four more lawsuits against major companies accused of spending decades dumping cancer-causing and dangerous chemicals into rivers, streams, drinking water and the land.
The four lawsuits target E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. and a subsidiary chemical manufacturing company Chemours. Two of the lawsuits also name 3M as a defendant.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Wednesday said the companies are accused of contaminating properties in Pompton Lakes, the Parlin section of Sayreville, Greenwich in Gloucester County, and in Pennsville.
The state says some of the contamination began before anyone in New Jersey was even born, with the toxic legacy of one industrial site stretching back to the late 1800s.
“We allege in our complaints that the companies involved here knew what was going on, or should have known," Grewal said.
These are the just the latest environmental lawsuits filed this month alone by the Murphy administration, which is going hard after corporate polluters even though the companies have spent years trying to clean up messes that they created or inherited. Earlier this month, the state filed a similar Natural Resource Damages lawsuit against ExxonMobil, seeking damages for contamination of 12 acres in Gloucester County. It was the second time the state has sued the oil company.
In the latest four lawsuits, the state says the companies need to pay for contaminating "the resources of the state" — drinking water, ground water, soil and sediment.
“Over the course of a hundred years they just continued to pollute the lakes, the rivers in the area with all sorts of chemicals," he said.
Some of the contamination involved chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which the companies knew were dangerous.
“It accumulates in your body and your bloodstream and it’s been linked to heightened risks of cancer," Grewal said. "It’s a known carcinogen; it’s very dangerous.”
State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe said the lawsuits call for restoration of the natural resources, if possible. If that is not possible, the money would be used to acquire similar types of land.
She noted the lawsuits don’t ask for a specific amount of money in restitution because environmental experts are still calculating the value of the resources that have been contaminated. But “the damage is really quite extensive and I would not be surprised if it runs into many, many millions.”
“We’re telling companies no matter where you are, no matter how big you are, no matter how long you’ve operated, we will hold you accountable if you harm the environment here in New Jersey," Grewal said.
He said another message is being delivered to Garden State residents who report contamination problems.
“We hear you. We hear your concerns and we are going to hold the folks who have damaged your environment accountable.”
DuPont Pompton Lakes Works
According to the state, DuPont owned and operated this facility in Passaic County to manufacture explosives for almost a century. The state says the company dumped trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, lead and mercury in streams, rivers, lakes, the ground and wetlands surrounding the facility. Contaminated groundwater spread to residential wells and created vapor contamination in homes.
DuPont owned and operated this chemical manufacturing plant in Sayreville since 1904. The facility, next to residential neighborhoods, schools and other businesses, made film, paints, adhesives, thinners and Teflon, which produced PFAS waste. PFAS, a carcinogen, doesn't degrade and builds up in the human body. The state says DuPont knew for years the dangers of these chemicals but continued producing them.
DuPont made dynamite and chemicals at this site in Greenwich since 1880. The 1,800-acre site is near the Delaware River and residential neighborhoods. The company dumped waste in unlined landfills, sand tar pits and basins. Despite cleanup efforts, TCE, aniline, benzene and PCBs continue to contaminate the area.
DuPont Chambers Works
The site in Pennsville and Carney's Point in Salem County has been used for more than century to make gunpowder, explosives, dyes and chemicals. The state says DuPont has dumped more than 1,200 different chemicals into the environment, making this one of the most contaminated sites in the state. The state says DuPont began purchasing perfluorooctanoate, a PFAS compound, from 3M in 1951 and dumped the waste into the ground and air at the Cambers Works site on Delaware River.
Dan Turner, a spokesman for DuPont, said on Wednesday afternoon that the company had not yet been served with the complaints, which were filed in Superior Court.
"DuPont has worked under the direct oversight of NJDEP and U.S. EPA for more than two decades on remediating soil, sediment and groundwater both on and offsite at these locations. Fulfilling our remediation responsibilities has been and will continue to be a priority for DuPont," Turner said.
A spokesman for Chemours said the company is "very surprised and disappointed by today’s announcement from the New Jersey Attorney General.
"Since our creation, Chemours has consistently stepped up to its responsibility and worked cooperatively with state and federal officials regarding any environmental issues at our manufacturing and remediation sites in New Jersey. The actions announced today appear to be coming out of left field."
Chemours' spokesman said "DuPont began working closely with the federal trustees to address natural resource matters related to the Pompton Lakes site many years ago and Chemours has continued to work with the federal trustees. NJ DEP has not directly participated in that process. Although we have not yet seen the complaints, we are particularly surprised by this action since DuPont and NJDEP agreed in June 2005 to resolve ground water natural resource matters in New Jersey.
"Chemours never conducted manufacturing at the Pompton Lakes or Greenwhich Township (Repauno) sites. Those sites were closed for several years before Chemours inherited the properties from DuPont. In fact, the Repauno site is in active redevelopment today.”
A spokeswoman for 3M said the company "acted responsibly in connection with PFAS and will vigorously defend its record of environmental stewardship."
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com