COURT FINDS COMPANY RESPONSIBLE FOR PASSAIC RIVER CLEANUP
(11/P113) TRENTON - The Christie Administration has won another round in the state’s legal fight to hold companies that polluted the lower Passaic River with pesticides and herbicides, including the Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange, responsible for cleaning up the river, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.
Superior Court Judge Sebastian P. Lombardi, presiding in Essex County, ruled that Tierra Solutions Inc. is liable under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act for past and future costs of cleaning up the contamination that has polluted a large stretch of the Lower Passaic. Tierra Solutions is the current owner of the site of the former Diamond Alkali/Diamond Shamrock plant on Newark’s Lister Avenue.
The recent ruling is the second in two months by Judge Lombardi that holds companies responsible for the cleanup. On July 19, Judge Lombardi ruled Occidental Chemical Corp. also is liable for cleanup costs under the Spill Act.
“Cleaning up the Lower Passaic is very important to the public health and safety of residents living in the many communities located along the river,’’ said Commissioner Martin. “These rulings affirm New Jersey’s firm stance that companies sued by the State must accept responsibility for the pollution they and their predecessors caused.’’
“The pollution of the Passaic River is widespread and will be extremely costly to clean up. These costs must be borne by those companies that assumed responsibility for their properties, not by the taxpayers of New Jersey.”
In each of the rulings, Judge Lombardi determined that the companies are liable under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act for all past and future cleanup and removal costs associated with hazardous discharges from the plant, which manufactured pesticides and herbicides from 1951 to 1969.
A trial to determine financial obligations of companies responsible for discharges from the Lister Avenue plant is expected to be held next year.
Occidental Chemical Corp. purchased Diamond Shamrock Chemical Company and merged the companies in the 1980s. Tierra acquired title to the property in 1986 and still owns the site.
River sediments are polluted with a dangerous form of dioxin known as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), as well as DDT and other chemicals that have resulted in a decades-old ban on consuming crabs from the lower Passaic River and Newark Bay complex.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency, the lead agency on the river’s cleanup, has estimated the cost of remediation for the most heavily contaminated portion of the river, an eight-mile stretch nearest the Lister Avenue plant, at $1 billion to $4 billion.
The EPA and DEP are currently focusing initial river cleanup plans on this stretch. Tierra, under EPA supervision, is set to begin work on removing some of the most highly contaminated sediments in areas near the plant. The EPA recently announced it would target two river locations in the Ironbound section of Newark for removal of 40,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment beginning in spring of 2012.
The state is represented in the Passaic River litigation by the Attorney General’s Office and special counsel from the firms of Gordon & Gordon of Springfield, N.J., and Jackson Gilmour & Dobbs of Houston.
To read Judge Lombardi’s rulings, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/tierra110902.pdf