TOTOWA – Continuing the State’s commitment to holding polluters accountable, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced today the filing of four new Natural Resource Damage (NRD) lawsuits.
Two of the lawsuits focus on contamination allegedly caused by facilities owned by Delaware-based E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. and a chemical manufacturing company DuPont spun off in 2015, Chemours Co. The other two complaints name DuPont and Chemours as defendants as well, but they also name Minnesota-based 3M—the nation’s primary manufacturer of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Each lawsuit asserts claims under both the State’s Water Pollution Control Act and its Spill Compensation and Control Act, as well as a variety of tort claims relating to the contamination.
Filed today in New Jersey Superior Court, the suits each focus on a different DuPont/Chemours facility: the Chambers Works facility in Pennsville and Carney’s Point Township; the Parlin Site in Sayreville Borough; the Repauno Site in Greenwich Township; and the Pompton Lakes Works facility in Pompton Lakes. Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe announced the lawsuits at a press conference held at the Passaic County Office Building here today.
Two of today’s complaints, relating to the Chambers Works and Parlin facilities, center on PFAS contamination. PFAS are man-made chemicals manufactured in the U.S. since the 1940s that are used to make a variety of household and other products.
PFAS are classified as likely human carcinogens, with studies having shown that exposure to the chemicals may cause kidney, liver, and testicular cancer, as well as autoimmune and endocrine disorders in adults. PFAS have also been linked to developmental issues affecting fetuses during pregnancy and infants who breast-feed.
The other two lawsuits announced today center on contamination of groundwater, surface water, and other natural resources caused by releases of volatile and semivolatile organic compounds, mercury, lead and other contaminants from DuPont’s Repauno and Pompton Lakes facilities. Exposure to volatile organic compounds has been associated with respiratory problems, as well as allergic and immune effects in infants and children. A variety of health issues have also been associated with exposure to lead and mercury contamination, including brain and kidney damage.
“The companies we’re suing today knew full well the risks involved with these harmful chemicals, but chose to foul our soil, waterways, and other precious natural resources with them anyway,” said Attorney General Grewal. “On our watch, polluters like these who put profit above public well-being now can expect to pay for the clean-up of their contamination, for their violation of State laws designed to protect our environment and health, and, where appropriate, to fully compensate the State and its citizens for the precious natural resources they’ve damaged or destroyed.”
“We continue to take aggressive actions to hold polluters accountable and protect public health and the environment,” Commissioner McCabe said. “It is imperative that these companies pay for the damages that they have caused and for the environmental risks they have created. We will continue to take strong measures such as these to protect the residents of the state, particularly those living in communities where the most harm has occurred.”
Nationally and in New Jersey, the health and environmental risks of PFAS contamination are an emerging concern. Because there are not yet binding federal standards governing the chemicals, New Jersey has been a leader among states addressing this important environmental issue. In addition to announcing today’s lawsuits, Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe noted at today’s press conference that, earlier this week, DEP issued a statewide directive on PFAS against DuPont, Chemours, 3M, Solvay and Dow Chemical — the main users, manufacturers, suppliers, and dischargers of PFAS in New Jersey.
Issued on Monday, the Directive orders these companies to pay for continued testing and treatment of PFAS-contaminated waters at and near the affected sites. It also orders them to pay for the additional treatment of private and public water supply wells, as well as the cleanup and removal of the contamination. Starting in the early 1950s, DuPont acquired a PFAS compound (perfluorooctanoate) from 3M and used it to manufacture its Teflon products. The State alleges that DuPont discharged massive quantities of PFAS-containing waste into water and on-site landfills at the Chambers Works site, and also released PFAS into the air.
The State also alleges that DuPont and 3M knew for decades about the health and environmental risks posed by PFAS, but that they continued to use it and release it into the environment anyway, without disclosing the risks to regulators or the public. 3M, for example, spent decades “obscuring the facts” surrounding PFAS, and actively suppressed scientific research on the dangers associated with the chemicals.
In addition to Chambers Works, DuPont used PFAS and other hazardous substances at the Parlin facility in Sayreville to manufacture photographic films, automotive paints, pigment, adhesives, thinners, finishes, and some specialty products like Teflon. The State alleges DuPont discharged large quantities of PFAS-contaminated waste and other hazardous substances, and sampling around the facility has confirmed that there are PFAS and other hazardous substances in on-site and off-site groundwater.
Meanwhile, in an action related to the Pompton Lakes lawsuit, Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe announced the issuance of a second state Directive. That Directive calls on DuPont and Chemours to pay for additional NRD assessment costs linked to pollution from the Pompton Lakes operation, and to pay for any additional sampling, testing and treatment that might be required as a result of the contamination. This Directive supplements an ongoing federal effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess the Pompton Lakes contamination. Importantly, the Directive expands the scope of the assessment to include areas of concern (i.e., groundwater) and other geographic areas (a nearby State Forest) that are not being addressed by the federal government.
Today’s lawsuits mark the latest in a string of collaborative environmental actions between the Attorney General’s Office and DEP, and brings to nine the total number of NRD cases filed by the State since January 2018. In addition to a suit the State filed against ExxonMobil for harmful contamination found on and around its 12-acre-plus Lail property in Gloucester County, the Attorney General and DEP Commissioner filed eight environmental justice lawsuits across the State last December, one of which was an NRD action. These came on the heels of six environmental lawsuits filed on August 1, 2018, three of which are also NRD cases. Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe have also filed a number of other lawsuits in the past year challenging the federal government’s rollback of rules addressing (among other key issues) climate change, clean air, ozone pollution, and clean water.