AG, DEP commissioner announce 7 new lawsuits targeting polluters, including in Union

UNION, NJ — Acting to protect New Jersey communities and hold polluters financially accountable for harm they caused to the environment, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe announced the filing of seven new lawsuits centered on contamination that tainted drinking water supplies and created other threats to public safety and health, according to a Dec. 18 press release.

The seven unrelated complaints address a broad array of environmental harms linked to the unlawful discharge and storage of hazardous chemicals by such businesses as dry cleaners, automotive repair and filling stations, a clothing factory, and others.

In all of the cases, the state has already spent money to remedy the environmental impact from the pollution and now seeks to recover its costs from the polluters and other responsible parties. The initiative sends the message that those who are legally responsible for remedying environmental contamination will be held financially accountable, according to the release.

Filed Dec. 18 in state Superior Court venues throughout New Jersey, the complaints focus on contaminated properties in six areas: Boonton and Montville in Morris County, Hopatcong in Sussex County, Livingston in Essex County, Pittsgrove Township in Salem County, Union Township in Union County and Winslow Township in Camden County.

In addition to pollution of drinking water sources, the complaints describe contamination of soil and groundwater with such chemicals as lead, methyl tert-butyl ether, perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, and petroleum hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes.

All of the chemicals cited in these lawsuits have been linked to significant health concerns, particularly among the elderly, young children and pregnant women.

“The cases we’ve filed today demonstrate our continuing commitment to protecting our environment,” Grewal said. “In New Jersey, polluters can expect to be held accountable. They can expect to clean up after themselves and, if they refuse to do so, to reimburse the state for the costs it incurs to protect our residents and our environment.”

“With these cost-recovery lawsuits, Gov. Murphy, Attorney General Grewal and I continue to move aggressively against polluters who have placed New Jersey’s public health and natural resources at risk,” McCabe said. “The state’s taxpayers have had to front significant costs for the remediation of contamination from hazardous chemicals that impacted these sites and surrounding areas. Simply put: This is wrong. Those responsible for this pollution must pay up — and we are taking them to court to make sure they do so. These lawsuits — combined with legal enforcement to promote environmental justice and the state’s aggressive Natural Resource Damage complaints — will make New Jersey cleaner, stronger and fairer for the future.”

Each of the seven complaints filed Dec. 18 involve actual or threatened repercussions on New Jersey residents, including chemical vapors that have intruded into residential dwellings and chemical contamination of potable water supplies used for drinking and other daily needs by homeowners and, in one case, a church and church day care center.

Hickory Manor, a condominium complex located in Union Township, sits on a property once used by the Elastic Stop Nut Corporation of America. ESNA manufactured specialty metal fasteners for the aerospace and automotive industries, and for many years used the chlorinated solvent trichloroethylene during production. In 2009, excessive levels of TCE vapors were detected in the soil beneath the buildings at Hickory Manor. Because those vapors were also entering the condominium units, it became necessary for DEP to fund the installation of vapor mitigation systems in the residential buildings. According to the Dec. 18 complaint, ESNA and its successors unlawfully discharged TCE into the soil at the site and are responsible for DEP’s “substantial” costs in addressing the TCE vapors.

Filed in Superior Court in Union County, the complaint alleges violation of the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act by two defendant companies identified as successor companies to ESNA: ABB Installation Products and Harvard Industries. A third defendant, real estate developer Hovnanian Industries, is also facing liability under the Spill Act, as well as counts of negligence and unjust enrichment. Hovnanian is accused of building condominiums in the footprint of the former ESNA industrial facility, which was tainted by decades of alleged unlawful toxic discharges, and failing to remediate the property before doing so. In addition to seeking reimbursement for the costs DEP incurred to protect the Hickory Manor residents from toxic vapors, the complaint seeks to compel the defendants to remediate contamination at the site.