CHRISTIE ADMINISTRATION WINS ANOTHER ROUND IN FIGHT TO
HOLD COMPANIES LIABLE FOR LOWER PASSAIC RIVER CLEANUP
(12/P61) TRENTON - The Christie Administration has won another round in the state’s legal fight to hold those responsible for intentionally polluting the lower Passaic River with pesticides, including an extremely toxic form of dioxin, liable for cleanup, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.
Superior Court Judge Sebastian P. Lombardi, presiding in Essex County, held Maxus Energy Corporation liable under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act for past and future costs of cleaning up the polluted sediments in the lower Passaic River. Removal of contaminated sediments from a section of the river adjacent to the former Diamond Alkali/Diamond Shamrock plant site in Newark began in March.
“The cleanup of the lower Passaic River is extremely important to the public health and safety of people who live and work along the river, and is a top environmental priority of the Christie Administration,” Commissioner Martin said. “We stand firm in our commitment to hold Diamond Shamrock and its successors responsible for the pollution they caused.”
This is Judge Lombardi’s third ruling over the past 10 months holding several companies liable for the cleanup of the river. Today’s rulings complete the environmental liability phase of the state’s litigation. Now that Maxus and Tierra Solutions -- both indirect subsidiaries of international corporations Repsol YPF and YPF -- along with Occidental Chemical Corp. have been held liable under the Spill Act, the state will seek costs and damages in the next phase of the litigation.
In 1983, Governor Thomas H. Kean issued Executive Order 40, declaring a state of emergency and public health crisis due to dioxins in the river from Diamond Shamrock Corporation’s plant at 80 Lister Avenue. Pesticides manufactured at the site included Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange and DDT. Agent Orange consisted of a form of dioxin, known as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), one of the most toxic chemicals ever produced.
This pollution has resulted in a decades-long ban on the consumption of crabs caught in the lower Passaic River and Newark Bay complex as well as advisories on the consumption of fish.
The DEP reminds residents that harvesting blue claw crabs from the waters of the lower river and Newark Bay is prohibited because of the contamination. The DEP continues to engage in coordinated multi-language education efforts reinforcing the ban with the help of community groups and municipalities in the lower Passaic River and Newark Bay region.
The first stage of a two-phase project to remove toxic sediments from the lower Passaic River, adjacent to the Diamond Alkali Superfund site in the Ironbound section of Newark, began on March 19.
Tierra Solutions, under federal Environmental Protection Agency supervision, is currently removing 40,000 cubic yards of heavily contaminated sediment near the Lister Avenue plant site. In phase two, 160,000 cubic yards of sediments, will be removed from the same section of the river.
“We are finally making progress in the cleanup of the river, but are still waiting for a comprehensive cleanup plan from the U.S. Environmental protection Agency for the entire contaminated eight-mile stretch of the lower Passaic,’’ said Commissioner Martin.
The EPA, which is the lead agency on the river cleanup, has estimated the cost of remediation for the eight-mile stretch of the lower portion of the river at approximately $1 billion to $4 billion for several potential cleanup options. EPA also is overseeing a larger study of the entire 17 miles of the Passaic River to evaluate the need and potential scope of a cleanup of additional contaminated sediment beyond the 8 mile stretch.
Two months after Governor Kean issued his 1983 executive order, Diamond Shamrock reorganized into “New Diamond Shamrock,” now known as Maxus Energy Corporation. Under the reorganization, Maxus became the parent of “Old Diamond Shamrock,” the company that originally owned and operated the plant.
Old Diamond Shamrock was renamed Diamond Shamrock Chemical Company. A few years later, Maxus sold Diamond Shamrock Chemical Company, which was subsequently merged into Occidental Chemical Corporation. In connection with the sale, Maxus placed the Lister Avenue site and related liabilities in a newly formed subsidiary named Tierra Solutions Inc.
In August 2011, Judge Lombardi held current site owner Tierra Solutions Inc. liable for cleanup. Tierra acquired title to the Diamond Shamrock chemical plant at 80 Lister Avenue in 1986 and still owns the site.
A month earlier, Judge Lombardi held Occidental Chemical Corporation liable for all cleanup and removal costs associated with the Lister Avenue site. Diamond Shamrock was acquired by and merged into Occidental Chemical in the 1980s.
In each of the rulings, Judge Lombardi held the companies jointly and severally 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 from 1946 to 1969 under the names of Kolker Chemical Works, Diamond Alkali and Diamond Shamrock.
The state is represented in the Passaic River litigation by the Office of the Attorney General and special counsel from the firms of Gordon & Gordon of Springfield, N.J., and Jackson Gilmour & Dobbs of Houston, Texas.
To view Judge Lombardi’s orders: http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/20120521order-occ-psj-maxus.pdf and http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/20120521order-plaintiffs-psj-maxus.pdf and http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/20120521order-psj-trackiii-liability.pdf.
To read Judge Lombardi’s previous rulings: http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/tierra110902.pdf and http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/occidental110902.pdf.