Attorney General, DEP File Six New “Environmental Justice” Lawsuits
Targeting Polluters in New Jersey’s Lower-Income and Minority Communities
TRENTON – As part of their ongoing environmental justice (EJ) initiative, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced today the filing of six new enforcement actions targeting polluters in minority and lower-income communities across New Jersey.
Filed in Superior Courts around the state, the six lawsuits focus on sites in Newark, Trenton (2), East Orange, Kearny and Camden. As the accompanying fact sheet describes, the complaints describe a wide range of environmental misconduct, including companies that have released hazardous and toxic substances into the surrounding soil and water and individuals who allowed massive amounts of waste to pile up in a residential neighborhood.
Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe announced the State’s legal actions today during a press conference held in Newark.
“Today’s six enforcement actions are just the latest salvo in our ongoing efforts to stand up for environmental justice and to fight for communities across the state that have been ignored in the past,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Our message to polluters is once again clear: you cannot pollute the state’s air, water, or land and get away with it under our watch. No matter whether a company is releasing hazardous substances into the soil or an individual is maintaining an illegal dump in a residential neighborhood, we will take them to court. That is the kind of environmental commitment that all of our communities deserve.”
“This Administration is committed to environmental justice and making our state stronger and fairer, neighborhood by neighborhood,” Commissioner McCabe said. “It is no secret that residents of our urban communities have had to bear a disproportionate burden from many sources of pollution. Together with other DEP initiatives, today’s legal actions help ensure that contaminated and long-abandoned properties are improved for the benefit of the local community. Cleaner environments create stronger communities and I am proud to partner with Governor Murphy and Attorney General Grewal to fulfill the promise of greater environmental justice across New Jersey.”
Today’s EJ actions involve the following locations:
- 461-491 Fourth Street in Newark (site of the Nanes Metal Finishing Company);
- 723-725 Chestnut Street in Trenton (site of Sainte Marie Dry Cleaners);
- 1474 West State Street in Trenton (site of Schofield Cleaners);
- 260-268 Chestnut Street in Camden (site of significant illegal dumping);
- 34-38 Stover Avenue in Kearny (site of Auto Scrap); and
- 66-68 North Park Street in East Orange (site of Gas Mart).
Three of the suits – the action in Newark and both lawsuits in Trenton – involve companies that released hazardous substances at their properties and refused to clean them up. For example, from 1966 to 1994, Nanes Metal Finishing operated a metals finishing, assembly and production business in Newark. In 2000, DEP discovered a number of chemicals used in metals finishing and production operations in the soil and the groundwater at the site. The discharges included TCE (trichloroethylene) and PCE (perchloroethylene). Exposure to TCE and PCE has been linked to kidney dysfunction, respiratory tract irritation and cognitive and neurological effects.
Although DEP stepped in to install systems that keep the workers at that site safe, Nanes never finished the required remediation of the soil and ground water – despite an order from DEP to do so. Today’s complaint thus alleges violations of the Spill Act and Water Pollution Control Act, as well as unjust enrichment and creation of a public nuisance. The lawsuit seeks an order requiring the defendants to investigate the extent of the contamination, to clean up the polluted property, and to reimburse the State for more than $500,000 that DEP has spent on remediation to date. The State names Nanes Metal Finishing, along with subsequent property owners Third Avenue West, LLC and RZP NJ, LLC.
The lawsuit involving the site of a defunct dry cleaning operation in Trenton, known as Sainte Marie Dry Cleaners, is similar. Defendant Walter Zoladz operated the business in a residential neighborhood for approximately 15 years but later abandoned the property to foreclosure. The Chestnut Street property is contaminated with PCE from underground storage tanks on that property that leaked. In 2018, DEP found that PCE had migrated off-site, and that PCE was affecting five nearby homes.
Although DEP once again installed new systems to prevent the PCE vapors from entering these homes, which continue to protect the residents, the operator of Sainte Marie Dry Cleaners and the current owners of the property failed to complete the required PCE remediation. Through its lawsuit, the State seeks to compel the defendants to clean up the PCE contamination and reimburse DEP for more than $400,000 spent to date. The lawsuit also seeks imposition of civil penalties. Today’s four-count lawsuit names Zoladz, Sainte Marie Cleaners, Inc., and current owner-of-record CHM Properties, LLC as defendants.
Another complaint, also filed today, focuses on illegal solid waste dumping in a redevelopment area in Camden. According to the State’s complaint, the Chestnut Avenue site is filled with solid waste including scrap metals, construction and demolition debris, fill dirt and discarded materials. While some cleanup has taken place pursuant to a prior DEP order, significant waste and debris – approximately 10,000 cubic yards of it – remains. The lawsuit charges the prior and current owners of the property with operating a solid waste facility without a permit and failing to properly dispose of illegal solid waste. The State asks for a court order requiring the removal and proper disposal of the solid waste by year’s end, as well as the imposition of civil penalties. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are former property owners William F. Yocco and Damon A. Yocco, as well as current owner Andre Webb.
In addition to announcing the six new civil enforcement actions filed today, Attorney General Grewal also issued a new handbook for law enforcement officers across the state on how to enforce environmental criminal laws.
The civil filings announced today are just the latest in a string of environmental enforcement actions taken by Attorney General Grewal and Commissioner McCabe. Among other things, over the past twenty-two months, they have:
- Filed ten Natural Resource Damage (NRD) cases—the first in more than a decade—including cases against:
- I. DuPont de Nemours, including for pollution in Pompton Lakes and in Chambers Works;
- Exxon-Mobil, for pollution at its Lail facility in Gloucester County; and
- Manufacturers and distributors of a toxic family of chemicals known as “PFAS” (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).
- Filed eight environmental justice lawsuits, encompassing a broad range of urban and rural communities across New Jersey, in December 2018.
- Filed a series of enforcement actions against polluters, including those responsible for:
- A solid waste dump in Vernon Township, Sussex County (Feb. 2019);
- A solid waste dump in Plumsted Township, Ocean County (Aug. 2019); and
- Odor pollution in the Ironbound section of Newark (Sept. 2019).
- Filed lawsuits against the federal government to:
- Prohibit offshore drilling off the New Jersey coast;
- Prevent the Trump Administration from rolling back critical federal rules that address climate change, clean air, and clean water; and
- Ensure the federal government reduces the ozone pollution entering New Jersey.