Halting Illegal Dumping in NJ, Cracking Down on ‘Unscrupulous Dirt Brokers’

Jon Hurdle | December 11, 2019 | Energy & Environment
As Assembly panel approves bill, advocates urge tighter rules to prevent illegal dumping of contaminated material
Credit: Flickr
The measure would subject the soil and debris recycling business to the same regulations that govern the solid waste industry

State lawmakers moved to toughen regulations on the soil and debris recycling industry in an effort to prevent the illegal dumping of contaminated material that threatens New Jersey’s soil and waterways.

The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee on Monday approved a bill that would expand the number of people in the industry who would have to submit to background checks if they wanted to dump material in New Jersey.

The bill (A-4267) also subjects the soil and debris recycling business to the same regulations that govern the solid waste industry. It would deny licenses to people who have been barred from the industry in other states as well as convicted felons and others of “questionable character.” And it would require the attorney general’s office and other departments to share information on people who are applying for licenses in the solid waste industry.

Sharing information on those who have been barred from participating in other industries such as construction and casinos would allow officials to make better decisions on whether to grant licenses in the solid waste industry, the bill said.

“This requirement ensures that the status of persons and businesses deemed unfit to work under one agency’s purview is made known to all other appropriate agencies,” it said.

The legislation follows a report from the New Jersey Commission of Investigation which concluded in June that there were “significant loopholes” in the regulation of recycling that have enabled “unscrupulous dirt brokers and others” to pose as legitimate recyclers while seeking to illegally dump contaminated material.

Some of those individuals, the commission said, have criminal records and/or ties to organized crime, and have been able to make money by dumping their material to the detriment of New Jersey’s environment and the health of its people.

It called for criminal background checks on anyone seeking to participate in ‘Class B’ recycling of construction debris such as brick, cement and lumber.

Bogus recycling

If the law had been in place, it might, for example, have prevented the activities of Michael D’Angelo, a New Jersey-based dirt broker who was previously identified by the commission as having dumped tons of soil and debris on a development site at Old Bridge, according to the report, titled “Dirty Dirt II: Bogus Recycling of Tainted Soil and Debris.” The commission wrote an earlier report on the issue in 2016.

In 2017, the commission found that D’Angelo contracted with the project’s developer to supply 36,000 cubic yards of clean fill but separately agreed with another company to dump dirt and demolition debris at the Old Bridge site — for which he was paid $250 per truckload.

Based on the investigation, the Department of Environmental Protection fined D’Angelo and his company $100,000 but he has continued his dirt brokering “with impunity,” the commission said. Since then, he has dumped “prodigious amounts” of tainted soil and debris on a horse farm in Marlboro Township, Monmouth County. Some of the material came from construction sites and recycling facilities in New York City.

After the township obtained a court order in June 2018 to stop trucks entering the site, officials found areas of toxic or carcinogenic material that exceeded state limits, the commission said.

New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel blamed lax laws and DEP inaction for the continuation of illegal dumping since the commission’s 2016 report. He welcomed the committee’s approval of the bill but called for even tighter rules in response to “the long history of contaminated materials coming into our state.”

Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), chief sponsor of the new bill, said New Jersey needs to tighten its laws on illegal dumping to avoid what he called “egregious environmental crimes” that do long-term damage to air, soil and water, and threaten human health.

“Solid waste operators kicked out of New York are showing up in our state because they know they can get away with almost anything,” he said in a statement. “With this legislation, we would strengthen our policing capacity to curb the irreparable harm being caused by chemical runoff, and mitigate the adverse effect it is having on our water supply and public health.”

The bill now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.