The state Department of Environmental Protection announced a $190 million settlement in its lawsuit with Occidental Chemical Corp. over the intentional dumping of deadly toxins into the Passaic River. Occidental is the legal successor to Diamond Shamrock, which was found guilty of dumping dioxin, a carcinogen, among other toxins, into the river over decades.
This settlement brings the state a total recovery of $355.4 million -- Occidental Chemical being the largest -- but environmentalists did not applaud the agreement. Only last year, noted Debbie Mans, executive director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper, the Christie administration estimated the total settlement would be $530 million. What’s more, Christie has issued language in his most recent budget that has all settlements above $50 million being shared 50/50 between the state DEP and the general operating fund. “Settlements to compensate the public for years of damage to the environment should not be used to plug gaps in the general fund,” said Mans in a statement.
“The settlement should be for a lot more money,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This has gone on for 40 years and should be about the people impacted by the pollution, not for the budget." In announcing the settlement, the state attorney general’s office said that $50 million of this settlement or $67.4 million in total payments to the state would be used for natural resource restoration projects in and around the Newark Bay Complex.
In addition, Occidental agreed to pay “certain” costs associated with a $1.7 billion plan for the cleanup of the lower eight miles of the Passaic River, which has been proposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Tittel voiced concern that the EPA wants to dredge and cap sediment that contains dioxins, PCBs, mercury, and other toxins, rather than completely remove it.
“The people who live along the Passaic River, especially in Newark, have been robbed of the use of their river,” said Tittle, who fears capping would not last generations. “Rivers should not be Superfund sites, they should be places where people can walk along the river bank or kayak.”