State says it’s back on the battlefield against polluters

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal says – after eight years of keeping its powder dry – the state has rejoined the fight against polluters in New Jersey. Declaring a new day for environmental enforcement, the attorney general announced six lawsuits looking to recoup the costs of cleanups.

“This is the largest single-day environmental enforcement action in New Jersey in at least a decade,” said Grewal.

In all, six sites across the state are part of the suit. In three cases – the Port Reading Refinery, the Pohatcong Superfund site and the Deull Fuel Refinery in Atlantic City – the state is looking to collect damages against polluters. These are so-called NRD, or Natural Resource Damage, cases. In the other three cases, two in Newark and one in Woodbridge, the state is looking to recoup for remediation work already completed.

“Throughout the eight years of the last administration, these cases and this tool was all but ignored,” added the attorney general.

Punctuated by the roar of planes on approach to the airport, the morning’s news conference was held in Newark’s Ironbound section across from what used to be the site of the Ronson Metals Corporation, a site the company sold to a developer who, despite the presence of dangerous chemicals, built housing on it. The state had to come back and install these soil vapor intrusion systems that prevented chemical exposure to the unwitting homeowners.

“When you have contaminated groundwater with the kinds of substances here, like TCE, it can vaporize and actually make its way into the basements of the homes that are sitting over that groundwater, and that is what happened here,” noted DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe.

“If you look at health statistics for the city of Newark, and if you look at statistics for this area, you will see the number of children who suffer from respiratory ailments, who suffer from asthma, who have to use respirators to breathe,” added Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.

A former Essex County freeholder and Assembly speaker, Oliver knows Newark’s environmental hot spots well. She gave a nod to the environmental activists here, many of whom have been battling against polluters, without help from the state, for years.

“I’m glad it’s happening,” said Maria Lopez-Nunez, the director of Environmental Justice for the Ironbound Community Corporation. “I’m glad that there was an announcement. It seems like it’s happening all over the state and I am hopeful that it will continue and that there will be more cases brought against polluters. So I am excited to see the state taking a more aggressive stance against the people who have harmed our environment and that continue to harm the people that live here every day.”

The attorney general says there are more NRD cases in the pipeline and that polluters shouldn’t get complacent because under this regime, they will be targeted.