New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Catherine McCabe announced the filing of 12 environmental enforcement actions targeting polluters in nine municipalities whose actions “threaten the health and safety of residents in minority and lower-income communities.”
Harmful contaminants include arsenic; copper; lead; petroleum hydrocarbons; gasoline; waste motor oil; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); oxides of nitrogen (NOx); volatile organic compounds, including trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE); and semi-volatile organic compounds.
Jersey City sites include 125 Monitor St. and 111-113 Tonnelle Ave.
According to the complaint filed against 125 Monitor Street JC, LLC, the company has failed to remediate the property, which has a history of industrial use starting in about 1919.
The property’s soil and groundwater are allegedly contaminated with arsenic, copper, lead, petroleum, dichloroethylene, xylenes, vinyl chloride, tetrachloroethene (PCE), and trichloroethene (TCE).
“Remediating the property … is imperative to protect human health and the environment because the soil and groundwater … are contaminated and may be affecting nearby properties by the migration of volatile chemicals from the subsurface and into the overlying buildings,” states the complaint.
According to the complaint, people handling the soil can come into contact with the hazardous substances that could lead to adverse health effects.
The complaint states that there are high enough levels of these substances in the groundwater to potentially cause indoor air concerns at and near the property since the substances can evaporate through the soil. “The resulting vapor can intrude into human-occupied spaces that are either currently on the property, or might be constructed at the property in the future, and that are located wherever contaminated groundwater has migrated, posing an inhalation threat.”
In early 2019, when the 125 Monitor Street JC, LLC purchased the property, it negotiated an Administrative Consent Order or ACO with the DEP regarding remediation but the company has allegedly not fulfilled the obligations, according to the complaint.
The DEP seeks to enforce the ACO, have the land remediated, and seeks “additional civil penalties” for violating the order.
Gasoline on Tonnelle Ave.
According to the complaint filed against the former owners of Heba Auto Repair, Fathi Hassanein and Alia Hassanein, the property at 111-113 Tonnelle Ave. is allegedly contaminated with gasoline.
According to the complaint, the DEP’s investigation began on or about May 23, 1992, when an anonymous caller to the DEP’s Spill Hotline reported that an underground storage tank had been removed from the site without a permit and that the void left by the tank’s excavation had been back-filled with what appeared to be soil soaked in gasoline.
The complaint states that despite multiple attempts to contact the former owners, Fathi Hassanien has allegedly failed to notify the DEP if they complied with their obligations to conduct a site investigation, complete a remedial investigation, and pay remediation fees, among other obligations.
Fathi Hassanien allegedly never responded to the DEP’s Notice of Violation and Offer of Settlement in November 2019.
The site is about 130 feet west of a school and childcare center. The surrounding area is densely populated with an apartment building with sub-ground-level rooms, one house away, according to the complaint.
“While these facilities are in close proximity to the site, the Department does not assert in this complaint that the facilities are presently at risk due to conditions at the site,” the complaint states.
The complaint notes that gasoline in the soil and groundwater can threaten the environment. If the soil is handled by a person or if the gasoline is evaporated through the soil, it poses “inhalation hazards.”
Gasoline in the soil and groundwater can be drawn into nearby potable wells and ingested by people, according to the complaint, which notes that gasoline typically contains more than 150 chemicals, including benzene, toluene, xylene, and, sometimes, lead.
Benzene can lead to neurological symptoms, including drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, and unconsciousness. Ingesting large amounts of benzene can lead to vomiting, dizziness, and convulsions. Chronic exposure can cause blood disorders.
It has been associated with an increased risk of leukemia, according to the complaint.
The complaint asks the court to declare the former owners in violation of the Underground Storage of Hazardous Substances Act, and have them conduct a site investigation, remediate the property, and provide monetary relief.
Pollution disproportionately affects low-income and minority residents.
According to a 2018 study by the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, people of color are more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air. People in poverty are exposed to more fine particulate matter than people living above poverty.
Pollutants contribute to respiratory tract irritation, chronically reduced lung function, kidney problems, neurological disorders, and certain cancers, which may increase the risk of serious illness if infected with COVID-19.
“Today’s 12 lawsuits, filed in cities and towns across our state, are a reflection of the commitment to environmental justice principles,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The scourge of COVID-19 has put a harsh spotlight on the way environmental injustices affect our basic health, and we’re going to do the hard work necessary to protect communities from dumping, contamination, and other illegal activities.”
Commissioner McCabe said the actions exemplify the administration’s commitment to the principals of environmental justice and equity particularly in communities most vulnerable to environmental harm.
“Together, we are holding accountable those who, by design or circumstance, disproportionately harm the environment and communities of our low-income and minority neighbors,” said Commissioner McCabe.