Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Acting Commissioner Shawn LaTourette have announced the filing of nine new environmental enforcement actions, including seven to hold polluters accountable for contamination in environmentally overburdened communities.
Seven lawsuits address pollution in Secaucus, Kearny, Camden, Trenton, Edison, Bridgeton and Egg Harbor City. Two cases are based in Butler and Vineland.
The complaints involve a broad range of alleged environmental abuses by the defendant property owners and other responsible parties. They include illegal dumping that allowed massive quantities of contaminated soil, construction and demolition debris, along with contaminated tires and other refuse, to accumulate in nearby residences; the release of gasoline and toxic chemicals from underground storage tanks, contaminating soil and groundwater; and releases of chemical and food waste contaminants into storm water drains and surface water.
The contaminants are linked to serious health problems, including respiratory distress and lung illnesses, cancer, neurological disorders, kidney disease, liver disease and eye damage.
The nine complaints seek remedies that include cleanup of the contaminated properties, compliance with DEP Administrative Orders and other outstanding DEP requirements, payment of civil penalties, and reimbursement to the state for the cost of site investigation, remediation, monitoring and other related work.
The state’s complaint against defendant Wilenta Feed, Inc., in Secaucus alleges violation of the State’s Water Pollution Control Act.
Wilenta operates a food waste recycling business at 46 Henry Street. The business involves converting food waste, largely bakery products, into animal feed or animal feed ingredients.
According to the complaint, Wilenta has been unlawfully storing its food waste in open-air piles. This exposes the waste to storm water, which enters the sewer system and into Penhorn Creek, a tributary of the Hackensack River.
The lawsuit seeks a court order directing Wilenta to halt its open-air storage of food waste, civil penalties against Wilenta, and reimbursement to the state for costs incurred to investigate, inspect and monitor the property.
In Kearny, the state’s complaint against Isaac Moradi centers on a diner, formerly a gas station, at 941 Passaic Avenue that backs up to an embankment of the Passaic River. The site was contaminated with petroleum products, including gasoline during its use as a gas station, prior to Moradi’s acquisition of the property in 2016.
According to the state’s complaint, a 2007 investigation revealed significant contamination of groundwater and soil, much of it traced to an out of service, 12,000-gallon underground fuel storage tank.
The lawsuit alleges violation of the Spill Compensation and Control Act and the common law of public nuisance. Moradi might not have been the property owner when the land was polluted. But as the current owner, it is responsible for cleanup.
Multiple lawsuits filed
Attorney General Grewal and the Department of Environmental Protection have filed 39 environmental justice cases since 2018 which have yielded nearly $20 million in judgments. Many of these cases also have resulted in court orders requiring responsible parties to perform cleanup activities to protect human health and the environment. These orders also achieve cost savings to the taxpayers by holding polluters and other responsible parties financially accountable.
“From Day One of the Murphy Administration, we’ve been committed to ensuring that all New Jersey residents can enjoy clean air, clean drinking water and a safe environment,” said Grewal. “That’s environmental justice, and everyone deserves it. The cases we’re announcing today are only the latest actions we’ve taken to deliver on our commitment to environmental justice, and the latest reminder to polluters that they will be held accountable – whether they’re illegally dumping waste in our cities or polluting our fields and rivers.”
“To further the promise of environmental justice, we must aggressively enforce our laws in communities disproportionately burdened by pollution,” said LaTourette. “Enforcement actions like these embody our commitment to protecting vulnerable communities and make clear the consequences for creating or contributing to environmental injustice. My DEP colleagues and I are grateful to Attorney General Grewal and his team for their passion for equity and their partnership in action.”
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