On Tuesday, the State of New Jersey filed two environmental lawsuits: one against Honeywell International for its role in what the regional news site northjersey.com calls “a cornucopia of pollution” stemming from an industrial facility in Edgewater. The riverfront property belongs to an area referred to since 2002 as the Quanta Superfund site, named for Quanta Resources Inc., the last operator of a plant on the site that recycled waste oil from river barges in the mid-20th century. The lawsuit contends that pollution from the site has contaminated the neighboring residential and commercial properties, as well as the nearby Hudson River.
State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is seeking financial compensation to restore damages to New Jersey’s natural assets, because according to state officials, coal tar, arsenic, and other contaminants continue to be released “well outside” the boundaries of the Quanta site. “The corporations we’re suing knew full well the potential harms they were inflicting on our environment, but chose to forge ahead anyway,” Grewal said in a statement. “When companies disregard the laws meant to protect our environment, they can expect to pay.”
A Dirty Past
According to the northjersey.com report, the Quanta site’s history includes 150 years of industrial use, followed by decades of poor management and neglect, starting in the early 19th century when its factories used to produce coal tar for roofing. Additionally, a chemical plant next to the old Quanta Resources site produced arsenic that leaked out onto the property over half a century.
Under Quanta’s management, oil leaked constantly into the Hudson River and contaminated the ground where at least 9 million gallons of liquids—including oil laced with large amounts of cancer-causing PCBs—were stored for years. The pollution spread underground from the main Quanta site to the other side of River Road and to a neighboring building (since demolished) that housed a day care facility, reports northjersey.com.
Although oil tanks were removed from the site in the 1980s, it languished for years until it came under control of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2002 after being designated a federal Superfund site. By then, says northjersey.com, Edgewater was transforming from an industrial hub into a high-end bedroom community, with City Place condominium, a retail and hotel complex, and the new Borough Hall all approved for development surrounding the Quanta site.
Superfund to the Rescue?
In 2011, the EPA unveiled a $78 million cleanup plan for which Honeywell inherited the liability after merging with Allied Chemical, a company that operated at the site from 1930 to 1974. (Northjersey.com notes that in addition to Honeywell, 23 other companies are paying for part of the cleanup because their waste oil was disposed of at Quanta.)
When cleanup work began in 2017, nearby residents began complaining about noxious fumes emanating from the site. Air monitoring reports showed that levels of naphthalene (the strong-smelling main chemical ingredient in traditional mothballs; long-term or excessive exposure is known to cause anemia and liver damage in humans) exceeded the site’s “risk screening level” on 120 days from the spring of 2017 to the winter of 2018, when the work was temporarily halted.
While that project is focused on the land, the fate of the waters around the site is still the subject of fierce debate. Honeywell and the EPA have been negotiating for years on a plan to clean the Hudson, but talks have been stymied by disagreements over how much pollution is actually in the river.
Victoria Streitfeld, a Honeywell spokesperson, said the company was reviewing Tuesday’s lawsuit and expects to finish the land cleanup in the spring of 2021. “Our goal has been to protect health and the environment during the cleanup while preparing the site for ultimate reuse,” she said in a statement. No plans for cleanup of the Hudson River have been issued.
2nd Suit Targets Drinking Water Contaminator
The second environmental lawsuit that Grewal filed on Tuesday is against Solvay Specialty Polymers and Arkema Inc. over toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have contaminated drinking water in Gloucester County. While that litigation is in its very early stages, Environmental Commissioner Catherine McCabe said in a statement, “Solvay cannot be allowed to continue to release toxic PFAS chemicals into the environment while leaving the public in the dark about the risks of their practices.”
The New Jersey Cooperator will continue to monitor these proceedings and keep readers informed of developments as they emerge.