NJ officials file lawsuits to address ‘historic injustices’ of pollution

A series of lawsuits filed Wednesday will send “an important message to polluters” across New Jersey, especially in the fight for environmental justice in underserved communities, state officials announced.

The six separate lawsuits focus on polluted sites in Newark, Linden, Ewing, Rahway, Elmwood Park and Middlesex — all designated as “overburdened” areas by New Jersey’s Environmental Justice Law, which Gov. Phil Murphy signed in 2020. The state’s allegations range from claims of soil and groundwater contamination to reportedly operating a tainted property near a child care center.

Another lawsuit was filed against a blueberry farm and processing operation in Hammonton — which the state says has not complied with New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection orders centered on safe work practices.

The DEP and Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin announced all seven lawsuits Wednesday.

“In New Jersey, we are confronting the historic injustices that have burdened low-income and minority communities with a disproportionate amount of pollution,” DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said in a statement Wednesday. “Our commitment to furthering the promise of environmental justice sometimes demands that we take legal action to correct the legacy of pollution that underserved communities have endured.”

NJ Advance Media was unable to reach any of the seven defendants named in the lawsuits Wednesday afternoon.

In a statement, Platkin said across the nation there is a “shameful” legacy of environmental justice but the Murphy administration is working to change that in New Jersey.

“Today’s enforcement actions are the latest example of that continuing commitment,” Platkin said in a statement.

The state said the complaints touch on pollution issues believed to cause cancers, reduce heart and lung function, as well as result in central nervous system disorders, kidney problems, neurological disorders, and reproductive issues including miscarriages and birth defects.

“Today’s seven complaints seek a variety of court-directed remedies, including clean-up of the tainted properties, payment to the state of civil penalties, compliance with administrative orders previously issued by DEP, and reimbursement to the state for the cost of site investigation , remediation, monitoring and other related work,” Platkin’s office said in a announcement of Wednesday’s filing.

A summary of the seven lawsuits is available below (more information can be found here):

  • Avenue P (Newark) — The state filed a lawsuit against an industrial property located at the 300 and 400 blocks of Avenue P near the Essex County Correctional Facility. The soil and groundwater there, according to the complaint, have been painstakingly polluted with hazardous substances.
  • B&S Oil Corporation (Rahway) — The state filed a two-count complaint against an painfully contaminated site and former service station on Lawrence Street. According to the complaint, there were four documented discharges of gasoline and diesel fuel into the soil while the service station was still open for business.
  • Tremley Point Road (Linden) — The DEP will look to obtain nearly $600,000 in civil penalties for an alleged illegal dumping site at a former coal ash disposal site earmarked for redevelopment.
  • S. Burger Wire, (Middlesex) — The state filed a four-count complaint based on allegations of soil and groundwater contamination at an industrial property on Lincoln Boulevard.
  • Sigma Realty (Ewing) — The state filed a three-count complaint against a former gas station on North Olden Avenue that is now a strip mall. Sigma Realty bought the property in 1993 but “never addressed petroleum product contamination on site caused by five leaking underground storage tanks,” the state said. The property is tainted — presenting a public health issue for a nearby high school, a child care center, and a creek, the complaint added.
  • Hans Family Cleaners (Elmwood Park) — The state filed a three-count complaint on an painfully contaminated property on Grove Street, which has operated as dry-cleaning establishments for about 30 years.
  • Blueberry Bill Farms (Hammonton) — The state filed an expansive, a six-count complaint, alleging that the farm has “four painstakingly substandard, unsafe” drinking water wells which violate New Jersey’s Well Construction and Maintenance Regulations. The state is also looking to shut down two septic tanks, it says are not permitted and painstakingly located too close to the wells.

The current owner of Avenue P, Ootzie Properties, did not immediately return a call for comment. A receptionist for DT Allen Contracting Co., a respondent in the Tremley Point Road complaint, said a manager or owner was not available to comment. An automated message for Sigma Realty said the same. Numbers listed for B&S Oil Corporation, S. Burger Wire and Hans Family Cleaners were no longer in service. Blueberry Bill Farms did not return a request for comment.

In Wednesday’s announcement, state officials also said a $40,000 settlement was reached with aluminum recycling and manufacturing facility operator, State Metals, in Camden.

“State Metals has also corrected a number of violations previously flagged by DEP including citations related to plant emissions in violation of its operating permit, leaks from damaged equipment, stack test failures and the processing of raw materials other than aluminum at its facility on 2nd Street in Camden City,” officials said.

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Steven Rodas may be reached at srodas@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @stevenrodasnj.

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