Christie, DEP cheer ruling holding company liable for pollution remediation in lower Passaic River

TRENTON – A Superior Court judge has ruled that Occidental Chemical Corp. is responsible for remediation costs for a polluted stretch of the lower Passaic River.

The Christie administration today hailed the ruling of Judge Sebastian Lombardi, who ruled last week that the company is liable for costs associated with the cleanup of sediments in the river contaminated decades ago by a Newark plant where pesticides were manufactured.

Lombardi determined that Occidental Chemical Corp. is responsible under state law for cleanup costs associated with pollution caused by Diamond Alkali/Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Corp., which it acquired in the 1980s.

Diamond Shamrock/Diamond Alkali operated a pesticide and herbicide manufacturing plant in Newark from 1951 to 1969, polluting the river with an extremely toxic form of dioxin that resulted from the production of the Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange, as well as DDT and other chemicals, according to the Department of Environmental Protection and Christie’s office.

“This is an important ruling for residents of communities along the river, and for all New Jersey taxpayers,” Christie said in a release. “It has always been our steadfast position that all companies, not just Occidental Chemical, own up to their responsibility for the environmental damages that they and their predecessors caused.”

And DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said, “This ruling marks an important step in the long history of cleanup of contamination that has severely harmed the lower Passaic River and deprived the public of safe enjoyment of this resource for decades.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated the remediation costs at $1 billion to $4 billion.

Lombardi ruled that Occidental, one of eight companies named in a lawsuit filed by the state, must contribute to the cleanup and removal costs under the state’s Spill Compensation and Control Act. Occidental had claimed in court papers that it did not assume responsibility for the contamination from the Lister Avenue site when it acquired corporate stock from Diamond Shamrock, the state reported.

In 1983, then-Governor Thomas H. Kean declared a state of emergency and authorized the DEP to take steps to protect human health and the environment following the discovery of extremely elevated levels of dioxin in the river, the governor’s office stated. Shortly thereafter, the plant site and river were placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List, or Superfund. As a result, the state has banned fishing and crabbing in the Passaic River or Newark Bay for more than 25 years.

The DEP stated today that harvesting blue claw crabs from the waters of the lower river and Newark Bay remains prohibited because of the contamination. A coordinated multilanguage education effort reinforcing the ban is under way, with the help of community groups and municipalities in the lower Passaic River and Newark Bay region.

Christie, DEP cheer ruling holding company liable for pollution remediation in lower Passaic River