Firm must pay for Passaic cleanup

The state has won another round in its legal fight to hold companies that polluted the lower Passaic River with pesticides and herbicides, including the Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange, responsible for cleaning up the waterway, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced last week.
The lower Passaic is that part of the river that flows through The Observer communities and into Newark Bay.
Superior Court Judge Sebastian P. Lombardi, presiding in Essex County, ruled that Tierra Solutions Inc. is liable under the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act for past and future costs of cleaning up the contamination that has polluted a large stretch of the lower river.
Tierra Solutions is the current owner of the site of the former Diamond Alkali/Diamond Shamrock plant on Lister Ave. In Newark’s Ironbound section. It is across the river from Harrison and South Kearny.
The decision is the second in two months by Lombardi that holds companies responsible for the cleanup. On July 19, he ruled that Occidental Chemical Corp. is liable for costs under the Spill Act.
“Cleaning up the lower Passaic is very important to the public health and safety of residents living in the many communities located along the river,’’ said Martin. “These rulings affirm New Jersey’s firm stance that companies sued by the state must accept responsibility for the pollution they and their predecessors caused.
“The pollution of the Passaic River is widespread and will be extremely costly to clean up. These costs must be borne by those companies that assumed responsibility for their properties, not by the taxpayers of New Jersey.”
In each of the rulings, Lombardi determined that the companies are liable for all past and future cleanup and removal costs associated with hazardous discharges from the plant, which manufactured pesticides and herbicides from 1951 to 1969.
A trial to determine financial obligations of companies responsible for discharges from the Lister Ave. site is expected to be held next year.
Occidental Chemical Corp. purchased Diamond Shamrock Chemical Co. and merged the firms in the 1980s. Tierra acquired title to the property in 1986 and still owns the site.
River sediments reportedly are polluted with a dangerous form of dioxin known as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzene (TCDD), as well as DDT and other chemicals that have resulted in a decades-old ban on consuming crabs from the lower Passaic and Newark Bay complex.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency, the lead agency on the river’s cleanup, has estimated the cost of remediation for the most heavily contaminated portion of the river, an eight-mile stretch nearest the Lister Ave. plant, at $1 billion to $4 billion.
The EPA and DEP are focusing initial river cleanup plans on this stretch.
Tierra, under EPA supervision, is set to begin work on removing some of the most highly contaminated sediments.
The EPA also announced it would target two river locations in the Ironbound for removal of 40,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment beginning in spring of 2012.

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