190M could flow to the Passaic

The Occidental Chemical Corp. has agreed to pay the State of New Jersey $190 million to resolve the company’s liability in the contamination of the Passaic River, state officials announced last week.

Occidental is the legal successor to Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Co., which had manufactured pesticides and herbicides at its plant on Lister Ave. in the Ironbound section in Newark — and reportedly dumped the toxic waste into the water. The factory was near the riverbank, directly across from Harrison and South Kearny.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, the state says, Diamond Shamrock (formerly Diamond Alkali) intentionally discharged hazardous substances — including the infamous defoliant Agent Orange, a known carcinogen used during the Vietnam War — into the Passaic.

In the river-pollution litigation launched by the state, Occidental was the lone defendant that had yet to settle. However, the agreement is still a proposed settlement, subject to a public comment period and review by a Superior Court judge. Officials said a decision could come by December.

“The cleanup of the lower Passaic River is vital to the health and safety of people who live and work along the river and is one of the state’s top environmental priorities,” said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin.

Those people are you, The Observer readers. The lower Passaic is that stretch bordering Lyndhurst, North Arlington, Nutley, Belleville, Kearny, East Newark and Harrison. It is considered by some environmentalists to be the most polluted waterway in the nation.

Calling the Passaic “one of our most precious natural resources,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman stated, “Our objective throughout the Passaic River litigation has been to hold accountable those legally responsible for contaminating the river, and we have done so.”

If approved, the Occidental settlement would bring to $355.4 million the total amount recovered by N.J. as a result of litigation involving the river cleanup and contamination-removal costs, natural resource damages and other expenses, the state says.

Environmentalists point out, though, that due to a change in the law, a portion of the funds could be directed, not toward river remediation, but into the state’s general fund.

Last April, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan to remove toxic sediment from the lower eight miles of the Passaic flowing into Newark Bay. The cost of that project is estimated at $1.7 billion.

– Karen Zautyk 

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