New Jersey is upping its efforts to force chemical companies to pay for decades of contamination of waterways by substances including so-called “forever chemicals,” used to stain-proof clothing and produce nonstick cookware, that have become ubiquitous in everyday life.
The state Attorney General's Office and the Department of Environmental Protection sued three companies on Tuesday, alleging they have failed to clean up — and in some instances continue to release — chemicals that have polluted public drinking water at opposite ends of the state.
Some of the substances at issue are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down, and tend to accumulate in the air, water, soil and even fish. They can harm fetuses and newborns, and have been associated with kidney and testicular cancer and other illnesses.
They have been used for more than 60 years and have become staples of modern life for consumers who want to protect their clothing from stains or water, and prevent food from sticking to cookware. They have been used in brands such as Stainmaster, Scotchgard, Teflon, Gore-Tex, and Tyvek, according to the DEP.
The authorities said levels of water contamination of a Delaware River site in Gloucester County by toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in a 2007-2009 survey were found to be the highest in the world at that time. A similar study in the Paulsboro water supply in 2014 also found levels of contamination higher than had ever been reported in drinking water anywhere in the world, according to New Jersey officials.
New Jersey filed lawsuits against Solvay Specialty Polymers USA, LLC and Arkema Inc., two companies it says are responsible for years of contamination at its West Deptford site. It also sued Honeywell International over contamination involving different substances at the Quanta Resources Superfund site along the Hudson River in Edgewater, Bergen County.
"The days of free passes and soft landings for polluters in New Jersey are over,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “The corporations we’re suing knew full well the potential harms they were inflicting on our environment, but chose to forge ahead anyway. When companies disregard the laws meant to protect our environment, they can expect to pay.”
Honeywell said it is coordinating efforts with federal and state authorities to remediate pollution at the Edgewater site, adding it is not accused of PFAS contamination there.
“Our goal has been to protect health and the environment during the cleanup while preparing the site for ultimate reuse,” the company said in a statement. "We expect to complete the soil solidification by spring 2021, and we are closely coordinating with federal and state regulators on the remedy for the remainder of the site.
Solvay said in a statement that it has been working with the DEP in good faith to address contamination at the site.
“We are surprised and disappointed that rather than pursue this expedited and cooperative route, NJDEP has decided to take the litigation path,” the statement said. “We intend to defend ourselves vigorously against NJDEP’s inaccurate, overly broad, and meritless allegations.”
Charlotte, North Carolina-based Honeywell is the successor to several entities that owned and operated industrial facilities at the Quanta property in Edgewater for more than a century.
In the early 1900s, the property consisted of a substantial chemical works that included tar tanks, a tar paper factory, and an ammonia factory, and was later used for storage and recycling of oil before being closed in 1981.
According to the lawsuit, multiple hazardous substances exist in the groundwater, soils, wetlands and elsewhere including arsenic, asbestos, benzene, chromium, lead, PCBs, and other pollutants.