The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Office of the Attorney General (OAG) recently filed 12 new environmental enforcement actions involving alleged contamination in minority and lower-income communities. The suits are the latest in a series of environmental justice initiatives, which include the recent enactment of legislation aimed to protect environmental justice communities, such as those burdened with excessive and disproportionate exposure to pollution via power plants, trash incinerators and sewage-treatment plants.

“In New Jersey, we’re committed to our pathbreaking approach to environmental enforcement, which ensures that our efforts to clean up our environment will also serve our comprehensive justice agenda for low-income communities and communities of color,” Attorney General Grewal said in a press statement. “Today’s twelve lawsuits, filed in cities and towns across our state, are a reflection of that commitment to environmental justice principles. The scourge of COVID-19 has put a harsh spotlight on the way environmental injustices affect our basic health, and we’re going to do the hard work necessary to protect communities from dumping, contamination and other illegal activities. The message to New Jersey residents should be clear: everyone, and I really mean everyone, deserves to breathe clean air and live in a safe environment.”

Latest Environmental Justice Actions

As detailed in greater depth in prior articles, environmental enforcement has become a top priority for the Murphy Administration over the past two years. For the first time in a decade, New Jersey has filed lawsuits seeking to recover natural resource damages (NRD). To date, 11 such lawsuits have been filed.

The OAG and NJDEP have also filed dozens of environmental justice suits and launched a new “environmental justice” initiative designed to address pollution and environmental hazards in minority and lower-income communities across the state. The cases have been brought under numerous environmental laws, including the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, Water Pollution Control Act, Air Pollution Control Act, Solid Waste Management Act, Industrial Site Recovery Act and Brownfield and Contaminated Site Remediation Act. 

The latest suits involve contaminated sites in Newark, Orange, South Orange, Paterson, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Hillside, Fairton and Upper Deerfield Township. They allege a broad range of harmful contamination including such hazardous substances as arsenic, copper, lead, petroleum hydrocarbons, gasoline, waste motor oil, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds, including trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), and semi-volatile organic compounds. As discussed further in a Fact Sheet published by the OAG and DEP, these actions include:

  • Former Penick Corp./Unilever, Newark: Natural Resource Damage (NRD) case, which involves groundwater contamination. Based on elevated concentrations of volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls and various metals. Defendants include: Penick Corp., Penick Realty, LLC, and Unilever United States, Inc.
  • American Fabric Processors, Paterson: Emissions of volatile organic chemicals and NOx, and failure to perform required emissions tests. Defendants include American Fabric and two corporate officers, David and Jacob Binson.
  • Deerfield Organics, Upper Deerfield Township: Contaminated storm-water discharge. Prior owner improperly disposed of solid waste from recycling operations by burying the waste on-site, which has not been addressed by current owner. Defendants include Deerfield Organics, Nature’s Choice Recycling, and Harvest Garden State.
  • 1576 Maple/Road Runner Fuel, Hillside: Elevated levels of dry cleaning chemicals PCE and TCE in the groundwater and indoor air (1576 Maple) and an unremoved underground storage tank system and gasoline discharge contamination (Road Runner Fuel). Defendants include Irfan Hassan; Little Mason Properties, LLC; Astro Cleaners; 1576 Maple Avenue Associates, LLC; and Road Runner Fuel Services, LLC.
  • Friends Gas Station, Newark: Gasoline-contaminated soil. Defendants include Little Mason Properties, LLC; Hassan and Friends Gas.
  • Delta Gas Station, South Orange: Gasoline discharge contamination. Defendants include Wayne Sanford and Sanford Service, owners and operators at the time of the discharges, alongside current owner Little Mason Properties, LLC.
  • Adolfo Auto Repair, Paterson: Failure to investigate and address potential petroleum product contamination. Owner removed two deteriorating underground tanks containing sediment and water/petroleum sludge years ago without a site investigation to identify any discharges of hazardous substances; still has not performed one. Defendant is Adolfo Gonzalez.
  • 43-45 South Center Street, LLC (Orange Automotive): Gasoline and waste oil contamination. Owner failed to comply with 2019 order to remediate the contamination caused by discharges from multiple underground storage tanks. Defendant is 43-45 South Center, LLC.
  • Heba Auto Repair, Jersey City: Gasoline contamination. Underground storage tanks removed without necessary permits; site is alleged to have been back-filled with gasoline-contaminated soil. Owners not complying with DEP site investigation/remediation orders. Defendants are Fathi Hassanein and Alia Hassanein.
  • Hyman’s Automotive and Hyman Concreate & Construction, Fairfield Township: The issues the State is seeking to address include oil and hazardous fluids leaking from junk cars, and illegally stored and burned piles of wood and concrete. Defendants include Ennis Hyman, Gerald Hyman, and Hyman Concrete and Construction, LLC.
  • 125 Monitor Street JC, LLC, Jersey City: Soil and groundwater contamination, including with arsenic, copper, lead, petroleum, PCE and TCE. Defendant is 125 Monitor Street JC, LLC.
  • Elizabeth Bolt and Nut, Elizabeth: Lead and petroleum contamination from industrial processes spanning decades. Defendants include Elizabeth Bolt & Nut Manufacturing Corporation, the Estate of Rose Haskell, Stemple Corporation, and current owner Aquaserv Bottled Water Service, Inc.

Key Takeaway

The 12 new environmental justice enforcement actions highlight that the Murphy Administration remains committed to addressing contamination in minority and lower-income communities. Property owners and others that may be responsible for pollution and other environmental hazards in such communities should be prepared for increased scrutiny. Given that the costs of remediation and related enforcement penalties, businesses should also be proactive and contact an experienced environmental law attorney with any concerns.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.