NJ Vs. Hexcel: Groundwater Contamination Lawsuit

Morristown Minute

New Jersey State announced on 4 April that the DEP has filed a suit against a Connecticut-based chemical company for contaminating groundwater at its site in Bergen County.

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On April 4, 2022, New Jersey’s acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Commissioner of Environmental Protection announced that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has filed a lawsuit against a Connecticut-based chemical company.

The Hexcel site is responsible (the lawsuit alleges) for damaging New Jersey’s natural resources and contaminating groundwater at the site of its former manufacturing plant in Lodi, Bergen County.

The community surrounding the Hexcel site has a significant low-income and minority population and is considered “overburdened” under New Jersey’s Environmental Justice Law.

The lawsuit, filed 4/4/2022 in New Jersey Superior Court against Hexcel Corporation, centers on contamination at the company’s former manufacturing plant on Main Street in Lodi.

Also named as a defendant in the case was Fine Organics Corporation, which acquired the site from Hexcel in 1986 and operated the chemical manufacturing plant for a period in the 1980s and 1990s.

According to the state, “remediation of the contamination site has already been completed.” However, the lawsuit seeks compensation for Natural Resource Damages – specifically the lost value of groundwater tainted with volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and petroleum products.

“The Murphy Administration is committed to making polluters pay for the damage they have caused and to addressing environmental injustices visited for decades upon New Jersey’s minority and low-income communities,” said Acting Attorney General Platkin. “Today’s lawsuit is yet another example of how we are prioritizing enforcement actions in environmentally overburdened communities.”
“Actions like the one we take today send a clear and important message to parties responsible for contaminating the public’s natural resources: when you pollute the environment, not only must you stop and clean up your pollution, you also must restore the natural resources that were injured and compensate the public for their loss. Natural capital like our groundwater is always working for us; and the growth and success of our communities demands that we maintain the free public services that clean, healthy and equally accessible natural capital provides,” added Commissioner LaTourette.

The contamination of issue in this lawsuit involves a mix of toxic chemical pollutants and fuel oil that originated from leaking storage tanks and regular operations at the Hexcel plant over a span of many years. These toxins found their way into groundwater beneath the properties of NJ communities.

Prior to halting operations at the site in 1998, and the subsequent demolition of buildings, the Hexcel facility manufactured and stored pharmaceutical, organic, and inorganic chemicals. Those toxic chemicals included perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), both of which are volatile organic compounds that persist in groundwater for extended periods of time.

According to the lawsuit filed on Monday, such chemicals “move quickly through urban environments, often causing harmful chemical vapors to seep into homes and businesses.” The suit also notes that these chemicals have been linked to kidney dysfunction, respiratory tract irritation, and cognitive and neurological issues.

Groundwater at the former Hexcel site was found to be contaminated with PCBs – substances that “do not break down easily in the environment,” and have been shown to cause damage to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems in both humans and wildlife, as well as an increased risk of cancer.

In addition, groundwater contamination from fuel oil leakage poses health threats to surrounding humans, animals, and plants.

Hexcel owned and operated the manufacturing plant in Lodi from 1973 until 1986 when the property was sold to Fine Organics. Fine Organics operated the plant until 1998.

During the sale of the property, inspections and testing revealed substantial contamination with multiple toxic chemicals. The DEP only approved the sale of the site from Hexcel to Fine Organics after Hexcel committed to “remediating the site.”

As part of the subsequent remediation, 8,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil and 53,000 gallons of groundwater were removed from the property. However, as of 2016 groundwater at the site still had not reached its pre-contamination condition and was not projected to until at least 2041.

Among other claims, the lawsuit alleges violations by Hexcel and Fine Organics of both New Jersey’s Spill Compensation and Control Act and Water Pollution Control Act.

The lawsuit also alleges that, through their contamination of groundwater resources, the defendant companies have unlawfully trespassed and created a public nuisance.

In addition to compensation for the lost value of groundwater, the DEP seeks reimbursement for the costs associated with investigating and assessing the injury to natural resources, as well as litigation costs.

This lawsuit is the 46 environmental justice case filed by the Attorney General and DEP since 2018.

“Many of the cases have resulted in court orders requiring responsible parties to protect public health and the environment by remediating the properties at issue. Such orders are important fiscally as well, as they ensure that polluters—not New Jersey taxpayers—bear the cost of cleaning up harmful contamination.” – Matthew Platkin, Acting Attorney General

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