TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced today the filing of seven new environmental enforcement actions across the state, including six to hold polluters accountable for contamination in environmental justice communities.
Five of the six environmental justice lawsuits filed today focus on harmful contamination posing a threat to residents and natural resources in Camden, Irvington, Jersey City, Newark, and Somerville. Each of these communities is considered “overburdened” under New Jersey’s Environmental Justice Law because it has a significant low-income, minority, and/or limited English proficiency population.
The sixth environmental justice lawsuit centers on suspect underground fuel storage tanks located at three gas station properties owned by the same defendant. Two of those service stations are located in Camden County towns categorized as overburdened—Runnemede and Voorhees. A third service station is located in Pitman (Gloucester County), which is not considered overburdened.
The seventh lawsuit filed today centers on an abandoned gasoline filling station in Mays Landing (Atlantic County), where an unregistered and unmonitored system of underground fuel storage tanks containing a significant amount of gasoline and diesel fuel poses a risk of spillage and contamination.
In addition to announcing today’s new lawsuits, Acting Attorney General Bruck and Commissioner LaTourette provided an update on DEP’s Site Remediation Program’s Municipal Ticketing Program. Launched in 2018, the municipal ticketing initiative reflects the State’s commitment to promptly holding polluters accountable and obtaining relief for overburdened communities.
“Pollution affects all of us, but it doesn’t affect us equally,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “Lower-income neighborhoods have been disproportionately exposed to environmental harms. And far too often, the communities most affected by these harms have been communities of color. That legacy of environmental injustice is why, here in New Jersey, the Murphy Administration is prioritizing environmental cleanups in these overburdened neighborhoods.”
“For far too long, our fellow residents in low-income and minority communities have carried a disproportionate burden of the pollution that we all together create,” said DEP Commissioner LaTourette. “With Governor Murphy’s leadership, New Jersey is turning the tide and implementing the strongest environmental justice law in the country. Still, we must reckon with the pollution of the past and, through actions like those we take today, hold accountable those who have harmed already overburden communities. My DEP colleagues and I thank Acting Attorney General Bruck for his partnership in treating the environmental threats to any New Jersey community as a threat to our entire New Jersey community.”
Most of the properties at issue in today’s lawsuits are tainted with petroleum products and other chemical pollutants known to cause health problems—including certain cancers, reduced lung function, central nervous system disorders, kidney problems, neurological disorders, and reproductive issues. In addition, many of the properties pose a public danger and ongoing nuisance to local residents by generating dust, odors, contaminated stormwater runoff, and other problems.
Collectively, the complaints involve a broad range of alleged environmental abuses by the defendant property owners, business operators, and other responsible parties, including but not limited to:
- Failure to remediate harmful PCBs, PHCs, toluene, fuel oils and heavy metals found in the soil and groundwater of an industrial site bordering the fragile ecosystem of the Delaware River, as well as direct dumping into the Delaware River of hundreds of cubic yards of unanalyzed fill material;
- Creation of an unlawful stockpile of more than 300,000 cubic yards of crushed glass—mixed with plastic, paper, food debris and other waste—that continues to threaten the environment and public health by contaminating stormwater runoff from the site, as well as causing dust and obnoxious odors; and
- Failure to secure multiple 10,000-gallon, above-ground fuel oil storage tanks to their bases, leading them to topple during a heavy storm and discharge fuel oil that—carried by floodwaters—flowed off-site and tainted nearby homes and businesses, as well as many grave markers and religious statues in a neighboring cemetery. The fuel oil also flowed into a tributary of the Raritan River, and left groundwater contamination that continues to pose a concern to nearby residents.
Including the lawsuits announced today, the Attorney General’s Office and DEP have filed a total of 45 environmental justice cases since 2018. To date, the lawsuits have yielded nearly $20 million in judgments.
Moreover, 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.
Today’s seven complaints seek a variety of court-directed remedies, including clean-up of the contaminated properties, payment to the State of civil penalties, compliance with agreements previously struck with DEP, and reimbursement to the State for the cost of site investigation, remediation, monitoring and other related work.
The cases include:
The State’s complaint centers on a contaminated site along the banks of the Delaware River at 75 Erie Street in Camden. Between 1966 and 2012, the property was owned by Camden Ship Repair Inc. and operated as a ship repair and refurbishing facility. Historic operations at the site have left the soil and groundwater on the site are contaminated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), PHCs (petroleum hydrocarbons), toluene, fuel oil and heavy metals. According to the complaint, DEP also discovered in 2019 that between 60,000 and 80,000 cubic yards of unanalyzed fill material had been imported to the site without DEP authorization and improperly placed within a Flood Hazard Area and an Upland Waterfront Development Area. In July 2020, DEP further learned that 200 cubic yards of fill material had been dumped into the open waters of the Delaware River from the site.
Today’s complaint alleges violations of New Jersey’s Spill Compensation and Control Act (Spill Act) by Camden Ship Repair, current site owner 75 Erie Street LLC, and two other previous owners. The suit also alleges violations of the State’s Water Pollution Control Act (WPCA) and Industrial Site Recovery Act (ISRA) by Camden Ship Repair. The complaint seeks a court order requiring 75 Erie Street LLC to analyze and submit a plan to remove the unauthorized fill on the property and pay the nearly $90,000 in a DEP final order that the State alleges the company has failed to pay. The complaint also seeks to compel Camden Ship Repair to halt all discharges of hazardous substances affecting water quality and require all defendants to remediate the contamination at the site.
The State’s complaint alleges that Fast Oil Co. is exposing neighbors of 126 Passaic Street in Newark to environmental and public health dangers by failing to comply with DEP orders concerning a 300,000-gallon above-ground storage tank. The tank is mostly full of hazardous wastewater, which the company is now mixing with cooking oil and shipping to a biodiesel supplier without obtaining required DEP permits. According to today’s complaint, the tank contains silver, barium, and 2-butanone (methyl ethyl ketone), all of which are regulated hazardous substances. The substances are known to pose threats to human health including breathing problems, lung and throat irritation, muscular weakness, and central nervous system issues. Fast Oil previously failed to provide DEP with required discharge prevention and clean-up plans, and subsequently entered into an Administrative Consent Order (ACO) with DEP requiring that it remove all wastewater from the tank or submit the required plans within 120 days. Fast Oil then failed to comply with the ACO, and DEP subsequently discovered the company’s unpermitted wastewater/cooking oil operations.
The lawsuit seeks to compel defendants to empty the tank, repair the containment system surrounding the tank, immediately halt the illegal solid waste importing and processing operations, and pay civil penalties. Defendants in the case other than Fast Oil include Aryeh Weinstein (president of Fast Oil), W.A.S. Terminals (a prior site owner) and Eastern Biofuels, LLC (another prior site owner). The suit alleges violations of the Spill Act, ISRA and the New Jersey Solid Waste Management Act (SWMA).
The State’s complaint alleges that Pace Glass, Inc., operates an illegal solid waste facility in Jersey City by storing large piles of crushed glass on two different properties—the Caven Point Avenue Site and the Bishop Street Site. According to the complaint, Caven Point Avenue Site alone contains a 40-foot-high stockpile of approximately 300,000 cubic yards of crushed glass material, which is mixed with plastic, paper, food debris and other solid waste. DEP in 2020 took administrative action against Pace Glass and Reliable Paper Recycling, Inc., the owner of the Caven Point Avenue Property, for the illegal storage of crushed glass material, but the piles of glass material remain on the properties.
Today’s complaint alleges that Pace’s stockpiles of crushed glass mixed with other solid waste are causing contaminated stormwater run-off, which in turn jeopardizes the environment and public health. The stockpiled glass is also a source of dust and odors that impact the quality of life of nearby residents, and multiple fires occurred at the site in May 2021, directly threatening public safety. Today’s complaint seeks a court order directing Pace and other defendants to remove the piles of crushed glass, remediate contamination at the sites, and to pay DEP penalties under the SWMA and WPCA. Other defendants in the case include Efstathios Valiotos (owner of Pace), Reliable Paper Recycling, Inc., Bishop-Johnston, LLC (owner of the Bishop Street property) and Caven Point Road Associates (owner of the Caven Point Avenue property).
The State’s complaint seeks accountability from Richards Fuel Oils, Inc. for contamination that occurred in September 1999, when four above-ground storage tanks owned by the defendants were toppled by Tropical Storm Floyd, discharging fuel oil onto the property at Holly Glen Road in Somerville. According to the State’s complaint, the spilled fuel oil migrated off-site onto adjacent wetlands and the Somerset Cemetery, as well as nearby homes and businesses along Bridge Street. Carried by floodwaters, it also flowed down 5th Street before traveling into Peter’s Brook, a tributary of the Raritan River. Richards Fuel Oils, Inc. entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with DEP years ago to remediate the spill-related contamination, and the company took some initial steps under that MOA to remediate the damage. However, it has failed to follow through and complete remediation.
Removal of underground storage tanks containing petroleum products at the property in June 2000 revealed additional groundwater contamination, including up to three feet of petroleum products in monitoring wells. Today’s complaint asserts that the full extent of petroleum product contamination at the site remains undetermined. In addition to Richards Fuel Oils, Inc., company president and controlling shareholder John J. McCaffrey is a defendant. Today’s complaint brings claims under the Spill Act, the WPCA, and the Underground Storage of Hazardous Substances Act. It seeks to ensure cleanup of the site, prevent further migration of petroleum products off-site, and recover costs and penalties. The high levels of fuel oil contamination at the property are of particular concern, today’s complaint notes, due to the potential for harmful vapor intrusion at the nearby South Bridge Gardens and Lauren Gardens apartment complexes.
This complaint involves three abandoned 10,000-gallon underground unleaded gasoline storage tanks at the site of a former Gulf Oil-Delta gas station at 1359 Springfield Avenue in Irvington, owned by Raees and Khadija Sheikh and operated by AAR Fuel, LLC. DEP’s inspections of the gas station between 2008 and 2017 revealed numerous violations, today’s complaint alleges, including failure to maintain assurance of financial responsibility, protect tanks and piping from corrosion, or have an operational leak detection system. Despite signing an ACO with DEP in 2017, ceasing operations, paying required penalties, AAR Fuel and Raees Sheikh have still not closed or removed the underground tank system as required. These abandoned and unmonitored storage tanks pose a risk to public health and the environment because of their potential to leak.
Today’s complaint alleges that AAR Fuel and Sheikh have also failed to complete the investigation and remediation of soil contamination, including benzene, xylenes, and MTBE, that was reported to DEP in 1999. As the complaint notes, human exposure to gasoline can cause dizziness, nausea, damage to internal organs and damage to cognitive function. Today’s complaint alleges violations of the Underground Storage of Hazardous Substances Act (UST Act), the Brownfields Act, the SRRA, and a DEP final agency order. The complaint seeks to compel defendants to remove the out of service tanks, investigate and remediate all contamination at the site, pay civil penalties, and reimburse the State’s costs.
The State’s complaint focuses on a total of 10 out-of-service underground fuel storage tanks located at three different gas station properties owned by defendant Chatterpal Singh. Two of the gas stations are in environmentally overburdened communities in Camden County—Runnemede and Voorhees. The third gas station—in Pitman, Gloucester County—is part of the lawsuit but is not located in a community designated by the State as overburdened.
According to today’s complaint, DEP issued an Administrative Order and Civil Administrative Penalty Assessment (AONOCAPA) against Singh in 2020, citing a total of 38 violations of environmental rules governing the underground tanks at his three gas stations. Among other violations, Singh was cited for failing to register the storage tanks, failing to maintain evidence of financial responsibility assurance, and failing to perform adequate leak detection monitoring.
Singh failed to request a hearing on the alleged violations, and the AONOCAPA then became a Final Agency Order. Today’s complaint alleges violations of the UST Act and a DEP final agency order. It seeks to compel Singh to remove all 10 out-of-service storage tanks in compliance with the FAO, investigate potential contamination at the sites, and pay civil penalties.
The State’s complaint alleges that an abandoned gas station at 5803 Main Street in Mays Landing owned by defendant Baja Auto Services, Inc., is the site of an underground storage tank system containing significant amounts of gasoline and diesel fuel, creating a risk of accidental discharge and contamination. Further, the complaint alleges, the storage tank system is unmonitored and lacks basic spill prevention controls. Defendants in the lawsuit include Baja Auto Services, Inc. and the estate of Jeff Altman, the deceased owner of Baja Auto Services.
Today’s complaint seeks an order requiring Baja Auto Services to properly close and remove the tanks from the property. In addition, the lawsuit seeks to compel Baja to investigate and remediate all discharges of hazardous substances at and from the site and pay outstanding remediation fees, DEP costs, and civil penalties. The complaint alleges violations of the UST Act and the Spill Act.
In order to protect the public from the immediate threat posed by gasoline and diesel in an abandoned and unmonitored underground tank system, the State also today filed an Order to Show Cause asking the court to issue a preliminary injunction ordering defendants to immediately empty the tanks.
Municipal Ticket Program
Acting Attorney General Bruck and DEP Commissioner LaTourette also have been advancing environmental justice in New Jersey through enforcement actions brought in the municipal courts of minority, lower-income, and limited English proficiency communities across the State.
As part of the Municipal Ticketing Program, DEP brings actions in municipal court for civil penalties of up to $50,000 per day of violation against parties responsible for a discharge of a hazardous substance if they fail to take required steps to ensure that the contamination is investigated and remediated by applicable deadlines.
By filing these matters in municipal court, the State is able to expeditiously bring these matters before a judge and often resolve them quickly. These actions are often settled through Administrative Consent Orders, in which the responsible parties agree to meet revised deadlines to complete the clean-up and pay reduced penalties.
Through this program, the State ensures that many neglected, contaminated sites in overburdened communities are remediated by the responsible parties, protecting residents from exposure to hazardous substances and avoiding additional costs to New Jersey taxpayers.
The following are a few examples of the program at work:
- Earlier this year, DEP entered into an agreement with the owner of the Colonial Station Site in Paterson, where gasoline-related chemicals were discovered in the groundwater. DEP entered an ACO with the owner through which the owner agreed to meet revised remedial deadlines and pay a civil penalty of $12,500.
- Similarly, at the 61 Spruce Street Holdings Site in Paterson, where gasoline constituents were found in the soil and groundwater, DEP entered an ACO with the owner, who agreed to remediate the contaminated site and pay a penalty of $5,000, plus the cost of past DEP emergency oversight expenses and ongoing oversight costs.
- At the Bill’s Gas & Go Site in Camden, DEP discovered gasoline-related chemicals in the soil and groundwater. The State subsequently entered into an ACO with the owners through which the owners agreed to meet revised remedial deadlines and pay a civil penalty of $12,500.
Since January 2020, a total of 55 municipal tickets have been issued in overburdened communities. While litigation remains ongoing in many of those cases, at least 18 have been resolved through the execution of an ACO, and other cases have resulted in the imposition of penalties upon the responsible parties.
Today’s enforcement actions are being handled by the Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice (EEEJ) Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group, including Assistant Attorney General Aaron Kleinbaum, Section Chief Gary Wolf, Assistant Section Chiefs Jessica Palmer and Paul Stofa, and Deputy Attorneys General Lisa Morelli, J. Matthew Novak, Samuel R. Simon, Michael Steven Spinello, Jonathan S. Sussman, Kevin A. Terhune, Andrew P. Verdone, and Richard Wille.
Photographs of the sites involved with today’s environmental justice announcement are available at https://www.flickr.com/gp/newjerseyoag/8K9tHG