State’s Complaint Seeks Compensation for Natural Resource Damages and Consumer Fraud
TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) today announced the filing of a lawsuit against the Dow Chemical Company (Dow), Ferro Corporation (Ferro), and Vulcan Materials Company (Vulcan), as well as other unnamed companies, for widespread 1,4-dioxane contamination across New Jersey. The suit alleges both environmental and consumer fraud claims, seeking natural resource damages, punitive damages, and other damages and penalties.
The lawsuit seeks to hold defendants accountable for injuries to the State’s natural resources as a result of releases of 1,4-dioxane, a highly toxic and persistent contaminant, into the environment. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants “knowingly and willfully manufactured, promoted, and/or sold products containing 1,4-dioxane” in New Jersey despite knowing that the chemical was harmful and “would inevitably reach surface water and groundwater in substantial quantities, significantly pollute drinking water supplies, render drinking water unusable and unsafe, threaten the public health and welfare, and harm other natural resources, as it has done with respect to the water resources in New Jersey.”
From the 1950s through 1990s, 1,4-dioxane, a synthetic chemical, was primarily used as a stabilizer for chlorinated solvents. Dow and Ferro were the main manufacturers of the chemical, and Dow and Vulcan manufactured solvents containing 1,4-dioxane. It has been listed as an animal carcinogen for over 50 years, and is classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as “likely carcinogenic to humans.” According to the complaint, 1,4-dioxane can also cause kidney and liver damage, among other adverse human health effects. Even at low levels, long-term exposure increases the risk of cancer.
“In New Jersey, we recognize our unique natural resources as precious, and we make companies that harm them pay. Today’s lawsuit demonstrates our ongoing commitment to forcing polluters to address the damage they cause to our environment,” said Attorney General Platkin. “If anyone threatens public health, contaminates our environment, or harms natural resources, the State of New Jersey is going to hold them accountable. The costs of cleaning up this forever chemical should be borne by the defendants in this lawsuit, not New Jersey taxpayers.”
“The Department of Environmental Protection is continually working to identify potential sources of 1,4 dioxane that may adversely affect our natural resources, and we will take every appropriate action to protect public health, safety, and the environment from 1,4-dioxane contamination,” said Shawn LaTourette, Commissioner of DEP. “The manufacturers of 1,4 dioxane knew full well that this chemical could contaminate our water supplies. Together with the Attorney General, DEP will hold them responsible for this contamination, accountable for the costs of investigation and cleanup, and ensure that the public is compensated for injuries to their natural resources.”
“For decades, these defendants misrepresented and failed to disclose the risks and consequences associated with using their products,” said Cari Fais, Acting Director of DCA. “They must be held accountable for the harms to the public and the environment arising from their deceptive sales tactics and lack of transparency.”
According to the complaint, 1,4-dioxane was released at places where these chlorinated solvents were used, stored, or disposed of. Once released into the environment, 1,4-dioxane can move from soil into groundwater, where it rapidly migrates and can contaminate drinking water sources. It can also impact surface and drinking water supplies from unintended leaks and spills, landfill leachate, wastewater discharges, and disposal sites. 1,4-dioxane resists natural degradation, making it difficult to remove or treat once it enters the environment. The cost to restore New Jersey’s groundwater is expected to be substantial.
The State also brings a claim against the defendants under the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) for affirmatively misrepresenting or knowingly concealing material facts in connection with the sale or advertisement of the defendants’ 1,4-dioxane products. The complaint alleges that distributors who sold products containing 1,4-dioxane and the consumers who bought the products were deceived about the safety of the products, instructed to dispose of them by simply pouring them on the ground or burying them, and are now “left to deal with the consequences.” The suit is seeking civil penalties for those violations.
Today’s lawsuit is the latest in a number of natural resource damage and consumer fraud actions filed by the Attorney General’s Office since January 2018.