Largest Single-site Natural Resource Damages and Remediation Case in New Jersey History
TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette today announced a proposed settlement with Solvay Specialty Polymers USA, LLC that would ensure the remediation of contamination, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and compensate the public for natural resource damages in the vicinity of Solvay’s facility in West Deptford, Gloucester County.
PFAS substances – also called “forever chemicals”– are manmade substances desired for their ability to repel water and oil and contain fuel fires, and were commonly used to make products like Teflon® and Scotchgard®. Highly resistant to environmental degradation and known to accumulate in the human body, PFAS are associated with serious adverse health effects such as decreased vaccine response.
The first of its kind to address PFAS contamination in New Jersey, the proposed settlement provides financial commitments of nearly $393 million, including commitments by Solvay to:
- Pay for and implement comprehensive remedial activities at and in the vicinity of its West Deptford facility
- Provide financial support for certain public water system upgrades necessary to remove PFAS from drinking water, which will be administered by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
- Further investigate and address certain PFAS impacts to public water systems and private potable drinking water wells in the vicinity, and
- Compensate the public for natural resources injured by the discharge of hazardous substances.
“For years, corporations, including Solvay, have put financial gain over our clean drinking water and the health of millions of people. They have blatantly ignored the dangers posed by the PFAS ‘forever’ chemicals that accumulate in our environment and in our bodies. New Jersey has pursued those who thought they could leave their mess to someone else to clean up,” said Attorney General Platkin. “This settlement is a historic step that requires Solvay to finally take meaningful responsibility for PFAS and other contamination at their site. Today we send a clear message to any corporation that exposes our New Jersey communities to PFAS toxins or injures our natural resources with any hazardous substance: you will face consequences for your actions. You have our promise.”
“Our Department of Environmental Protection is determined to hold those who discharge PFAS responsible for the havoc wrought by their forever chemicals,” Commissioner LaTourette said. “This proposed settlement marks a significant milestone in New Jersey’s nation-leading efforts to better protect public health and our environment from the dangers of PFAS. It requires Solvay to fund critical environmental investigations, remediation activities, and natural resource restoration projects that will improve drinking water and environmental quality in the Gloucester and Camden County communities that have borne the brunt of PFAS impacts that DEP believes were caused by Solvay. As DEP oversees the implementation of this settlement in South Jersey, we will continue to pursue PFAS manufacturers for the widespread harm their chemicals have caused across our state.”
For more than 30 years, Solvay’s West Deptford site manufactured industrial plastics, coatings, and other chemicals. As part of its operations, Solvay used Surflon, a proprietary process aid, which contained perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These “forever chemicals” are highly mobile, bioaccumulate, and persist indefinitely in the environment unless remediated.
The West Deptford facility also discharged other PFAS, including monofunctional surfactants (MFS) and bifunctional surfactants (BFS), in addition to other contaminants, including semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), also known as replacement compounds, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), metals, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
In March 2019, the DEP issued a Statewide Directive to Solvay and other companies responsible for PFAS contamination in New Jersey, ordering them to address their contribution to the injury of numerous environmentally sensitive natural resources including regional potable groundwater resources. Solvay did not fully comply with DEP orders and litigation followed. Solvay is the first company named in the Directive to reach a proposed settlement with the State.
In November 2020, the DEP sued Solvay and the prior owner and operator of the West Deptford facility, in state court, seeking to compel more swift and immediate action to clean up the contamination at and around the site, including addressing impacts to drinking water, reimbursing the State for the costs of work that the DEP had already undertaken, and paying damages to the State to compensate the public for the injuries to natural resources caused by the facility’s operations.
In the time since the lawsuit was filed, Solvay has taken steps to reduce the use and impacts of PFAS at its site—including eliminating the use of PFAS in Solvay’s process aids for manufacturing and implementing additional treatment of the facility’s wastewater effluent streams. If, after public comment, the proposed settlement is finalized and approved by the court, it will be entered as a binding Judicial Consent Order.
Under the proposed settlement, Solvay will be required to:
- Clean up contamination at and around its site, including remediation of groundwater and soil contaminated with PFNA, PFOA, MFS, and BFS at levels above DEP’s standards, including applicable more stringent future standards, where there is a direct connection to discharges from the site
- Work with DEP to further control and limit ongoing PFAS discharges
- Sample for PFNA, PFOA, MFS, and BFS at private potable wells and public supply wells within West Deptford and the area surrounding the Solvay facility and provide treatment for wells with contaminant levels above applicable standards
- Work with DEP and independent labs to further develop and improve testing for BFS in the environment.
Solvay will be required to post $214 million to guarantee that DEP will have access to sufficient financial resources to complete the cleanup should Solvay fail to meet its ongoing remedial obligations.
Solvay will also be required to pay DEP to compensate for DEP’s past costs to treat PFAS impacts to drinking water related to Solvay’s operations, compensate for injuries to the State’s natural resources, fund necessary scientific research, and address potential consequences of Solvay’s waste streams.
DEP expects that some of the approximately $100 million portion of the settlement will be allocated to address PFAS impacts to certain public water systems and private potable drinking water wells, even where the source of the PFAS contamination is disputed. Affected public wells are in Bellmawr, Brooklawn, East Greenwich, Gloucester City, Gibbstown, Mount Royal, Paulsboro, Westville, and Woodbury. Affected private wells are in West Deptford, Logan, Deptford, Greenwich, and Swedesboro. The combination of Solvay’s commitment to conduct comprehensive remediation work and DEP’s ability to provide funding will serve to protect local water supply sources, particularly those that provide drinking water.
Solvay will also be required to compensate the public for natural resource damages (NRD) in the amount of $75 million. This payment is in addition to environmental cleanup obligations and is intended to account for injuries to and lost value of natural resources due to Solvay’s discharge of hazardous substances and other pollutants. These funds will be used for natural resource restoration projects to be identified and pursued in close collaboration with the affected communities pursuant to Administrative Order 2023-08, which was issued by Commissioner LaTourette in March 2023.
Finally, Solvay will pay $3.7 million to compensate DEP for its past direct costs in addressing Solvay’s contamination.
For more information, DEP has created a website with the proposed settlement agreement, FAQs, information on Solvay, a list of affected wells, and links to important public health information on PFAS.
Details will also be posted on that website on how the public can submit comments on the proposed settlement. The public will have 60 days to submit comments after the proposal officially appears in the August 7 edition of the New Jersey Register.