Jennifer Danis, NRDC, 212-727-4417; Kidd Dorn, NRDC, 212-727-4408; Andrew Willner, NY/NJ Baykeeper, 732-291-0176; 732-768-4848 (cell); Captain Bill Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper, 201-755-6466; Robin Greenwald, director, Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic, 973-353-5695
Environmental Groups Demand that Occidental Chemical and Tierra Solutions Accept Responsibility and Clean up Newark Bay
NEWARK, NJ (November 19, 2003) -- National, regional and local environmental organizations filed a notice of intent to sue Occidental Chemical Corporation and Tierra Solutions for an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment, stemming from what the groups say may be the single worst case of dioxin pollution ever to occur in the United States. Dioxins are known to cause cancer, diabetes, liver and skin damage, neurological and immune damage, and to disrupt the endocrine system.
NRDC, NY/NJ Baykeeper, and Hackensack Riverkeeper demand that the companies pay for an independent environmental study and clean-up of Newark Bay. This resource, once home to abundant, healthy fish and crabs, is now contaminated from more than 40 years of runoff and dumping from Occidental's predecessor's production of Agent Orange. NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council) and the Rutgers Law School's Environmental Law Clinic represent the environmental organizations.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has calculated that cancer risk levels for people eating blue crabs from Newark Bay could be as much as a million times what government agencies typically consider an acceptable level for an environmental contaminant. The U.S. EPA believes that concentrations of dioxin recorded in Passaic River and Newark Bay blue crabs may be the highest ever discovered in aquatic animals -- the internal organs of one crab contained six times the level of 2,3,7,8-TCDD levels known to kill guinea pigs in lab tests. New Jersey has gone so far as to make it illegal to take these crabs from Newark Bay.
New Jersey's DEP also reported that crabbers do not understand or are not taking the health warnings posted on signs seriously, and are continuing to eat these contaminated animals for economic and cultural reasons. "Unfortunately, these toxic crabs look fine," said Bill Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper. Captain Sheehan continued, "their appearance doesn't reflect the real danger from eating them."
"People are eating crabs and fish contaminated with this toxic chemical," said NY/NJ Baykeeper Andrew Willner. "Despite the ban, you regularly find people fishing off bulkheads and harvesting crabs from Newark Bay. These fishermen take poisoned crabs home and feed them to their families."
The Newark facility that Occidental is responsible for discharged 2,3,7,8-TCDD, the most toxic form of dioxin, into the lower Passaic River. Much of the toxin, over time, flowed downstream poisoning Newark Bay. This toxic chemical has penetrated the food web, and can be found in fish beyond Newark Bay. Government monitoring data indicate that fish, crabs, lobster and other marine life in the region, particularly in the waters immediately around the Bay, such as adjacent to Bayonne and Staten Island, are contaminated with unusually high amounts of 2,3,7,8-TCDD.
The groups will sue under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the federal statute that empowers citizens to ask the courts to stop imminent and substantial endangerments to human health and the environment. "It's time to penalize the polluter, not punish the people who are simply trying to fish and otherwise use a public resource," said Jennifer Danis, NRDC staff attorney. Today, the groups gave Occidental the required 90 days of notice of their intent to go forward with litigation to protect public health and the environment.
"The toxic legacy of the Lister Avenue chemical plant endures in our coastal waters and in the animals that call these waters home," said NY/NJ Baykeeper Andrew Willner. Although government agencies have recently announced initiatives to study contamination on the Passaic River, neither of these efforts will address Newark Bay or other nearby contaminated waters. Mr. Willner continued, "this lawsuit is being filed on behalf of local residents whose waterways have been poisoned by a large corporation that took decades worth of profits and then moved on."
To obtain a copy of the organizations' "notice of intent to sue," please contact Kidd Dorn of NRDC.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
NY/NJ Baykeeper is a subsidiary of the American Littoral Society. The mission of the NY/NJ Baykeeper is to protect, preserve and restore the ecological integrity and productivity of the Hudson/Raritan Estuary, its tributaries and watershed. As the citizen conservation advocate for the Estuary's waterways and shores, Baykeeper stops polluters, champions public access, and influences land use decisions. Baykeeper pursues opportunities for land preservation and habitat restoration and helps advance the Estuary's environmental and biological importance as well as its value as a recreational and cultural resource.
The primary Mission of the Hackensack Riverkeeper, Inc. is to provide representation for the natural living resources of the Hackensack River. This representation is manifested in the Hackensack environmental advocacy, education and conservation programs. The focus of Hackensack Riverkeeper, Inc. is to protect and defend the environmental quality of the eco-system of the estuary, river and watershed and the quality of life for the people and other creatures that inhabit the Hackensack River watershed.
Since 1985, the Rutgers Law School Environmental Law Clinic has defended and defined environmental rights in New Jersey through its representation of environmental and citizens groups that seek redress under the environmental laws and challenge governmental actions that threaten to harm the environment.