Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NRDC keeps chromium lawsuit alive in NJ

The NRDC takes a bow for a recent court victory that keeps alive its chances of forcing Pittsburgh-based PPG to meet hexavalent chromium cleanup standards at a site in Jersey City that exceed what the New Jersey DEP is requiring.

In the NRDC online publication, Switchboard, Senior Attorney Mark Izeman, yesterday writes:

“Last year, NRDC, together with two community groups, Interfaith Community Organization and GRACO, filed a federal lawsuit in New Jersey to compel PPG Industries Inc. - a Pittsburgh-based corporation responsible for toxic hexavalent chromium contamination of a densely populated area of Jersey City - to clean up the hazardous waste it created decades ago. 

“Massive quantities of hexavalent chromium, a potent carcinogen and the villain in the film Erin Brokovich, continue to contaminate the former production site, groundwater beneath the site, and surrounding neighborhoods.  These dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium are a real threat to the health of community residents – and the toxin has been found in their homes, on their lawns, and in their basements.”

Izeman says that the state of New Jersey, for more than 35 years, failed to force PPG to clean up the site.

“But shortly after NRDC filed its lawsuit, the State, the City of Jersey City, and PPG announced that they had settled all outstanding claims in state court.  They then filed a motion in our federal case claiming on several legal grounds that our lawsuit should be dismissed because their agreement was sufficient.”

How do you read that?  To me it sounds like the state was doing nothing until the NRDC embarrassed it into action by virtue of
its lawsuit.

That, however, overlooks the fact that, back in June, 2005,
New Jersey’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit against PPG and
two other companies whose predecessors processed chromium—Honeywell and Occidental Chemical Corp. That legal action eventually resulted in the settlement that the NRDC does not
want to let stand.

It may be legitimate to ask why it took five years for the state to reach its settlement. But disputes over who did what when have more political and public relations value than the questions that likely will be addressed in the NRDC’s continuing federal lawsuit.

Apparently at the crux of the continuing legal dispute is the familiar environmental question: How clean is clean? 

As in, what cleanup standard for hexavalent chromium needs to be reached for a cleanup to be declared complete?  And, perhaps, the equally important question of who gets to decide what standards must be met. 

Is that the state’s DEP’s call? The EPA’s?  The court’s?  

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