Twice defeated in getting the case thrown out, PPG Industries has agreed to remove an estimated 700,000 tons of chromium waste from its former chrome production facility in a densely populated Jersey City neighborhood.
In a 22-page U.S. District Court settlement signed April 1, the Pittsburgh-based coatings giant agreed to clean up the carcinogenic waste. The settlement resolves a 2009 lawsuit filed by three groups on behalf of Jersey City residents, who have been fighting for a comprehensive clean-up of the area since the early 1980s.
The groups are the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Interfaith Community Organization (ICO), and GRACO Community Organization (GRACO). GRACO represents neighbors of the site.
PPG admit no wrongdoing, or agreement with the plaintiffs’ allegations, in the settlement.
Strict Chromium Levels Set
The settlement requires PPG to clean up sites and groundwater in and around the so-called “Garfield Avenue site,” a plant that refined raw chromium ore into paint pigment and other items 24 hours a day, beginning in 1924. PPG purchased the facility in 1954 and ran it until its closing in the fall of 1963, court papers say. The site eventually produced two million to three millions tons of chromium waste.
|The former PPG site produced more than two million tons of chromium waste during its years of operation.|
Under the settlement, the cleanup must reduce chromium levels to 5 parts per million (ppm), even though the state’s enforceable limit is 20 ppm. The settlement includes binding deadlines for each stage of the cleanup.
“State chromium standards are insufficiently protective of public health,” said Richard Webster of Public Justice, which helped represent NRDC and ICO in the case. “Through our lawsuit, we sought and won better, higher standards.”
The cleanup is expected to begin before the summer and take about five years.
Wherever possible, the cleanup will involve the excavation and removal of chromium wastes and disposal in offsite hazardous waste landfills. The settlement also provides for community monitoring (paid for by PPG) of the clean-up process.
The lawsuit was filed under the citizens’ suit provisions of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), following what plaintiffs called years of inaction by PPG and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to clean up the site. Those two parties had agreed on a clean-up plan that was to have been completed by the late 1990s but was never completed.
|PPG said it began cleanup of contaminated area residential sites in the 1990s.|
Under the RCRA, citizens may sue another person or entity that handled, stored, transported or dumped wastes that endangers health or the environment.
ICO, a Hoboken, N.J.-based group of churches, filed a similar, successful lawsuit against Honeywell in 1995 over a different Jersey City site.
PPG has tried twice to have the current suit dismissed, but two judges in each case denied the attempts.
Work Underway, PPG Says
PPG said in a statement Tuesday (April 12) that it had been working since July to clean up the site. The company says it has hauled away “more than 60,000 tons of material, including some of the most highly contaminated waste.”
PPG also said it agreed with Jersey City in November to “an overall cleanup proposal that requires the company to excavate and remove all sources of chromate waste to a maximum depth of 35 feet, or until the excavation reaches a natural barrier of peat-like material known as a meadow mat. Excavated areas will be filled with clean material.”
The company said that manufacturing waste containing hexavalent chromium “was either retained at PPG’s former plant location on Garfield Avenue in Jersey City or was used as fill at constructions [sic] sites.
“As a result, PPG has cleaned up 47 sites and is responsible for 20 more throughout Hudson County. Control measures are in place that prevent exposure to chrome residue at the 20 sites until final cleanups, if needed, begin. These measures are inspected on a regular basis by PPG and [NJDEP].”
The federal-court settlement “underscores PPG’s resolve to fulfill its cleanup obligations in Jersey City,” said John Richter, PPG vice president of environment, health and safety. “Furthermore, we believe the cleanup remedy we reached last year in state court with the city and state will satisfy both the requirements of NJDEP and this settlement.”
‘Decades of Foot Dragging’
“After decades of foot dragging, we now know this cleanup is going to happen, and it’s going to happen right,” said Nancy Marks, NRDC senior attorney. “This Jersey City community should never have been stuck living on top of someone else’s toxic waste in the first place. They’re finally receiving the justice they deserve and will be soon free from this poisonous legacy.”
The settlement does not prevent other pending legal claims against PPG, including a class-action lawsuit for individual damages.
Exposure to this type of chromium has been found to cause cancer, respiratory problems, kidney and liver damage, chromium ulcers, and nasal septum perforations, as well as pregnancy and delivery complications for women. A study found that Jersey City residents living closer to contaminated sites have significantly higher incidence of lung cancer than those who live further away.
More information is available at www.chromiumcleanup.com.