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NJ Residents Sue Over Former Paint Plant

Thursday, August 31, 2017

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A group of New Jersey residents filed suit last week in a federal court, accusing paint manufacturer The Sherwin-Williams Company (Cleveland) of contaminating the soil and water around a former manufacturing facility, and alleging that hazardous waste from the site led to a “significantly increased risk” of cancer in the area.

The class-action suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Camden on Aug. 22, seeks compensatory damages, medical testing, compensation for loss of property value and unspecified punitive damages, as well as an injunction for the prompt and complete remediation of hazardous chemicals on the plaintiffs’ properties.

SW site map
U.S. EPA

Residents of Gibbsboro, New Jersey, have filed a class-action suit seeking damages from The Sherwin-Williams Company based on allegations surrounding toxic waste dumped at a former manufacturing facility.

Sherwin-Williams has been involved for years with an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund cleanup at the site, which comprises three properties, known collectively as the “Sherwin-Williams Sites.” The three sites are in the Borough of Gibbsboro and Voorhees Township, southeast of Camden.

A company spokesperson told PaintSquare Daily News Wednesday (Aug. 30) that “the company is reviewing the complaint and has no comment at this time.”

Site History

The sites in question were home to a factory that produced paints and varnishes starting in the mid-19th century. The plant, originally run by John Lucas & Co., was bought by The Sherwin-Williams Company in the 1930s and continued to operate until 1978. Sherwin-Williams sold the property in 1981 and no longer operates a manufacturing facility in the vicinity.

According to the suit, as early as 1975, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection alerted Sherwin-Williams that samples of groundwater around the site showed levels of hazardous chemicals, including barium, lead, arsenic and phenol, and exceeded state and federal maximum levels. In the decades after the facility was closed in 1978, the suit notes a number of instances in which sediment and groundwater samples turned up dangerous levels of toxic substances.

Over the years, according to the EPA, some cleanup activities have taken place at the site. In 1979, 8,096 cubic yards of toxic sludge were removed from the site, and in 1996, 13,910 gallons of “a mixture of nonhazardous liquid, water and oil” were removed and disposed of offsite.

Gibbsboro development
© 2017 Google Inc., via Google Maps

The area the sites are on includes residences, and a commercial development now exists on the site where the manufacturing facility itself stood.

In 1999, Sherwin-Williams entered into an Administrative Order on Consent in which it was ordered to work with the EPA to assess the contamination at the site and work to remediate it. The site was placed on the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List in 2008.

Last year, the EPA began moving forward with the second phase of the cleanup at the sites. The area the sites are on includes residences, and a commercial development now exists on the site where the manufacturing facility itself stood.

The Lawsuit

The new suit, brought by nine families represented by attorney Craig Mitnick, alleges that “it was not until August 2017, during a pre-scheduled EPA meeting in Gibbsboro, New Jersey that plaintiffs and Class Members truly became aware of the delayed and/or non-existent cleanup efforts and that the contaminated commercial and residential property they have been occupying had higher levels of hazardous chemicals than previously was communicated to them by the Defendant.”

Two of the plaintiffs in the suit are Gibbsboro residents with minor children who have been diagnosed with cancer, and another is an adult who previously lived in Gibbsboro and has been diagnosed with cancer. One is a former 20-year resident of Gibbsboro who has been diagnosed with a learning disability, and another says she walked in the area of the site three times weekly for about three years, during which time she was diagnosed with kidney disease.

In addition to lead and heavy metals like cadmium, the plaintiffs say the site is contaminated with beryllium, arsenic, benzene and a number of other known human carcinogens. They note that there has never been a cancer assessment for Gibbsboro, but say that “upon information and belief, cancer continues to threaten the lives of so many residents and others spending substantial periods of time in the area.”

The suit alleges that the 2.2-square-mile Borough of Gibbsboro “may be entirely contaminated with hazardous substances,” including residential, commercial and recreational areas that are outside the defined Superfund site.

Allegations of Prior Knowledge

The plaintiffs’ most direct allegation may be that “Sherwin-Williams had full knowledge of the commercial, residential and recreational building that was taking place on the ‘Sherwin-Williams Site’ while all the time knowing that these retail, corporate and residential properties were being built on unsafe groundwater, soil and sediment levels.” The suit also claims that the company “has been aware for many years (much earlier than 1978 when the company vacated the Gibbsboro site) that the Sherwin-Williams site and surrounding residential, commercial and public recreational areas were highly contaminated due to the company’s past manufacturing operations.”

Last year, when the new phase of the EPA cleanup of the site was beginning, Sherwin-Williams said in a statement that the company was “committed to actively working with USEPA, NJDEP and other stakeholders, to move the site remediation process forward.

“We are prepared to immediately commence engineering design activities and invest significant resources to implement the remedy at the Route 561 Dump Site and related properties. Sherwin-Williams is committed to implementing a site remediation program that is protective of human health and the environment, in compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, and responsive to stakeholder input.”

   

Tagged categories: hazardous materials; Hazardous waste; Health and safety; Lawsuits; Sherwin-Williams

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