Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette announced today that ExxonMobil would pay the State $9.5 million to resolve a Natural Resource Damages (NRD) lawsuit against the company on behalf of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
According to Platkin, the State’s 2019 lawsuit centered on dumping activity that took place at ExxonMobil’s 12-acre-plus Lail property in East Greenwich Township and Paulsboro Borough.
The Lail property sits in a tidal area of the Delaware Estuary and is directly connected to Mantua Creek, which flows into the Delaware River.
In the late 1950s, Mobil Corp. used the Lail property to dispose of drums filled with petroleum products, polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”) and other hazardous substances, discharging these industrial contaminants into the area’s waterways and wetlands.
Platkin states that despite remedial activity at the site, inspections and testing in the run-up to the State’s lawsuit found that PCBs remained on and around the property, including in groundwater, soil, wetlands, sediment, and other sensitive ecological resources.
PCBs are organic chemicals that pose multiple health risks – including cancer – to animals and humans. Their manufacture was banned in 1979. The State alleged in its lawsuit that the primary source of PCB contamination found on and around the Lail property was ExxonMobil’s former refinery in Paulsboro, which generated the petroleum-based pollutants dumped there.
“This is an important outcome for New Jersey residents because it means compensation to the State for damage visited upon our wetlands, waterways and other precious natural resources,” said Acting Attorney General Platkin. “When polluters treat some of our most pristine and sensitive areas as their own private disposal grounds, we hold them accountable.”
“With this action, the Murphy Administration continues to demonstrate its commitment to ensuring that the public receives just compensation for the harm polluters have caused to our state’s precious natural resources, no matter how long ago the pollution may have occurred,” Commissioner LaTourette said. “We will continue to fight for recoveries such as this, which put money back into meaningful ecological restoration projects for our communities.”
According to NJ, by statute, NRDs are defined as damages for injury to, destruction of, loss of, or loss of the value of natural resources. NRDs typically include costs incurred by the State to assess the damage and loss to specific natural resources.
Under the law, the State is a trustee for all natural resources, including surface and groundwater, sediments, wetlands, and biota (animal life) in New Jersey.
Among other claims, the State’s six-count lawsuit filed in March 2019 alleged violations by ExxonMobil of New Jersey’s Spill Compensation and Control Act, as well as the State’s Water Pollution Control Act.
The complaint also included allegations of trespass, strict liability, tortious interference, and creating a public nuisance.
The State’s NRD lawsuit noted that ExxonMobil’s environmental contractor reported detection of PCBs in the tissue of most small mammals collected in the course of its study. The same report indicated that PCBs were detected in all locations where soil samples were taken and in the tissue of fish sampled as part of the study.
Drums containing hazardous materials were removed from the Lail property in the mid-1990s, and additional remedial activity took place on the site between 2008 and 2010.
The remedial activity included excavation and removal by ExxonMobil of approximately 86,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and sediment and backfilling of the excavation area to reestablish topographic conditions from before the excavation. ExxonMobil also planted trees, shrubs, and more than 6,000 aquatic plants at the property.
The Consent Judgment filed today does not address unpaid Past Cleanup and Removal Costs related to the Lail site. The Consent Judgment also notes that ExxonMobil and the State agree that no further active remediation is anticipated for the Lail site.
The ExxonMobil matter was handled on behalf of the State by Deputy Attorney General Richard Engel, Deputy Attorney General Michael Spinello, and Assistant Attorney General Aaron Kleinbaum of the Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice (EEEJ) Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group.