New Jersey officials have sued chemical maker Solvay, accusing the firm of ignoring a mandate that it clean up contaminated drinking water and other pollution linked to toxic compounds once produced at its West Deptford plant.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Catherine R. McCabe, commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, said in a release Tuesday that Solvay Specialty Polymers USA LLC has disregarded damage and risks to the public from the compounds known as PFAS, which were once used in making nonstick cookware.
Arkema Inc., from which Solvay bought the Gloucester County facility in 1990, is also named in the suit, which alleges violations of New Jersey’s Spill Act, its Air- and Water-Pollution Control Acts, and other counts.
The complaint marks the latest attempt by New Jersey regulators and prosecutors to hold companies to account for the noxious legacy of the state’s heavy-industrial past. Officials also on Tuesday announced a lawsuit against Honeywell Inc. over contaminated discharges from a property it acquired along the Hudson River in the North Jersey borough of Edgewater.
“Solvay cannot be allowed to continue to release toxic PFAS chemicals into the environment while leaving the public in the dark about the risks of their practices,” McCabe said in the release. “Solvay’s steadfast refusal to accept responsibility for its scientifically documented impacts to both the health of its neighbors and the environment ... has left the department with no choice but to proceed with today’s filing.”
Solvay said in a statement that the company has “implemented a rigorous investigation and remediation of PFNA,” which is a type of PFAS, and “meets applicable legal standards with respect to health, safety and the environment."
The company has offered to work with environmental regulators on an “expedited and scientifically reliable investigation” of its current processes, it said.
“We are surprised and disappointed that rather than pursue this expedited and cooperative route, [the Department of Environmental Protection] has decided to take the litigation path," it continued. “We intend to defend ourselves vigorously against [the department’s] inaccurate, overly broad, and meritless allegations.”
Arkema did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS were used in plastics manufacturing and firefighting foams, and have been found in drinking water, groundwater, and soil in communities in New Jersey and in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
They have been linked with health problems including cancer, and were used in such household products as Teflon, Gore-Tex, and Scotchgard.
Solvay Specialty Polymers, the Alpharetta, Ga.-based subsidiary of Belgian chemical giant Solvay S.A., was one of five companies ordered last year by the state to fund the cleanup of PFAS chemicals used at manufacturing sites.
The state followed up days later with lawsuits against two of those companies, DuPont and Chemours, alleging they sent the harmful chemicals flowing into the air, water, and soil. The cases are currently before U.S. District Judge John Vazquez in New Jersey.
Officials said in their lawsuit on Tuesday that Solvay has also been slow to take responsibility for PFAS contamination that has spread through the region from its West Deptford plant, where it had produced industrial plastics, coatings and other products using PFAS compounds.
The complaint cites a survey lasting from 2007 to 2009 that found perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), a type of PFAS, in Delaware River water near the Solvay site at what amounted to “the highest reported concentration in surface water in the world at that time.”
Another study, in 2014, found levels of PFNA in the water supply of nearby Paulsboro that were higher than had ever been reported in drinking water worldwide.
Yet, the complaint alleges, Solvay “has refused to take full responsibility for the necessary investigation and remediation” of contamination from its facility and has “failed to disclose the impact of their use and releases of PFAS into the environment” to state officials and surrounding communities.
Its “conduct has been driven by its desire to profit from the sale of its products and avoid the expense of properly disposing of and cleaning up PFAS, despite the harm it has caused,” the suit alleges.
In addition to PFAS contamination, the suit seeks to hold Solvay accountable for what it describes as excessive concentrations of volatile organic compounds, including carbon tetrachloride and vinyl chloride, at the facility.
Toxic metals, such as arsenic, beryllium and lead, have also been detected on-site at the plant at levels exceeding state groundwater quality standards, according to the complaint.
Arkema, a King of Prussia-based unit of Arkema S.A. of France, produced chlorofluorocarbon refrigerant gases at the Gloucester County site in the 1970s and in the 1980s manufactured industrial plastics and coatings using PFAS compounds.
In addition to those “historic PFAS releases” from the site, Solvay continues to utilize and release compounds known as chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates (CIPFPECAs), officials said in their release.
ClPFPECAs, which researchers believe Solvay may be using as a PFAS replacement, have been found in soil samples collected by environmental protection officials across the state, according to a study published this spring in the journal Science.
Because the new compounds are considered proprietary, little is known about them or any risks they might pose to human health or the environment.