New Jersey officials have asked a court to order an immediate cleanup of an illegal dump site in Camden that is composed of contaminated waste several stories high and is “spreading onto neighboring properties, sidewalks, and roadways, threatening the safety and health of local residents and the environment,” they say.
“No community in New Jersey should be used as an illegal dumping ground, and no resident of this state should have their health and safety put at risk by illegal dumping near their home,” said acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck in a statement, adding, “We cannot achieve racial justice without environmental justice. ...”
Bruck and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette filed the action Monday in Superior Court as part of a civil suit the state filed in May against S. Yaffa & Sons Inc. for what the state calls “decades-long noncompliance with environmental laws and regulations, which continue to expose the Camden community to pollution and other environmental and public health hazards.”
The state’s initial suit alleged that S. Yaffa & Sons and its owner, William Yocco, “unlawfully imported and stockpiled solid waste — including contaminated soil, construction and demolition debris, and waste tires — at its property in the City of Camden for years before selling the site to Weyhill Realty Holdings in July 2019.”
Weyhill then failed to remove the waste and continued to allow dumping at the site, the state contends.
A representative for Weyhill could not be reached immediately for comment.
The lawsuit noted that the area surrounding the property “has a significant low-income and minority population. Historically, across New Jersey, such communities have been disproportionately exposed to high-polluting facilities and to the resultant threats of high levels of air, water, and soil pollution, and accompanying potential for increased public health impacts.”
The site, once used for scrap-metal operations, is on the 600 block of Chestnut Street in Camden, about three-quarters of a mile east of the Delaware River, and contains a 500-gallon unleaded gasoline tank that was never properly closed, according to the state. Officials say the tank poses a risk of leaking into the soil.
According to the lawsuit, the DEP inspected the site many times between 2002 and 2021, finding “numerous, repeated violations” of various regulations.
In recent years, inspections found concrete, brick, block, soil, and other materials piled high, as well as tires. Yaffa & Sons was cited for the gas tank and other violations, fined $4,500, and ordered to remediate the property, which would include properly disposing of the construction debris and tires.
But officials say Yaffa & Sons never complied before selling the property to Weyhill Realty Holdings.
In November 2020, state inspectors collected 10 soil samples from various locations at the site, which “contained at least one hazardous substance at a concentration that exceeds DEP’s standards, including standards for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (`PAHs’) and metals,” the lawsuit states. “PAHs and metals are both carcinogens and have been shown to cause liver, kidney, and other organ damage.”
DEP officials ordered Weyhill in December 2020 to immediately stop accepting more solid waste. However, officials went back to the site in February and “observed the continued commingling of construction and demolition debris with soils.”
The five-count lawsuit demands that Yaffa and Weyhill properly close the storage tank, create a site closure plan, and investigate all hazardous discharges coming from the site. The state seeks unspecified civil penalty and legal fees.
Separately, Camden issued a Cease Operations Order for the site in April. However, the massive mound of waste remains.
On Monday, with the amended filing by the state, officials are asking the court to order immediate removal of solid waste, dust, and debris that has moved from the site to a neighboring home; repair and restore fencing; remove debris that has accumulated on sidewalks, roadways, and elsewhere; stabilize the solid waste pile because of concerns it could collapse and create a contaminated “landslide” into the neighbor’s yard, or onto streets, sidewalks, and alleyways.
“Those who violate our waste laws are not just harming our environment, they are damaging the spirit of our communities, in effect saying that our fellow New Jerseyans are somehow less deserving of natural beauty and environmental protection,” La Tourette said in a statement.