Edison Wetlands Association (EWA) Wins Appeal in Cleanup Dispute

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From the Edison Wetlands Association:

The Federal Court reversed the dismissal of a suit filed by the environmental nonprofits NY/NJ Baykeeper, Edison Wetlands Association (EWA) and Raritan Riverkeeper against current and prior owners of the former National Lead Industries site to clean up sediment contamination in the Raritan River in Sayreville, New Jersey.  

The original complaint charges that the defendants are in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act because past and present pollution from the National Lead Industries site has contaminated the Raritan River with arsenic, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc which pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment.  The site is a 440-acre property where titanium dioxide pigments were manufactured between 1935 and 1982 for use in paints, paper, cosmetics, and other products.

"This ruling confirms that when the state fails to address threats to our environment, we as citizens have every right to take action," said EWA Executive Director Robert Spiegel.  "The Raritan River has been used as a landfill by National Lead for far too long, and it is long past time for it to be cleaned up.  The thousands of families who enjoy fishing, boating, and crabbing here should be able to feel safe in doing so and only a true clean up will make that possible."

Hundreds of suits brought by citizens under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act have been adjudicated by federal courts all across the country.  NY/NJ Baykeeper and Edison Wetlands originally filed a notice of appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit challenging a decision by United States District Court Judge Joel A. Pisano that dismissed the environmental organizations' lawsuit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed this dismissal, deciding that the cases in federal district courts should be decided based on the terms Congress provided.  The Court of Appeals said this case does not qualify as a rare exception since there has not been any action by the State of New Jersey to remedy the contaminated sediments in the Raritan River.  The Court of Appeals stated, "In light of agency inaction with respect to river sediments over the last several years, we see little danger of a court-ordered remediation conflicting with NJDEP directives."

"The court clearly holds that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has not taken any action on cleaning up Raritan River sediments for several years and that citizens have the right to take action under federal law to protect the environment when the state fails to carry out its responsibilities," said NY/NJ Baykeeper Executive Director Debbie Mans.  "We look forward to the day when the Raritan River is cleaned up for the protection of the environment and public health."

"The National Lead property includes almost 2 ½ miles of shoreline to the Raritan River, plans are to capitalize on the location and encourage waterfront usage.  We would like that to be a safe and enjoyable experience.  That is why we are asking that the river sediments be addressed now and be assured that additional contaminants are not migrating from the site so the river will remain safe for use years after the project is completed," said Bill Schultz, Raritan Riverkeeper.

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