New Jersey officials approved a final settlement on Wednesday over the Ciba-Geigy Superfund site in Toms River, New Jersey, where the company dumped toxic chemicals, causing a cancer cluster among children.
The current owner of the site, BASF Corp., has agreed to preserve 1,000 acres of land to protect the groundwater resources that were contaminated more than half a century ago.
As part of the settlement, German chemical company BASF will also design and implement nine restoration projects on 375 acres of preserved land and cough up a cash payment of $500,000, which will help the state oversee the plan.
Though the acreage of preserved land and the amount of monetary damages were increased from a previously proposed settlement, the local environmental organization Save Barnegat Bay still believes the agreement is flawed. The group plans to take legal action against the state.
“This signed agreement brings to mind two words; one, is arrogance, and the second one is dismissive,” said Britta Forsberg, executive director of Save Barnegat Bay.
A legacy of chemical pollution
The site on Oak Ridge Parkway in Ocean County was home to Ciba-Geigy Chemical Corp., which manufactured industrial dyes, pigments, epoxy resins, and plastics between 1952 and 1990.
The company discharged hazardous substances into the Toms River and the Atlantic Ocean, and buried 47,000 drums of toxic waste into the ground, polluting groundwater across the town. The state health department found 87 cases of pediatric cancer in Toms River between 1979 and 1995.
In 1983, the property was listed as a Superfund site, becoming eligible for federally-supervised cleanup efforts. BASF acquired the site in 2010, and has since been involved in remediation efforts, which include pumping and treating contaminated groundwater.
In 1992, Ciba-Geigy paid $63.8 million to settle criminal charges for environmental contamination, and later settled for $13.2 million with 69 families whose children were diagnosed with cancer.
“[Residents] will let you know that their children’s bathing suits came out different colors after they were swimming, because the chemical company dumped dye in the river,” Fosberg said. “But … the first thing they’re going to talk about is their family and their friends, their parents, their sisters, their brothers, the kids they went to school with who died and never graduated.”
Forsberg argues the restoration plan laid out in the revised settlement doesn’t take into account the full scope of environmental impacts caused by the contamination — including damages to the river, bay, and ocean. She also doesn’t believe the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has made enough of an effort to listen to concerns raised by the community.
Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill Jr. agreed, telling the Associated Press the deal is “woefully inadequate and does not come close to justly compensating the community for the damage done to our environment.”
DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said the damages reached in the settlement reflect what the state believes is provable in court.
“I understand the dissatisfaction that Save Barnegat Bay raises,” he said. “You have to make choices about legal risk, and getting the best benefit for the public that you possibly can. I believe the settlement does that.”
DEP increased the preserved land laid out in the settlement by 50 acres, and increased monetary damages from $100,000 to $500,000 — the latter will help the state fund the restoration project without seeking taxpayer dollars, LaTourette said.
The community also will be able to provide input on the design of the restoration projects, which include a proposed environmental education center, walkways, and natural resource interpretative aids, the commissioner said.
“I’m not going to convince a community who still suffers with the scars of all of this contamination nightmare from decades ago,” LaTourette said. “I’m not going to be able to convince them that [the restoration project] is the right thing. I have to show them. The DEP must show them — and we will.”
BASF spokesperson Molly Birman said the company is pleased the settlement has been finalized and is committed to its terms.
“This agreement allows us to move forward with the restoration and conservation projects that will benefit the Toms River site and community,” she told the Associated Press. “We look forward to preserving the land, implementing the planned environmental projects, and opening new possibilities to encourage recreation, learning, and community engagement at the site for decades to come.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.