A city in New Jersey is attempting to overturn an agreement between the state and a chemical company that has taken over the site responsible for decades of toxic pollution.
According to the Associated Press, Toms River and the environmental group Save Barnegat Bay filed a suit in state appellate court on Sept. 28 in hopes of overturning a settlement reached in August between the state and German chemical company BASF, which is the corporate successor to Ciba-Geigy.
The chemical plant formerly owned by Ciba-Geigy and taken over by BASF is located alongside a “lazy river leading into Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean,” per the AP, which describes it as “one of the nation’s most notorious pollution sites.” The plant dumped toxic waste into the water and ground for decades, leading to a rise in childhood cancer cases in Toms River over that time.
Ciba-Geigy and two other companies paid $13.2 million to 69 families whose children were diagnosed with cancer. After being charged criminally, Ciba-Geigy also paid millions of dollars in fines and penalties on top of the $300 million it and its successors have paid so far to clean up the site, the AP reported.
As part of the settlement, BASF will pay $500,000 to the state for oversight of restoration projects, give an additional 50 acres of company-controlled land to a conservation and public access plan, and commit to maintaining nine restoration projects for 20 years. The company was also obligated to restore wetlands and grassy areas; create walking trails, boardwalks, and an elevated viewing platform; and build an environmental education center, all according to the AP.
In a statement to The Cool Down, BASF said it will preserve 1,000 total acres of land, and that about 375 of those acres would undergo ecological restoration projects.
The town and the environmental group are more than dissatisfied with the settlement and are pushing for restoration projects to commence throughout Toms River and nearby communities. While minimal progress has been made, the AP noted that “a plume of contaminated water remains beneath the ground in parts of Toms River,” and federal authorities have failed to determine when the cleanup that originally began in the 1990s will be completed.
“The sweetheart deal that [the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection] made with BASF is woefully inadequate and does not compensate the people of Toms River and Ocean County for the damage that has been done to our environment by the corporate polluters,” Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill, Jr. said.
Britta Forsberg, the executive director of Save Barnegat Bay, told the AP that her goal is to either overturn the settlement with BASF in its entirety or force amendments that require restoration projects beyond those already planned for the site.
“We feel like our community deserves much more,” she said.
Toms River isn’t alone in its effort to clean up toxic pollution. In South Carolina, a coalition of water treatment agencies and municipalities have filed claims against major chemical manufacturers due to alleged exposure to dangerous levels of toxic forever chemicals known as PFAS.
For its part, BASF said it will adhere to the settlement, and that the company will be hosting an in-person discussion session with residents of the Toms River area to review the plans and listen to feedback on March 5.
“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,” spokesperson Molly Birman said in a statement.
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