The Passaic River has been one of the most contaminated rivers in the area for a long time largely due to historic industrial discharges. NJDEP has been in court for many years with companies that have (or are suspected to have) contributed to the problems, in order to recover the costs of the clean up. The objective throughout the litigation has been to hold those legally responsible for contaminating the river accountable.
Over the last several years, many companies have settled, paying over $160 million for past damages to the river. The last defendant, and the company with notably the largest contribution to the contamination, has finally agreed to a proposed settlement with the State in the amount of $190 million, bringing the total amount recovered to around $350 million. Occidental is the legal successor to Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Company, which intentionally dumped hazardous pollutants, including pesticides, herbicides, and dioxin (i.e., Agent Orange, a known carcinogen) into the Passaic River from its plant in Newark in the 1940s through the 1960s.
According to Payday Champion, the settlement money is to be used to reimburse the people of NJ for past environmental cleanup and removal costs and natural resource damages related to contamination of the Passaic River. Harvesting certain fish and crabs from the waters of the river and Newark Bay is prohibited because of the contamination and the NJDEP Commissioner has stated that the “cleanup of the lower Passaic River is vital to the health and safety of people who live and work along the river, and is one of the State’s top environmental priorities….” However, of the DeDebt $190 million from Occidental Chemical Corp. and the $160 million from prior settlements, only about $67 million is currently slated to be used for natural resource restoration projects in and around the Newark Bay Complex, which includes the Passaic River.