Rooney Wants Company To Pay For Their Pollution: Argentine Company May Be Using American Bankruptcy Laws to Avoid Paying for Passaic River Cleanup

Assemblyman Kevin J. Rooney (R-LD40) is sponsoring resolution AR-219 urging the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation, and the state and federal attorneys general to examine actions taken by an Argentina state-owned oil company to allegedly use United States bankruptcy laws in an attempt to avoid responsibility for cleaning up the dioxin contamination in the lower Passaic River.

The lower 8 miles of the Passaic River, which flows through municipalities in southern Bergen and Essex counties and into Newark Bay has been declared a Superfund site by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which last year devised a $1.38 billion cleanup plan for the river. The river is heavily contaminated with the cancer causing chemical dioxin, which was dumped in the river as a result of Diamond Alkali’s production of the Vietnam-War era defoliant Agent Orange. Numerous other companies also contributed to the pollution of the river, which has also been contaminated by mercury and other heavy metals.

To finance the cost of the cleanup, the EPA has secured agreements with several corporations to pay for the remediation, which includes dredging 3.5 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the river.

However, the Argentine owned company, YPF S.A., and its subsidiary Maxus Energy Corporation, which operated the former Diamond Alkali site, filed for bankruptcy last June, just three months after the EPA announced its cleanup plan for the Passaic River.

Rooney said if the company is using bankruptcy laws to avoid paying for the cleanup, the state and federal governments must take all steps necessary to force YPF S.A. and Maxus to live up to their responsibility to remediate the river.

“Bankruptcy laws should not be allowed to shield companies from their responsibility to clean up environmental hazards that they helped create, ” said Rooney, who attended a special legislative hearing on the river cleanup in Lyndhurst yesterday.

“The state and federal governments should be using all the tools in their arsenal to ensure that the river cleanup is financed by private sources, not taxpayers.”

At Tuesday’s legislative meeting in Lyndhurst, the panel heard reports from experts about the extent of the contamination in the Passaic River and the consequences that stretch far beyond North Jersey.   Rooney said the testimony was troubling because of the far-reaching health effects of the pollution.  “Not only do I represent the people of four counties in District 40, but I am one of 80 Assembly members representing more than 8 million state residents who can be impacted by the dioxin and mercury pollution in the river, which finds its way into fish and shell fish that could end up on someone’s dinner plate,” he said.

One expert who appeared before the legislative panel said eating one blue claw crab from the river can kill a person, and, he noted, that fish as far away as Florida have been found to be contaminated with dioxin that can be chemically traced to the Passaic River.

“The pollution caused by industrial activities of a half-century ago are leaving a deadly trail for us today,” said Rooney. “I believe it is absolutely a responsibility of state and federal law enforcement authorities to do all that they can to make sure that the corporations and executives who profited from business practices that left a legacy of environmental destruction are held accountable for their actions.”