Acting AG Bruck, DEP Commissioner LaTourette Take Action to Force Immediate Clean-Up of Contamination from Illegal Waste Dump in Camden
TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced today that the State is asking a court to require immediate action to clean up an illegal dump site in the City of Camden. The State’s action comes after recent DEP inspections found that a massive pile of contaminated solid waste, soil and debris on the site is spreading onto neighboring properties, sidewalks, and roadways, threatening the safety and health of local residents and the environment.
The State first filed its lawsuit over contamination at the site, which encompasses several lots in the 600 block of Chestnut Street, in May 2021. The lawsuit was announced along with six others focused on holding polluters accountable for contamination in environmental justice communities that historically have been overburdened with pollution.
Based on DEP’s additional inspections, the State today filed an amended verified complaint and a request for a court order directing Weyhill Realty Holdings, the current owner of the property, to immediately clean up the contaminated solid waste, soil and debris that is migrating from the site, including onto a neighboring residential property, and to take other actions to protect local residents and the environment.
“No community in New Jersey should be used as an illegal dumping ground, and no resident of this state should have their health and safety put at risk by illegal dumping near their home,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “We cannot achieve racial justice without environmental justice, and I’m proud that one of my first acts as Acting Attorney General involves standing up for the people of Camden.”
“This ever-growing pile of dirt and debris is intolerable,” said Commissioner LaTourette. “From Day One of the Murphy Administration we’ve been committed to ensuring that all New Jersey residents in all communities enjoy clean air, clean drinking water and a safe environment – and we will fight those battles in every neighborhood and on every street by holding violators accountable for their actions. Those who violate our waste laws are not just harming our environment, they are damaging the spirit of our communities, in effect saying that our fellow New Jerseyans are somehow less deserving of natural beauty and environmental protection.”
Like the original complaint filed in May, today’s amended verified complaint alleges that former site owners S. Yaffa & Sons, Inc. (“Yaffa & Sons”), imported and stockpiled solid waste – including contaminated soil, construction and demolition debris and waste tires – for many years without a permit before selling the property to Weyhill in July 2019.
The complaint further alleges that upon taking ownership, Weyhill not only failed to remove the unlawful waste stockpiled by Yaffa & Sons, but continued to allow illegal dumping, receiving more construction and demolition debris at the property and comingling it with contaminated soil.
DEP has issued multiple notices of violation to the site’s owners over the years.
In April of this year, the City of Camden issued a Cease Operations Order for the site, and Weyhill subsequently ceased operations. However, the massive solid waste stockpile and harmful, polluting conditions remain.
Particularly threatening, the State contends, is the massive mound of solid waste comprised of contaminated soil, rock, and such construction and demolition debris as broken pieces of old brick and cement block.
In November 2020, DEP confirmed that each of 10 soil samples taken from the property contained at least one hazardous substance at a concentration that exceeds New Jersey’s Residential Direct Contact Soil Remediation Standards – including standards for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and metals, including chromium, which are known carcinogens.
A brief filed today in support of the State’s application for a preliminary injunction notes that the area surrounding the illegal dump site is “a busy residential neighborhood, with heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic.” The brief states that DEP has observed significant amounts of dust and debris from the site on the roadways and sidewalks of Chestnut Street, as well as nearby Sycamore and 7th Streets, and notes that “every time a car drives over the dirt and dust, it becomes airborne.”
In addition, contaminated stormwater runoff from the illegal waste pile threatens to enter stormwater inlets at the corner of 7th and Chestnut Streets that eventually flow into the Delaware River.
With today’s filings, the State is asking the court to require numerous actions by Weyhill to address these threats to local residents and the environment, including:
- Immediate removal of the solid waste, dust and debris that has migrated from the Site to a neighboring residential property;
- Immediate repair and restoration of the fencing between the Site and the residential property;
- Immediate removal of the solid waste, dust, sediment, and debris that has accumulated in the sidewalks, roadways, and other public rights of way near the Site; and
- Immediate stabilization of the solid waste pile located at the Site, because of concerns the pile could collapse and create a contaminated “landslide” into the yard of the neighboring residence at issue, as well as onto nearby streets, sidewalks and alleyways.
In addition, today’s filing asks the court to order that Weyhill expeditiously submit plans to DEP for removal and disposal of all solid waste on the property, prevention of air contamination during the solid waste removal process through dust management, and prevention of contaminated storm water run-off that could pollute nearby surface waters.
The Defendants in the lawsuit include both Weyhill and Yaffa & Sons, as well as William Yocco and Charles Yaffa.
The five-count amended verified complaint alleges violations of New Jersey’s Solid Waste Management Act and Water Pollution Control Act by Weyhill; alleges violations of the Underground Storage of Hazardous Substances Act by Charles Yaffa and Weyhill; seeks enforcement of a March 2019 administrative order against Yaffa & Sons and William Yocco for “stockpiling construction and demolition waste and tires” at the site; and seeks civil penalties for their non-compliance with that administrative order.
Today’s action is part of the Murphy Administration’s comprehensive effort to address harms disproportionately affecting the health and well-being of the state’s most vulnerable populations.
The Attorney General’s Office and DEP have now filed 39 environmental justice cases since 2018. The lawsuits have so far yielded nearly $20 million in judgments. More important, many of the cases have resulted in court orders requiring responsible parties to perform cleanup activities to protect human health and the environment. These orders also achieve cost savings to the taxpayers by holding polluters and other responsible parties financially accountable.
The matter is being handled by Deputy Attorneys General William Rozell, Carlene Dooley, Michael Spinello and Matthew Knoblauch of the Environmental Enforcement and Environmental Justice (EEEJ) Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Aaron Kleinbaum, Section Chief Gary Wolf and Assistant Section Chief Jessica Palmer.