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New Jersey town threatens to sue Solvay Specialty Polymers

By: Frank Esposito

January 16, 2014

The borough of Paulsboro, N.J., has threatened plastics and chemicals maker Solvay Specialty Polymers USA LLC with a lawsuit over alleged water pollution coming from the firm’s fluoropolymers plant in West Deptford, N.J.

Paulsboro Mayor W. Jeffery Hamilton also has asked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — a potential Republican presidential candidate — to intervene on the borough’s behalf.

In a Jan. 16 news release, Hamilton said that Solvay “must provide long-term protection for Paulsboro’s drinking water … or face the borough in Federal court.”

Hamilton also criticized the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

“Despite more than 20 years of oversight by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, toxic chemicals from Solvay’s West Deptford facility continue to taint Paulsboro’s drinking water supply,” Hamilton said in the release. “Every Paulsboro resident…has a fundamental right to safe drinking water.

“Solvay is the source of the problem and Solvay must provide and pay for a solution,” he added.

According to the release, groundwater and sediments in and around Paulsboro contain a range of perfluorochemicals — feedstocks used to make fluoropolymers — that originated at the Solvay plant. Paulsboro’s drinking water currently meets federal and state safety standards, but, according to the release, PFC contamination in West Virginia recently has been linked to “a number of potential adverse health effects.”

The release also refers to Solvay’s “laggard cleanup” and “apparent indifference to Paulsboro’s concerns,” as well as the NJDEP’s “failure to intervene properly and effectively.” It adds that Solvay canceled a Jan. 6 meeting to discuss recent water sampling results and to discuss possible solutions.

In a Jan. 15 letter to Christie — who’s currently embroiled in a traffic scandal — Hamilton asks the governor to bring together state officials to respond to “a public health issue that has been ignored for too long.”

Paulsboro is a borough of about 6,000 residents located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. It’s about five miles west of the Solvay plant in West Deptford.

In a Jan. 16 statement, Solvay officials said that the firm “has proceeded with all the immediate actions that we voluntarily committed to doing in our past correspondence and meetings with NJDEP and municipal leaders.”

According to the release, those steps have included:

• Retention of state-certified environmental expert consultants.

• Retention of a licensed site remediation professional.

• The compilation and submittal of a technical work plan to NJDEP.

• The immediate approach to municipalities to begin sampling drinking water supply wells.

• Sharing of preliminary data with those municipalities as it becomes available.

The company added that only one of three wells tested in Paulsboro showed elevated levels of PFNA, which officials described as “an unregulated substance,” and that PFCs “are present throughout the environment and arise from a variety of sources.”

Solvay officials also said that, based on the data they have seen so far, they “do not agree that there is a public health emergency or an imminent threat to the public in Paulsboro or in any of our other neighboring communities.”

“We were surprised to suddenly see recent statements to this effect, particularly since the most recent data for the one Paulsboro well, although slightly higher, are corroborative of data from the same well generated by others over the last several years,” Solvay said.

The situation in Paulsboro — Solvay officials said in the statement — “has unfortunately been complicated by the Borough’s electing to file a notice of intent to sue Solvay, which occurred just before we were to have a meeting that we had scheduled with the Borough to discuss possible constructive paths forward.”

In light of that unexpected legal step, they added, Solvay postponed the meeting to evaluate the implications of the Borough’s action.

“We remain hopeful that there remains room for us to have a technical, solutions-oriented dialogue with Paulsboro about their drinking water system and quality sometime soon that serves everyone’s best interest, especially the citizens of Paulsboro,” officials said.

In August, officials with Solvay in West Deptford told Plastics News that the firm was investigating information about alleged pollution from the plant. The information came from water samples taken by the NJDEP in 2009. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network — a Bristol, Pa.-based environmental group — had asked the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to look at the issue.

Solvay officials also said the firm had stopped using a certain perfluorochemical — known as PFNA — at the site in 2010, ahead of a voluntary program to eliminate the use of the chemical.