HAWTHORNE, NJ – Michael Pasquale, the Borough Attorney, said there was "good news" and "found money" when the borough's environmental attorneys were able to recover fees to avoid a pollution suit decades ago. The resolution he referred to at the previous council meeting was R36-20, Settlement of Passaic River Litigation.
"Several years back, the DEP started suit against a number of chemical industry manufacturers for release of dioxin into the lower portion of the Passaic River at Newark Bay," Pasquale said.
Dioxins, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, are "mainly byproducts of industrial practices. They are produced through a variety of incineration processes, including improper municipal waste incineration and burning of trash, and can be released into the air during natural processes, such as forest fires and volcanoes." The Institute further said that "Strict regulatory controls on major industrial sources of dioxin have reduced emissions into the air by 90 percent, compared to levels in 1987.... Before safeguards and regulations were introduced, dioxin releases were a major problem in the United States. The Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) worked with industry to ban products containing dioxin and to curb dioxin emissions. In 1979, the EPA banned the manufacture of products containing Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) some of which are included under the term dioxin."
Pasquale said that the settlement reached with polluters at the time came in to the tune of some $400,000,000. "Those entities then started suit against 270 municipal entities, commissions, or others who might have dumped things like storm water into the river, such as Hawthorne," Pasquale said. "Hawthorne was represented by its Environmental Joint Insurance Fund. As part of a settlement we paid a $45,000 fee to get out of the case, basically. The EJIF attorneys continued to pursue subrogation claims against our old insurance companies, and I’m pleased that they were able to get back all $45,000 for us—plus their counsel fees. There’s a resolution that I’d like you to approve where we get back the money we paid from our old insurance company from the 1970s and 80s."
More recently, the industrial chemical legacy of Hawthorne was revisited when a noxious chemical container, buried underground, was accidentally opened by a backhoe digging out a rain garden for the Gateway to the Passaic River project in April of 2019. The State of New Jersey removed the container. The borough said in a statement that "An environmental assessment and a geophysical survey of the area was conducted. The geophysical survey detected two subsurface metallic anomalies - scrap metal and a buried drum container. The two anomalies were excavated and removed. Subsequent soil tests revealed no contaminants associated with the former anomalies. These results confirmed the earlier environmental assessment that there neither is, nor was, any hazard to the public. [Borough Engineer Stephen] Boswell advised the Borough that these results also mean that no further action is required - that is, no requirement for additional cleanup, testing, monitoring or reporting to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection."
In December of 2019, Mayor Goldberg said that he was "happy to report conclusively what we believed all along, based on the preliminary and environmental assessment information - that the parking lot and the adjacent ball fields are and have been safe to use." Hawthorne Environmental Commission Chair and then Councilwoman-elect Rayna Laiosa said she was "pleased to have received this assurance that the area is safe to the public and the environment."
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