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In August of 2020, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) filed 12 new enforcement actions in one day against specific defendant polluters as part of an environmental justice initiative. The polluters exclusively targeted were those whose actions have threatened the health and safety of residents in minority and lower income communities.
Some of the pollutants these defendants have been releasing into the environmental are known to contribute to health issues including cancer, kidney problems, respiratory tract issues, and chronically reduced lung function to name a few. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated racial and economic disparities across the country, and many of the infamous “underlying conditions” we hear about so often overlap with the list of illnesses these pollutants are known to contribute to. Many minority and low-income communities are exposed to these pollutants at elevated concentrations, in areas where polluters are historically less likely to face consequences for their actions, making these populations more likely to become ill. This recent DEP initiative seeks to shift that narrative and show polluters they will be held equally accountable across the state.
The claims are brought under a combination of different statutes, including the Spill Act, the Water Pollution Control Act, the Solid Waste Management Act, and more. The requests for relief include cleanup of contaminated properties, compliance with all outstanding DEP orders, payment of damages, and reimbursement to the state for cleanup costs expended so far. You can read more about the DEP’s environmental justice initiative and find links to information about each of the 12 cases here: https://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases20/pr20200827b.html
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