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June 28, 2023

Chemical-polluting company may pay $393 million to N.J. under proposed settlement

After contaminating drinking water in Gloucester and Camden counties, Solvay Specialty Polymers would be required to pay to remove all PFAS at and around its West Deptford facility

New Jersey proposed a $393 million settlement with a West Deptford chemical plant to correct chemical contamination that affected drinking water in the state. 

The proposal, which was announced Wednesday by state Attorney General Matthew Platkin and Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette, would require Solvay Specialty Polymers to ensure there is no more contamination in affected water systems in Gloucester and Camden counties. It would be the largest single-site-cleanup settlement in state history.

"For years, corporations, including Solvay, have put financial gain over our clean drinking water and the health of millions of people. They have blatantly ignored the dangers posed by the PFAS 'forever' chemicals that accumulate in our environment and in our bodies. New Jersey has pursued those who thought they could leave their mess to someone else to clean up," Platkin said in a news release. 

In 2019, the DEP ordered Solvay and four other New Jersey companies to pay to clean up contamination from poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals because they don't break down. In 2020, New Jersey sued Solvay, alleging it blatantly ignored the instructions. In 2021, the Environmental Working Group said Solvay violated the federal Toxic Substances Control Act when it did not report dangerous pollution found in test results in June 2005. 

As a part of the settlement, Solvay would be required to pay for and implement a plan to remove all contaminants at and around its facility. Solvay would also provide money for public water system upgrades; administer an investigation into impacts to public water systems and private drinking water wells; and pay for natural resources harmed by chemical discharge.

"This proposed settlement marks a significant milestone in New Jersey's nation-leading efforts to better protect public health and our environment from the dangers of PFAS," LaTourette said. "It requires Solvay to fund critical environmental investigations, remediation activities, and natural resource restoration projects that will improve drinking water and environmental quality in the Gloucester and Camden County communities that have borne the brunt of PFAS impacts that DEP believes were caused by Solvay. As DEP oversees the implementation of this settlement in South Jersey, we will continue to pursue PFAS manufacturers for the widespread harm their chemicals have caused across our state."

Solvay would be required to pay $214 million up front to guarantee that money is available for the DEP to complete the cleanup if Solvay does not meet agreed-upon obligations set by the state or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Solvay would have six years to meet such obligations.

The company also would pay $100 million to fix drinking water systems in Bellmawr, Brooklawn, East Greenwich, Gloucester City, Gibbstown, Mount Royal, Paulsboro, Westville and Woodbury, as well as private wells in West Deptford, Logan Township, Deptford, Greenwich Township and Swedesboro. 

A payment of $75 million would be made for damaging the state's natural resources, and $3.7 million would reimburse the DEP for money spent addressing Solvay's contamination. 

Since the lawsuit, Solvay has started to reduce the use of PFAS at its New Jersey plant. The company eliminated the use of PFAS in its manufacturing and added a treatment process for the facility's wastewater streams, according to a press release.

For over three decades, Solvay produced plastics, coatings and other chemicals using surflon, an aid that contains the forever chemicals perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

There are health effects associated with forever chemicals, including cancers, immune-system impairments and developmental problems in young children.

In New Jersey, there is a maximum level of man-made chemicals allowed in drinking water. It was the first state in the country to implement a cap on contaminants. 

"This is the latest step in our journey to responsibly manage fluorosurfactant use at our West Deptford facility," Mike Finelli, Solvay's chief North America officer, said via NBC10. 

"We eliminated all fluorosurfactants in July 2021 and have been investigating and remediating PFAS in the environment near our West Deptford facility since 2013. Since then, Solvay has been working to reduce PFAS in the environment in multiple ways, including working with West Deptford to install a drinking water treatment system on a municipal well, installing an engineered soil cap at Solvay's facility to address potential environmental migration, constructing and operating an offsite pump-and-treat system for impacted groundwater, and enhancing existing onsite treatment systems for potentially impacted groundwater."