Paulsboro residents sue firm over contaminated water

Posted: February 05, 2014

PAULSBORO A dozen Paulsboro residents have joined in a lawsuit against a West Deptford plastics company over a contaminated water supply.

The lawsuit alleges that Solvay Specialty Polymers has failed to protect the borough from perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) stemming from its operations on Leonard Lane.

Filed in Superior Court in Gloucester County on Friday, the suit seeks class-action status and argues that Solvay was negligent. The suit claims bodily injury, emotional distress, and property damage on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The suit estimates that the total amount in relief for the whole class would not exceed $5 million, including compensatory damages and attorneys' fees.

Lewis Adler, a lawyer representing the residents of the 6,100-person borough, said filtration systems for individual households are the top priority, followed closely by the need for "medical monitoring" to assess potential health impacts.

If "conversations" with Solvay are not effective, he said, the residents would seek emergency relief.

An advisory by the state Department of Environmental Protection last month told residents to use formula and bottled water to feed babies under age 1.

Paulsboro Mayor W. Jeffery Hamilton, who has called the situation "unacceptable," has requested state intervention.

Raw data showing the contamination in the borough's Well No. 7 - which residents continue to rely on because another primary well is off-line - was known to officials as far back as 2009, but they have said they did not receive any specific warnings from the DEP.

The well had the highest contamination levels in the area, the DEP has said.

The data were not made public until last summer, when the advocacy group Delaware Riverkeeper Network obtained the information through open records requests.

Solvay's executives contend they voluntarily stopped using PFCs in 2010. There are no state or federal water standards for the compound. The facility is about two miles from the contaminated well.

PFCs are often used to make materials water-resistant. Studies of PFCs indicate the substances to be detrimental to animals' health, but the science surrounding them is still young.

Solvay has offered to give families with children under age 1 a case of bottled water per week, according to the court filing.

"It's really just not a full measure," Adler said. He argued that families shouldn't be forced to bathe their children in or wash dishes using the water.

Solvay officials, who have maintained they have been proactive in continuing tests and working with the borough, could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

Adler pointed to West Deptford, where the contaminant was found in a well that has been temporarily powered down: "It certainly looks like we have to worry about more."

856-779-3917 @AJFichera

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