(3BL Media/Justmeans) - I grew up in New Jersey in the 1950’s. I remember riding down the turnpike with my parents and getting hit with a godawful smell, as we passed Newark. What is that? I was told that it was the pig farms in Secaucus. This I continued to believe until much later in life when I learned that the pig farms were long gone by the time I was born. What I smelled was the refinery.
Originally built in 1909 on 1,300 acres of land purchased by John D. Rockefeller, the Bayway refinery has consistently ranked among the worst polluters in the nation. The nature of the site’s contamination is summarized in the summary from EPA.
“Spills, releases from sewer lines, leaking pipes from underground tanks, discharges to surface water and the disposal of contaminated waste in an on-site landfill have resulted in the contamination of the Exxon site with petroleum products. Two lagoon areas that had been used for the disposal of hazardous waste are also sources of soil and groundwater contamination at the site. The soil contamination caused by the sources listed above is consistent with the contamination sometimes found at other petroleum refineries, and includes metals and chemicals associated with petroleum such as the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) benzene and chlorobenzene. The groundwater that lies beneath the facility is also contaminated with benzene and chlorobenzene among other VOCs, and with arsenic.”
Among those spills was a cracked pipe in 1990 that discharged 567,000 gallons of fuel oil into Arthur Kill for which they paid an $11 million fine, after first lying about its actions. Altogether, there has accumulated some seven million gallons of oil, forming a layer no less than seven feet thick in the surrounding waters.
The state initiated a lawsuit against Exxon (who has subsequently sold the site to Conoco-Phillips but retains responsibility) in 2004, seeking $8.9 billion in damages. The matter finally went to trial last year. Exxon was found culpable, leaving only the question of how much the company would pay remaining.