SHERWIN-WILLIAMS NATURAL RESOURCE DAMAGE EXPLAINED
The firm recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of the NJDEP against Sherwin-Williams for natural resource damages associated with three sites in New Jersey located in Gibbsboro, Voorhees and Lindenwold. The lawsuit brings claims under New Jersey’s Spill Compensation and Control Act, the Water Pollution Control Act, the Solid Waste Management Act and under common law for reimbursement of the costs and damages the NJDEP incurred, and will incur, as a result of the discharge of hazardous substances and pollutants.
The lawsuit states Sherwin-Williams caused substantial contamination at the affected areas over the course of decades: “Beginning in 1851 and continuing until the late 1970s, Sherwin-Williams and its predecessors manufactured, stored, transported, used, disposed of, and discharged a substantial amount of hazardous substances and industrial chemicals – notably lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals – at the Sites. These hazardous substances are extremely toxic to humans, biota, and wildlife.”
The affected areas encompass numerous surface waters – Bridgewood Lake, the Cooper River, Honey Run, Hilliards Creek, Kirkwood Lake, Silver Lake and White Sand Branch – as well as freshwater wetlands, residential neighborhoods and commercial areas. The complaint alleges substantial injuries to New Jersey’s natural resources including groundwater, soils, sediments, surface waters, freshwater wetlands, biota and others.
The suit states Sherwin-Williams was aware of ongoing contamination as it was happening but, “Sherwin-Williams failed to timely disclose or notify DEP of all of the contamination, and thus thwarted the prompt containment and removal of hazardous substances.”
For example, according to the complaint, “Sherwin-Williams ignored orders to address contamination at the Sites and repeatedly issued misleading or inaccurate statements in site document submittals to downplay its responsibility for the contamination.” The complaint further alleges Sherwin-Williams’ recalcitrance continued into the 1990s.
Around 1996, “DEP documented that its negotiations with Sherwin-Williams were becoming ‘complicated and difficult’ because of the ‘extensive areas which have already been identified as contaminated and the reluctance of the Sherwin Williams Company to commit to the expanding investigation which is needed to properly delineate the entire site of contamination.’” In addition, on “multiple occasions from 1998 to 2000, DEP found that Sherwin-Williams had submitted site documents containing ‘misleading’ and ‘inaccurate’ information.”
SHERWIN-WILLIAMS FAILS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
The lawsuit details how Sherwin-Williams stymied clean-up efforts even though it knew it had heavily contaminated the affected areas with hazardous substances for decades.
There were numerous fires at the paint manufacturing complex at one of the sites, and during one such fire in 1949, “highly flammable cellulose or gum cotton used in lacquer manufacturing ignited in the hot summer sun” and approximately “one thousand 50 and 100 gallon drums containing thinners and lacquer exploded in the fire, many being sent high into the air.” Because of these fires, hazardous pollutants were discharged to soils, groundwater and surface waters at and around the plant.
A historical and architectural record of the site recounted that during the early and mid-1970s, the company considered closing the plant, and the “problems associated with environmental protection compliance were commonly thought to be the reason.”
As the lawsuit alleges, “in 1976 a Sherwin-Williams engineer concluded that additional sampling at the Sites ‘may just end up proving that we do, in fact, have very contaminated soil,’ and that Sherwin-Williams ‘may be forced to give up the wastewater ponds along with the sludge dewatering ponds.’”
LAWSUIT SEEKS RELIEF FOR NEW JERSEY
The lawsuit seeks costs, damages and other relief for injuries to natural resources of the state of New Jersey, including groundwater, surface waters, sediments, wetlands, soils, air and biota, resulting from Sherwin-Williams’ discharges of hazardous substances and pollutants at and from the sites affected.
TOP ENVIRONMENTAL LAW FIRM
Hagens Berman believes that protecting and repairing our environment from damage caused by irresponsible and illegal practices is some of the most rewarding work a law firm can do. Our firm has established an internationally recognized environmental litigation practice.
Notable cases include representing homeowners exposed to arsenic and lead pollutants from Asarco smelters, representing clients against Exxon Mobil affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, stopping Dole from degrading drinking water in Guatemala and fighting against a surge of dirty diesel cars illegally put on highways by the nation’s largest automakers. Hagens Berman represents a municipality and county in lawsuits filed against BP, Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and ConocoPhillips alleging that the Big Oil giants are responsible for the costs of protecting themselves from global warming-induced sea level rise.