They say South Jersey towns were poisoned by chemicals. Now they want DuPont, others to pay

Jim Walsh

| Cherry Hill Courier-Post

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CAMDEN – Pollution from two South Jersey chemical plants has caused severe health problems for area residents, including birth defects and cancer, multiple lawsuits claim.

The suits contend victims were sickened by long-lasting chemicals, known as PFAS compounds, that were released by Solvay Specialty Polymers in West Deptford and DuPont’s sprawling Chamber Works facility in Carneys Point and Pennsville.

“It’s quite a frightening picture,” asserted Steven Phillips, a New York City attorney for the residents.

He alleged local victims of PFAS exposure have suffered “really terrible birth defects,” as well as cancers and “non-malignant but serious conditions.”

The companies, which face additional court challenges over alleged PFAS pollution, have denied any liability.

A suit filed last month alleges a Penns Grove woman, 24-year-old Carly Corrar, “suffers from profound and permanent personal injuries” due to PFAS contamination at her childhood home in Pedricktown.

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It contends her ailments, including “physical and cognitive developmental delays,” resulted from exposure to PFAS and other pollutants before birth “and thereafter during her infancy and early childhood.”

It asserts the companies “knew or should have known of the severe and adverse health and environmental effects and impacts of PFAS and other toxins.”

A Jan. 28 suit seeks damages for a Logan couple, 56-year-old Tammy O’Leary and Corby Deese Jr., 61.

It cites health problems that include breast cancer for O’Leary and gastrointestinal disease and high cholesterol for both plaintiffs.

The varied ailments were “foreseeably caused by (the companies’) misconduct,” including the use and disposal “of toxic and dangerous chemicals,” the suit contends.

Two suits filed last year allege a 42-year-old Logan woman and a 25-year-old Pedricktown man have suffered brain damage and other health problems due to PFAS exposure.

“These are good, hard-working people,” Phillips said of his clients. “What happened to them should not have happened.”

His firm, Phillips & Paolicelli, expects to bring more lawsuits over the firms’ emissions, the attorney said Monday.

“Our clients are a growing number of people with severe personal injuries,” said Phillips. “There are another, almost 50 who we’re reviewing to determine which ones to file.”

The complaint filed by O’Leary and Deese previously was part of an ongoing lawsuit brought against Solvay, DuPont and others by 28 residents of Logan, Pedricktown and West Deptford. Those plaintiffs are pursuing claims that the chemical firms polluted their residential wells.

Among other demands, the 28 plaintiffs want medical monitoring, as well as financial damages for the loss of property value and their “substantial costs for bottled water.”

Some of the lawsuits raise concerns over other pollutants, including heavy metals and industrial solvents. But all of the complaints focus primarily on the use of PFAS compounds and later replacement chemicals at the local plants.

“It’s a witch’s brew,” Phillips said of the pollutants discharged by the chemical plants.

PFAS compounds are commonly used in consumer goods and household products for their ability to repel oil, grease and water and their fire-resistant qualities, according to New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The state agency, which in November sued Solvay to compel a cleanup of pollution from its West Deptford plant, contends PFAS “constitute a substantial threat to human health and the environment.”

It says the chemicals “persist indefinitely” and that people who consume them “through drinking water and other means accumulate increasing concentrations of PFAS in their blood.”

The DEP also asserts PFAS contamination is “now ubiquitous in New Jersey.”

The chemical companies raise the widespread presence of PFAS as part of their defense.

In court filings seeking to dismiss the suit brought by 28 residents, attorneys for Solvay and DuPont argue the plaintiffs do not say when or how contaminants traveled many miles from the chemical plants to their homes.

“Instead, plaintiffs simply note the presence of PFAS in some of their wells generally and speculate that (the defendants) caused or contributed to such contamination,” says a filing on DuPont’s behalf.

Among other arguments, the firms also assert some residents waited too long to sue and that a two-year statute of limitations has expired.

The companies have not yet filed responses to the personal-injury lawsuits.

A Solvay spokesperson, Dana Ponciroli, said the firm is “vigorously defending the claims,” but that it does not comment on active litigation.

A DuPont representative did not respond to a request for comment.

Other defendants in the suits include Arkema, a former owner of the West Deptford facility, and The Chemours Co., a Wilmington firm that leases the Chambers Works complex to DuPont.

DuPont, Chemours and a third firm, Corteva, last month announced a cost-sharing agreement valued at $4 billion to settle lawsuits involving their use of PFAS before July 2015.

Chemours, formerly DuPont’s chemical division, was created in 2015. Corteva, which was the agricultural unit of DowDuPont, was spun off in 2019.

Solvay and Arkema in 2016 agreed to pay for blood testing for Paulsboro residents after a form of PFAS tainted the borough’s water supply. The companies, in settling a lawsuit for $1.8 million, did not admit the Leonard Lane plant discharged the pollutants found in Paulsboro’s water.

Do you have concerns about illnesses associated with environmental impacts in South Jersey? Share your story with us by reaching out to this reporter or emailing the South Jersey newsroom at [email protected]

Jim Walsh reports for the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal. His interests include crime, the courts and being the first with breaking news. Reach him at [email protected]

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