In rare move, N.J. sues 6 polluters at once, including former Atlantic City fuel company

Since the early 1900s, the old Deull Fuel Co. site in Atlantic City was used by several firms to house a manufactured gas site and distribute and store fuel, but ended up contaminating sediment and surface water in the process with benzene, arsenic, cyanide, lead, and other chemicals, all linked to serious health conditions. The gas plant at the site, which loomed just off the bay, is now defunct.

On Wednesday, New Jersey officials took action against Deull Fuel Co. and other owners, former owners and users of the property in a rarely used natural resource damage lawsuit.  The state also announced suits involving five other polluted sites, all in northern New Jersey.

“Today, we’re back in the environmental enforcement business,” said state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.

Camera icon Amy Rosenberg
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in front of the Deull Fuel Company manufactured gas plant site, near the Beach Thorofare. waterway in Atlantic City

He appeared with Catherine McCabe, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, at a news conference in Newark. A second news conference was held in Atlantic City.

In all, the six lawsuits aim to recover damages and costs borne by taxpayers in cleaning up polluted properties, groundwater, and waterways. Three of the suits, including Deull Fuel, are natural resource damage cases.  The suits do not cite a specific amount the state is seeking.

However, it’s the first time in at least a decade that the state has filed such cases. McCabe, appointed by Gov. Murphy, used the moment to take a shot at his predecessor.

“I was very surprised to learn, upon arriving at DEP in January, that New Jersey had filed no new natural resource damage cases in the entire eight years of the Christie administration,” McCabe said.

The DEP filed the Atlantic City suit, along with the administrator of the New Jersey Spill Compensation Fund.  Named as defendants were: Deull Fuel, McAllister Fuels, South Jersey Gas Co., Verizon New Jersey, and other possible past users of the site.

A representative for Deull Fuel, which is based in Palm Gardens, Fla., could not immediately be reached for comment.

David Weissmann, a representative for Verizon, said the company won’t comment on ongoing litigation. South Jersey Gas also said it would not comment.

Camera icon Google Maps
Location of the Deull Fuel site, 300 North Georgia AVe., Atlantic City. The state sued the owners of the site Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018 seeking damages to cleanup environmental contamination.

The Deull Fuel property on Georgia Avenue, in a light-industrial part of Atlantic City, has a long history.  It is located along Beach Thorofare, an intracoastal waterway that separates downtown Atlantic City from the marshland of Lakes Bay and Absecon Bay.

The state is suing for money it has already spent on contamination near or on Beach Thorofare, as well as future costs. The surrounding area that contains sediment provides habitat for a variety of plants, birds, animals, fish, and shellfish.

The property, polluted since at least 1906, has been used by various owners over the years for fuel-related operations.  Until the 1950s, it contained a manufactured gas plant operation that generated gas from coal and oil.

Deull Fuel operated a fuel distribution business on part of the site.  Verizon operated a maintenance facility with underground storage tanks.

It was once the site of a fuel spill and oil discharge into Beach Thorofare.

South Jersey Gas also owned portions of the property, according to the suit.

The five other lawsuits filed Wednesday involve: the Pohatcong Valley Superfund Site in Warren County; the former Ronson Metals Corp., a cigarette-lighter manufacturing facility, and the former Ruggiero Seafood Inc. manufacturing facility, both in Newark; and the former Hess petroleum refinery and a former Mobil gas station, both in Woodbridge.