Scope of Exxon Pollution More Than Just Bayway, Bayonne Refineries

By Brenda Flanagan

In Linden, springtime brings junior varsity baseball — against a skyline of storage tanks at the contaminated Bayway Refinery. It’s front and center of the increasingly complex and controversial Exxon settlement pitch. People want the environment restored, but some see the $225 million deal as a swing and a miss.

“It’s not even close to what they need to clean it up for the neighborhood, so yeah I think they should go for more,” said Linden resident Sherre Carbone.

“For my future, for my kids in the future, we should have a safe environment for them, too,” said Linden resident Gianna Olmedo.

But the Bayway and Bayonne refineries just top a much longer list that caught activists off guard. The settlement also waives Exxon’s financial responsibility for pollution from potential leaks and spills at hundreds of local gas stations across New Jersey. In some cases, Sierra Club‘s Jeff Tittel says seeping toxins exposed neighborhoods to cancer-causing agents like toluene and benzene.

“And they’re a serious health problem and health risk for drinking water and getting into people’s homes in vapors and that’s what they’re waiving and that’s the big issue — because that could be billions of dollars itself,” Tittel said.

“We have no information on the extent of damage caused by those sites — from their pollution — and we don’t know if this is a fair allocation of the money and how that’s being done,” said NY/NJ Baykeeper Executive Director Debbie Mans.

Moreover, the list now also includes 16 other Exxon sites, including the Trenton Terminal on Duck Island, the Edison Research Labs, the former TOMAH facility in Gloucester County and — most notably — the still-operating refinery in Paulsboro, which Exxon no longer owns.

“The Paulsboro site is huge — more than 900 acres and this is a site and a refinery that’s one of the top polluters in the state for toxic releases,” said Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey.

O’Malley — in an ongoing study of Paulsboro — requested DEP documents five months ago.

“Records of the water and air permits for the Paulsboro facilities and we’ve really been stymied. We have not been able to get recent records within the past five years,” O’Malley said.

In statements, the DEP assessed cost of contamination at the other facilities combined totaled $5 million. Activists dispute this. They’re collecting petitions and pending a judge’s final decision, urging the public to comment against the settlement.

“Many of these sites are dirty enough to be considered Superfund, and yet we’re going to be waving this magic wand and letting them off the hook for potentially billions more in liability. This may not be pennies on the dollar — it could be tenths of a penny,” Tittel said.

Critics claim the settlement lets Exxon “pave and wave” — basically cap the contamination and leave — instead of restoring the site back to life. They say it won’t help now that sites like Paulsboro and hundreds of gas stations have been added to the equation.