On his first day as a senior New Jersey law enforcement official, Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck undertook a long-standing illegal landfill operation in South Jersey.
On Monday, Bruck’s office was joined by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in asking a court to force the clean-up of a huge pile of dirt and construction debris in the heart of Camden.
“No community in New Jersey should be used as an illegal landfill, and no resident of this state should have their health and safety endangered by an illegal landfill near their home,” Bruck said in a statement. “We cannot achieve racial justice without environmental justice, and I am proud that one of my first acts as Acting Attorney General is standing up for the people of Camden.”
The pile uncovered on the 600 block of Chestnut Street, not far from the Delaware River and Camden waterfront, spills onto neighboring properties and onto sidewalks and streets. It is a major source of dust blowing through the surrounding neighborhood, and this dust is not harmless, officials said. Soil tests carried out by DEP in November on the landfill revealed high levels of harmful substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and chromium, both of which are known carcinogens.
The state first sued the site in May, but the DEP’s scrutiny of the property dates back to 2002, according to the new documents. This lawsuit was filed against S. Yaffa & Sons, Inc., the former owner of the property and alleged initiator of the dumping, and Weyhill Realty Holdings, LLC, which purchased the land in 2019.
The state alleges Weyhill allowed the spill to continue after purchasing the site. City officials ordered Weyhill to cease operations on the property in April. Weyhill complied with the stop work order, but did not perform any cleanup work, according to the state.
Yaffa & Sons, Inc. and Weyhill Realty Holdings, LLC could not immediately be reached for comment.
The new lawsuit seeks to force Weyhill to stabilize the pile to prevent a potential landslide on neighboring property and immediately begin cleaning up the site. The state also requests that the cleaning work be carried out in such a way as to prevent further pollution of the air and water. And, the state is seeking fines against the defendants for continued violations of state environmental laws.
DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette called the dump “intolerable”.
“Those who violate our waste laws aren’t just harming our environment, they are harming the spirit of our communities, saying that our compatriots in New Jersey somehow deserve less of the natural beauty and protection of the environment, ”LaTourette said in a statement.
The legal battle at this site is not the first time that the state has sued William Yocco, the owner of Yaffa & Sons, in court. In 2019, the DEP sued Yocco for illegal dumping on the same street, a few blocks from the current pile of dirt.
Roy Jones, an environmental justice advocate in Camden and founder of the National Institute for Healthy Human Spaces, said the state’s latest action was a good first step, but stressed more needed to be done. Jones called on state and local officials to test the quality of the air and groundwater in the immediate vicinity of the landfill, as well as health examinations for residents living within a five-block radius.
Ultimately, Jones said, affected neighbors must be compensated for the damage caused by the illegal dumping.
“Unless the state does some of the other things that we ask them to do, that’s not enough,” Jones said. “It’s a good start, but it’s not all the community needs to do right now. “
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Michael Sol Warren can be reached at [email protected].