Neigbors Sue Roche for Being Negligent With Handling of Hazardous Chemicals That Contaminated Land

Published: Mar 06, 2015

Neigbors Sue Roche (RHHBY) for Being Negligent With Handling of Hazardous Chemicals That Contaminated Land
March 6, 2015
By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

Swiss biopharmaceutical behemoth Roche has a new set of legal troubles on its hands, after homeowners in Clifton, N.J., where the firm has its former Route 3 campus, filed a class action lawsuit claiming environmental damage caused by Roche.

"Roche released abnormally dangerous and hazardous chemicals into the soil and groundwater at the Roche site as a result of the improper storage, transport, handling and disposal of these chemicals and of Roche’s industrial process wastewater," the lawsuit alleges.

"Roche also failed to take proper steps to remediate the environmental contamination at...the Roche site. Thus, for decades, pollutants released at...the Roche site percolated into groundwater and migrated off-site forming a plume of contamination extending under and adjacent to the residential properties of plaintiffs and class members," said the suit.

Roche vacated the campus in 2013 in preparation for a sale this year; its new facility opens in 2015 in a different location. At the height of its production, the 118-acre Roche site employed as many as 10,000 employees.

Ironically, the environmental impact report Roche commissioned in preparation for the sale of the campus, which sits in both Clifton and nearby Nutley, is the impetus for this latest lawsuit, because it found cracks in a sewer line near the northern end of Roche’s property. That may have contaminated groundwater, found the report.

“An inspection of the sewer last spring by engineering firm Paulus, Sokolowski & Sartor PC showed a substantial amount of underground chemical contaminants near the campus’ Route 3 entrance which TRC said likely originated in areas north of the drug company’s facility,” reported the Clifton Journal last month.

“The damaged sanitary sewer pipe beneath the Route 3 campus necessitated a multi-million dollar repair which the City plans to fund during its current budget season.”

The issue was originally discussed during a closed session of the Clifton City Council, because the City of Clifton will also be named in the lawsuit which alleges the two parties have affected property values. As many as 60 homeowners with property adjacent to the eastern side Roche's worksite may be plaintiffs.

Darien Wilson, Roche’s director of public affairs, issued the following statement.

"Since operations ceased on the Roche site at the end of 2013, the company has undertaken a comprehensive environmental investigation under the oversight of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRPs), licensed by the state of New Jersey," according to the statement.

"Roche conducted investigations both on its site and in the surrounding area and remedial investigation reports were submitted to the NJDEP prior to May 2014 and accepted as complete,” said the company. “It should be noted, that Roche is in compliance with all state and federal regulatory guidelines and has already begun approved remediation on-site."

The site has since been sold and will undergone a renaissance when it becomes New Jersey’s first private medical school under a deal struck between Hackensack University Medical Network and Seton Hall University. Roche continued paying taxes on the property until it began demolition, pouring about about $14 million in property taxes into the Nutle and Clifton coffers annually.

Plaintiffs are claiming that between 1960 and 1984 alone, Route 3 used around 154 million pounds of acetone, 70.2 million pounds of methylene chloride, 17.6 million pounds of toluene, 7.7 million pounds of 1,4-dioxane, 7.1 million pounds of benzene and 107,255 pounds of perchloroethylene (PCE) in its operations.

The class action lawsuit alleges groundwater contaminated by the site has shown 266,000 times the DEP limit of 1 part per billion of benzene allowed, 65 times the limit of 3 ppb of arsenic, 330 times the 5 ppb limit of lead, 273 times the limit of 2 ppb of mercury and 35,857 times the limit of 70 ppb of chloroform.

"Roche failed to investigate its former incinerator despite the fact that for years it burned hazardous substances and toxic solvents for energy recovery," said the filing.

"Roche failed to investigate or collect samples at former Building No. 41 or along the rail spur connecting that building to the southern portion of the Roche Site, despite the fact that Roche admitted it stored drums of toxic chemicals at Building 41 for decades," it said. "Both the former incinerator and Building 41 were located immediately adjacent to the Route 3 entrance where Roche has identified high concentrations of hazardous substances, including PCE, in soil and groundwater."

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