Chemical fears bring community to prominent law firm

BY ELAINE D'AURIZIO
STAFF WRITER
northjersey.com

The New York law firm of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., part of a legal team that won a $380 million suit against DuPont last year in West Virginia, has been retained by borough residents living in a Pompton Lakes neighborhood where contamination by DuPont has been discovered.

"We’ve been asked by a significant number of residents to look into the possibility of making claims for damages relating to the Pompton Lakes community against DuPont,“ said Kevin Madonna, a partner in Kennedy and Madonna of Hurley, N.Y.

Tests in May in a neighborhood near DuPont’s former explosives plant found elevated levels of hazardous vapors coming from groundwater pollution that is a legacy of the factory’s 92 years of operation.

Residents have voiced mistrust of the company at informational hearings, noting that this is the second round of contamination they’ve had to deal with. DuPont is involved in an ongoing, $130 million effort to clean the area of mercury, lead and solvents. This time, the concern is that chemicals tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), used to degrease machinery, have risen from the ground soil into homes.

Madonna would not disclose how many residents have retained the firm or how long the investigation would take.

“We are still investigating and don’t know the scope of the case. You never know how long an investigation will take,” he said. “But we are contemplating bringing claims for loss of property values.”

The environmental law firm is also representing hundreds of Ringwood residents in a lawsuit against Ford Motor Co.’s dumping of toxic waste in the area four decades ago.

“We represent communities impacted by pollution from companies,” Madonna said.

“In my experience, DuPont has a history of not being forthcoming with communities that have been impacted by its pollution,” Madonna said.

Madonna also criticized state officials. “They [residents] contacted us because the Department of Environmental Protection isn’t fulfilling the role that’s been entrusted to them by the state legislators,” he said.

Borough officials have maintained that DuPont — the town’s largest taxpayer — has always co-operated and shared information when asked.

Company officials have described themselves as “proactive” in contacting the state DEP quickly when tests revealed the possibility of so-called “vapor intrusion” in up to 350 homes.

It also has participated in informational meetings with homeowners and offered all those residents testing inside their homes and installation of a mitigation system without charge while testing continues.

Still, the fears of residents have moved members of the Borough Council to seek a private, independent consultant to test the soil outdoors and the basements of the 350 homes that could be affected. Candidates for the job are being considered