Queens Residents and Environmental Advocates File Federal Lawsuit Against Polluting Waste Transfer Facilities

September 20, 2021

Climate and Energy Justice, Environmental Justice, Press Release, Raritan Baykeeper Inc. v. American Recycling Management LLC

Jamaica Residents and environmental advocates pose after the press conference with environmental protest signs.

Media Contacts:

NYLPI: Hillary Wasserman, [email protected], 732-778-1896

Queens Residents and Environmental Advocates File Federal Lawsuit Against Polluting Waste Transfer Facilities

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and the Super Law Group LLC are representing Jamaica residents, Riverkeeper, NY/NJ Baykeeper in the fight for a cleaner Jamaica

New York – September 20, 2021 – Pointing to decades of oppressive pollution impacting the community’s quality of life, longtime Jamaica residents joined environmental advocates in filing a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act to require two waste transfer facilities to clean up their act. The lawsuit also brings nuisance claims against the facilities to hold them accountable for the harms their operations have inflicted on neighboring residents for years.

“The residents in Southeast Queens are sick and tired of the impacts of the City’s waste in our neighborhood. We need to put the community first…. Sometimes litigation is necessary to achieve these goals,” said Walter Dogan, President, Brinkerhoff Action Association.

“I am proud to be standing up for my family’s and my neighbors’ health:  I grew up in this community, and my kids, grandkids, and now my great-grandkids have grown up here. I worry about their asthma. I want for us to be able to use the park across the street, which is too smelly to enjoy. It’s time for the waste companies to take responsibility because our community has been suffering,” said individual plaintiff and community member Caroll Forbes.

Civil rights advocacy group New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), together with co-counsel environmental law firm the Super Law Group LLC (SLG), today filed the lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York against the companies who own and operate the polluting waste transfer facilities on Douglas Avenue in Jamaica, Queens. NYLPI and SLG are representing residents of the surrounding community, as well as environmental organizations Riverkeeper and NY/NJ Baykeeper and their members in the lawsuit, which is the latest step in a multi-decade fight by the community to try and force the waste facilities into compliance with existing law, and reduce their impact on the surrounding community and broader environment.  

“Jamaica community members have partnered with NYLPI for more than two decades to try and get these waste facilities to comply with the law, be better neighbors, and operate in a manner that does not harm the environment or the people who live nearby. We would not have passed the landmark Waste Equity Law in 2018 without the activism of these SE Queens leaders, but that was just one step in the larger fight in reducing the harm that our waste infrastructure imposes on the communities where it is clustered. This lawsuit is an important accountability measure, communicating that nobody is above the law, and it gives us great pride to be standing here today knowing that we are taking this fight to the halls of federal court, to give a voice to environmental justice.” Melissa Iachán, Senior Supervising Counsel for Environmental Justice, NYLPI

The groups say that waste transfer facilities belonging to American Recycling Management LLC and Regal Recycling Co., Inc., are operating in violation of the Clean Water Act by discharging polluted stormwater into Jamaica Bay without obtaining, or meeting the conditions of, the required National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits. The lawsuit further alleges that the unlawful practices of these garbage facilities negatively impact the daily lives of the residents in the surrounding community, and have done so for years.  As a result of the facilities’ practices, community members are subjected to putrid odors, loud noises from truck traffic, repulsive puddles of garbage sludge on the sidewalk and streets, and excessive dust from processing of construction and demolition materials.

​​”Jamaica Bay is a precious resource for millions of New Yorkers.  Because neighborhoods like Southeast Queens wrap around the Bay and pipe all their stormwater into it, it is vital that companies located in this community do their fair share to protect the water.  Thankfully, federal law demands as much, and empowers community members to hold Regal and American accountable for the pollution they discharge into storm sewers and out to Jamaica Bay, as well as for the harms this pollution imparts on the residents,”  said Edan Rotenberg, Partner, Super Law Group.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has designated Jamaica Bay as “impaired,” or not meeting water quality standards required to support fish habitats or water contact recreation. The DEC cites polluted stormwater runoff as a primary source of pollutants that cause bodies of water, like Jamaica Bay, become impaired. New York City has also designated the area of Jamaica surrounding the waste transfer facilities as an Environmental Justice community, as it is primarily Black and home to a disproportionate amount of polluting infrastructure.

The community has organized to try and reduce these facilities’ impact on their community for decades, and partnered with NYLPI to pass the Waste Equity Law in 2018. Just this last June, Jamaica residents testified before the New York City Council Sanitation Committee about detrimental impacts from the facilities’ operation at a hearing on Int. No. 2349, a bill seeking to allow the defendant companies to increase the amount of waste they are allowed to process daily. Increasing capacity, especially in light of the pollution the lawsuit alleges, would undo the progress made by the Waste Equity Law, and allow these facilities to continue to operate with impunity. After community members rallied to vociferously oppose the efforts by the polluting garbage companies to expand their operations in the middle of this residential neighborhood and in opposition to this legislation, the bill was pulled from being voted on at the last moment.

This is the second lawsuit NYLPI has brought on behalf of communities overburdened and harmed by waste infrastructure in the past four years. The lawsuit represents the latest step in the community’s, NYLPI’s, and the environmental justice movement’s long-standing attempt to try and reign in the polluting practices of private waste companies in New York City, and fight for waste equity, while also holding polluters accountable for decades of systemic environmental racism.

The case is Raritan Baykeeper Inc. v. American Recycling Management LLC, Case No. 21-5211. Read the complaint here.

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“The foul odor, the loud noise, and the pollution these Facilities create disrupts my daily life and my ability to use and enjoy my property and the surrounding community. I have been fighting this injustice for more than twenty years. For the first time in a long time, I am hopeful that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and our community may see some semblance of justice,” said individual plaintiff and community member Crystal Ervin.

“NY/NJ Baykeeper is proud to join forces with the dedicated community advocates here in Jamaica, Queens, and our colleagues at Riverkeeper and NYLPI, to challenge two grievously non-compliant waste transfer facilities that have been allowed to degrade the water, air, and quality of life of the residents along Douglas Avenue for far too long,” said Greg Remaud, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Baykeeper & CEO

“James Baldwin once said ‘It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.’  We in Southeast Queens have witnessed this sentiment play out. All we asked for was the opportunity to breathe air free of odor and most importantly free of particulate matter. There was a concerted push to expand the capacity of a waste transfer station in the name of being friendly to business at the expense of other more community friendly businesses, and the human beings who are forced to breathe the foul air. For example, what restaurant or supermarket would want to open on this section of Liberty Blvd? Today marks the day we take our fight to the next level. Today, we fight the enemies of justice.”  Oster Bryan, President, St. Albans Civic Improvement Association

“A clean, healthy environment is a human right that all our families deserve. But for too many of them, that right is continuously being infringed upon,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Jr. “For years, Southeast Queens residents have been disproportionally impacted by pollution emanating from area waste transfer facilities, while concerns about water contamination in Jamaica Bay have only increased. For the health of our families and our borough, this cannot continue. Queens wholeheartedly supports this vital legal action being taken, and we will continue to fight for environmental justice for all.”

“Riverkeeper is proud to stand with Jamaica community members and fellow environmental advocates to demand that these waste transfer operators comply with longstanding environmental laws and cease plaguing their neighbors with air, water, and noise pollution,” said Riverkeeper Senior Attorney Mike Dulong. “The impacts of these facilities are felt acutely by those in close proximity to the site, and their harms extend to thousands of recreators and hundreds of animal species which depend on a clean Jamaica Bay. We won’t tolerate it.” 

“The Greater TriAngular Civic Association stands with the Bricktown community in its fight against the long-existing noxious fumes emanating from the waste transfer stations Regal/Royal Recycling and American Recycling.  These facilities have plagued the Liberty Ave. area and the surrounding communities for over 50 years, causing many families to suffer asthma and other respiratory illnesses.  Our civic supports the residents’ actions as they seek a better quality of life.”  Lauretta Humphrey, President of the Greater TriAngular Civic Association 

“I currently serve as President of the Addisleigh Park Civic Organization located in Southeast Queens. It is deeply troubling to come to the realization of just how little the quality of life within communities of color matters to these waste transfer stations.  It’s a crime against humanity to operate waste transfer stations so close to parks and residential spaces. While in the adjacent park, I have personally experienced excessive dust and unbearable smells emitting from those waste transfer stations.  Now to learn that these waste transfer operators are also violating the Clean Water Act does not surprise me, but is more of the same in terms of abuses against black and brown people. Today, we’ve had enough. We demand environmental justice now! We demand these abuses against the community stop, these violations rectified and the community made whole!!“ said Michael Scotland President, Addisleigh Park Civic Organization.

“The Center for Urban Environmental Reform is proud to work alongside impacted Jamaica residents as they advocate for positive environmental change in their neighborhood” said CUNY Law Professor Rebecca Bratspies. “For far too long, these waste transfer stations have engaged in practices that inflict noise, fetid odors, disgusting leachate and clouds of dust on their neighbors, in flagrant violation of their permit restrictions and their obligations under the Clean Water Act. As we have worked with this community over the past year, CUER has been impressed with their clear-sighted advocacy, and their fierce determination to protect both Jamaica Bay and reclaim the quiet enjoyment of their property.”

“The Queens Civic Congress calls for: (i)  Enclosing the waste treatment centers with walls and installing an effective HEPA filtration system; (ii) Expediting the replacement of the existing waste treatment center with alternative waste removal systems that do not contaminate surrounding communities; and, (iii) the Sponsor of Intro 2349 to immediately withdraw this bill.  Waste equity will never be achieved otherwise.”  Kevin J. Forrestal, President of Queens Civic Congress

 

About New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

For more than 40 years, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest has combined the power of law, organizing, and the private bar to make lasting change where it’s needed most. NYLPI works toward a New York where all people can thrive in their communities, with quality healthcare and housing, safe jobs, good schools, and healthy neighborhoods. In NYLPI’s vision, all New Yorkers live with dignity and independence, with the resources they need to succeed. NYLPI’s community-driven approach powers its commitments to civil rights and to disability, health, immigrant, and environmental justice. NYLPI seeks lasting change through litigation, community organizing, policy advocacy, pro bono service, and education. NYLPI has used its legal and policy expertise in tandem with organizing and community partnerships for over two decades to address disproportionate environmental burdens in New York City’s low-income communities of color. For more information, please visit www.nylpi.org.

About Riverkeeper

Riverkeeper protects and restores the Hudson River from source to sea and safeguards drinking water supplies through advocacy rooted in community partnerships, science and law. Visit us at Riverkeeper.org.

About NY/NJ Baykeeper

NY/NJ Baykeeper is a 501(c)3non-profit conservation organization that for 30 years has fought for clean water and healthy communities around the densely populated NY/NJ Harbor Region.

We do so through strong advocacy, long-standing community partnerships, and suing polluters.

Baykeeper is a regional leader in oyster and natural shoreline restoration, urban watershed preservation, and ensuring public access to our urban waterways around NY/NJ Harbor.

You can visit us at www.nynjbaykeeper.org. 

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