Former Long Island Defense Contractor and Its CEO Ordered to Pay Over $48 Million in Cleanup Costs and Penalties for Discharging Hazardous Substances at Port Jefferson Superfund Site
Lawrence Aviation Industries, Inc. and Owner Gerald Cohen Found Responsible for Mile-Long, Toxic Groundwater Plume
Earlier today, at federal court in Central Islip, United States District Judge Joan M. Azrack entered judgment holding liable Lawrence Aviation Industries, Inc. (LAI), a former defense contractor, and its long-time owner and CEO, Gerald Cohen, for environmental cleanup costs and penalties under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. As proven at trial, LAI and Cohen, in violation of several environmental laws and regulations, discharged a number of hazardous substances at LAI’s Port Jefferson facility on Long Island that could pose threats to human health and the environment. The Court found that, in addition to contaminating the LAI facility itself, LAI and Cohen were responsible for a mile-long contaminant plume in the groundwater beneath Port Jefferson. The Court’s judgment found LAI and Cohen jointly liable for $48,116,024.31 in costs incurred by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in cleaning up the site, and imposed civil penalties of $750,000 against both LAI and Cohen, individually, for their failure to comply with requests for information issued by EPA.
“This case and the significant monetary penalties imposed by the Court should serve as a warning to would-be polluters, including individuals, that this Office and the EPA will use every tool at their disposal to protect Long Island’s groundwater and to ensure that those responsible for contamination will foot the bill for clean-up costs,” said Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
“EPA is pleased that our collaborative efforts with the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York have resulted in a victory for New Yorkers who have suffered for years with the environmental degradation inflicted by Lawrence Aviation and its owner, Gerald Cohen,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “This judgment provides for the reimbursement of money spent on cleanup work and imposes penalties that act as a deterrent. Our active engagement and work at this site will continue over the long-term, and we are proud that EPA’s Superfund continues to help revitalize this community and communities across the nation.”
In a separate, 37-page Memorandum and Order, the Court detailed the evidence establishing LAI’s and Cohen’s long history of disregard for federal, state and county environmental laws. In the early 1980s, for example, after the Suffolk County Department of Health issued a series of recommendations for LAI to come into compliance with various pollution control laws, LAI used a front-end loader to crush 55-gallon drums containing hazardous substances (among more than 1,600 of such drums identified on the property), resulting in a massive discharge of waste directly onto the ground. Samples taken from those drums revealed impermissibly high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE), among other pollutants. Nearly two decades later, in 1999, testing performed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation revealed contamination of groundwater and surface water at the site. Thereafter, in March 2000, the site was placed on the National Priorities List. For these and other reasons, the groundwater in the vicinity of the site is not currently used for drinking water.
EPA’s clean-up of the site, now into its 19th year, has included an exhaustive remedial investigation into the nature and scope of the contamination, various hazardous waste removal and stabilization activities, and the implementation and maintenance of two groundwater treatment systems designed to capture and treat contaminated groundwater. As noted in the Court’s decision, EPA’s activities at the LAI site have resulted in a decrease in size of the groundwater TCE plume and the removal of over 18,000 tons of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, among other hazardous substances, including asbestos containing materials.
Various creditors have asserted claims against LAI and Cohen properties based on their respective liens. Those claims remain pending before the Court.
Previously, in 2008, Cohen and LAI pleaded guilty to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for storing hazardous wastes at the LAI Facility without a permit issued by the EPA or New York State. Cohen was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of one year and a day, and supervised release of thirty-six months. He and LAI were ordered to pay restitution to the EPA of $105,816.
The government’s case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Richard K. Hayes, Robert B. Kambic, Clayton P. Solomon, and Special Assistant United States Attorney James F. Doyle, with assistance from EPA Assistant Regional Counsel Elizabeth Leilani Davis and Andrea L. Leshak. The government’s trial team also included former Assistant United States Attorneys Sandra L. Levy and Morgan J. Brennan.