Fire Department Sues Contractor Over Use of Toxic Fill at Firehouse

A New York volunteer fire company has filed a toxic tort suit against the contractors who were responsible for using contaminated fill during the construction of a new firehouse. The Putnam Valley Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. filed suit in federal court against John J. Adorno, John J. Adorno, Inc. d/b/a Universal Construction, and Metro Green, LLC, seeking at least $1.75 million in damages.

The suit was brought under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Recovery Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. § 9601, et seq. and under New York state law. As explained in the complaint:

  • Plaintiff seeks to recover costs that it has incurred and will incur to remediate property in response to the unlawful dumping of construction and demolition debris and fill contaminated with hazardous substances, as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 9601(14), at a project site to build a new firehouse to service the Putnam Valley, New York community.
  • Plaintiff has incurred at least $1.75 million in response costs, which amount continues to grow as further work is performed.
  • In response to complaints that fill material was being placed at the Site, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”), commenced an investigation of the Site property in August 2016.
  • During its investigation, DEC determined that approximately 10,000 cubic yards of fill containing solid waste had been improperly disposed of at the Site.
  • DEC staff visually observed that the fill material on the Site included, but was not limited to, metals, plastics, asphalt shingles, fabric, vinyl, dimensional lumber and ceramic tile.
  • The Fire Department retained an environmental consultant, HDR, to perform an evaluation of the fill that had been disposed of at the Site.
  • In a March 2017 assessment, HDR reported that the fill material consisted of urban fill, specifically construction and demolition debris (bricks, asphalt, concrete, etc.), and a mixture of sand and silt soil.
  • HDR identified contaminants of concern based upon sample results exceeding NYS Part 375 soil cleanup objectives and included eleven semi-volatile organic compounds, seven metal compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and pesticides.
  • In addition, HDR identified one stockpile and two surficial soil areas as having asbestos-containing materials.
  • HDR’ s assessment determined that the fill disposed of at the Site contained, among other materials, metals, PCBs, pesticides, volatile organic compounds and asbestos, which are all “hazardous substances” under CERCLA.
  • During the course of DEC’s investigation, DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officers conducted an interview with defendant John Adorno.
  • During the course of that interview Adorno admitted that the company he owns and operates, Universal Construction, had dumped the fill observed by DEC investigators at the Site.
  • Defendant John Adorno advised DEC’s investigators that he had obtained some of the fill from an undisclosed demolition site on Water Street in the Bronx, but that most of the fill he disposed of at the Site had come from defendant Metro Green, LLC’s processing facility in Mount Vernon, New York.
  • The Fire Department and DEC entered into an Order on Consent on January 19, 2019, arising from DEC’s determination that the Fire Department had operated an unpermitted solid waste management facility on the Site.
  • Subsequent to the entry of the Order on Consent, the Fire Department proposed, and DEC approved in July 2019, a remediation plan to address the threat to the environment presented by the disposal of construction and demolition debris fill materials at the Site, including the CERCLA hazardous substances contained in that fill.
  • Plaintiff has incurred additional damages and costs [in] addressing the contamination at the Site, including but not limited to legal fees, substantial project cost over-runs and project delays that are directly attributable to Defendants’ actions.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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