TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew which would increase civil penalties for medical waste and water and ocean pollution was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today by a vote of 14-0, with one abstention.
“New Jersey’s pristine beaches are more than just a beautiful natural resource and source of State pride,” said Senator Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic and Vice Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee. “For communities along the Jersey Shore, beaches are the lifeblood of the economy, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenue for the State. We need to take a hard-line approach in dealing with those inconsiderate few who would spoil our beaches through illegal ocean dumping.”
The bill, S-2191, would amend the “Comprehensive Regulated Medical Waste Management Act” to strengthen existing penalties, while creating a new civil penalty under the “Ocean Dumping Enforcement Act.”
Under Senator Van Drew’s bill, the existing civil penalty of not more than $50,000 for each violation of the “Comprehensive Regulated Medical Waste Management Act” would be doubled, giving the Commissioners of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) the authority to assess penalties of not more than $100,000 for each violation. Additionally, the bill expands penalties for failure to pay an administrative assessment or follow a court order for payment.
The bill would also make it a crime of the third degree, with a penalty of up to $50,000 for the first offense and up to $100,000 for second and subsequent offenses, to dispose or store regulated medical waste without the authorization of the DEP or the DHSS, or to make false or misleading statements regarding medical waste applications. The penalties for “purposefully or knowingly,” violating these provisions of the “Comprehensive Regulated Medical Waste Management Act,” would also increase, to up to $100,000 for the first offense, and up to $200,000 for second and subsequent offenses.
“Many of the towns I represent face serious economic hardship when a beach is required to be closed due to the inconsiderate actions of polluters,” said Senator Van Drew. “Unfortunately, because of New Jersey’s outdated penalties for ocean dumping, the perpetrators of ocean dumping don’t share in that economic hardship. This bill would bring the penalties in line with the seriousness of the crime.”
Finally, the bill would add a civil fine of up to $100,000 per day and a civil administrative penalty of up to $100,000 per day for intentionally dumping any material into the ocean waters of this State, under the “Ocean Dumping Enforcement Act.” Under existing law, violation of the “Ocean Dumping Enforcement Act,” carries criminal penalties, and through this legislation, civil penalties would be assessed in addition to the current penalties.
The bill was prompted by a case last summer, in which New Jersey beaches in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties were forced to close when dozens of used syringes washed ashore. After an investigation was conducted by the State Attorney General, it was determined that the medical waste which washed ashore was dumped by a Philadelphia dentist who had a summer home in Avalon.
Senator Van Drew argued that doubling existing penalties, and adding new civil penalties, would discourage others from dumping medical waste in the ocean and short-cutting safety guidelines for proper disposal of medical waste.
“As a medical professional, I was appalled that someone in my line of work would have been so thoughtless as to jeopardize the health and safety of beachgoers during the summer’s busiest tourism months,” said Senator Van Drew, who maintains his own dental practice in Cape May County. “There is no excuse for disobeying the rules set forth to govern the safe and proper disposal of medical waste, and it’s the height of callousness to disregard those safety rules to save a few bucks on disposal. We must reflect the seriousness of ocean dumping through the penalties we impose on perpetrators, in order to hopefully discourage anyone else from seeking shortcuts which cost our shore communities millions to clean up.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.