TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew which would increase civil penalties for medical waste and water and ocean pollution was unanimously approved by the Senate Environment Committee today.
“New Jersey depends on clean and pristine oceans as the engine which drives tourism along the Jersey Shore,” said Senator Van Drew, D-Cape May and Cumberland and Vice Chairman of the Environment Committee. “When someone knowingly and intentionally harms our ocean waters, the resulting beach closures can cost our communities millions of dollars in lost revenue. We need penalties in place which reflect the seriousness of ocean dumping and improper disposal of medical waste, and make people think twice before they shortcut existing disposal policies.”
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.
“The fact of the matter is that New Jersey has a number of good laws governing ocean dumping, but the penalties are out of touch with the current cost of business in the State,” said Senator Van Drew. “We can’t encourage a mind-set in which the penalties for medical waste dumping are viewed as the cost of doing business for some unscrupulous individuals in the medical profession.”
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.
“There is a price-tag on beach closures, and the State DEP needs tools to recoup some of the lost revenues that New Jersey communities face when a beach needs to be closed down due to pollution,” said Senator Van Drew. “Adding stringent civil penalties to the existing criminal penalties for ocean dumping sends the message that New Jersey takes this sort of pollution seriously.”
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 who has always followed the rules when it comes to the safe disposal of medical waste, I was particularly incensed by the reports about this summer’s beach closings,” said Senator Van Drew, who maintains his own dental practice in Cape May County. “A vast majority of health care professionals who handle medical waste in New Jersey do the right thing, and dispose of it properly. For those who may be willing to endanger public health to save a few bucks, they should know that they potentially face serious fiscal penalties for their crimes.”
The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, before going to the full Senate for consideration.