The Eastern District of New York announced today that it had settled the civil lawsuit against the owner of a conglomerate of gas stations in New York and New Jersey for persistent pollution – a significant victory for the EDNY’s environmental justice unit, which launched last June.

In 2012, during an unannounced U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visit, an inspector found the Sunoco gas station located at 2664 Route 112, Medford, NY to be out of compliance in the handling of their gasoline storage. The facility and several like it owned by Genesis Petroleum, Inc. already had prior violations issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Over the next several years, this triggered a series of exchanges between the owner Adnan Kiriscioglu — once referred to as a “King of Gas Stations” — and the EPA that included deficient responses from the fuel provider that triggered more inspections, some of which were thwarted by the owner himself, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Genesis Petroleum, Inc. and its affiliated companies have now been fined $250,000 for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), a law that requires underground storage tank operators to manage and monitor leaks. Prosecutors say the companies’ mismanagement of underground storage tanks could have caused leaks at 13 gas stations in New York and New Jersey, many located in disadvantaged communities. The judgment will also extend to another 21 gas stations owned by Kiriscioglu. Gothamist contacted Kiriscioglu and his lawyer for comment, but so far, has received no response.

On top of the fine, Genesis will also have to be proactive in detecting leaks of petroleum products from underground storage tanks and implement safety measures across all their facilities. They will be subjected to frequent and rigid inspections of nearly 30 of their facilities for compliance.

Gas leaks often happen at gas stations when an underground tank overflows, when giant nozzles are removed during refilling or from overloaded pipes. Underground storage tanks are double-lined as an added safeguard. The tanks at Genesis’ facilities were found to be leaking and not equipped with the appropriate overspill protection. Prosecutors said gasoline was improperly stored on the premises and there was an absence of legally required records concerning the storage tanks.

The lawsuit against Genesis contains 10 different kinds of violations, with a total of 58 overall. These citations include failure to inspect, detect and report suspected leaks. The company also did not provide records and responses to requests for information from the EPA on 13 of their facilities, according to EDNY, and could not provide evidence of any financial responsibility on the part of Genesis in regards to maintaining their storage tanks.

Gasoline is highly flammable and toxic. When gasoline evaporates, it contributes to air pollution. It can also seep into groundwater through leaking underground storage tanks and pipelines via the soil, mostly through service stations. The benzene that makes up car fuel has been linked to cancer.

“That’s the major health concern,” said Markus Hilpert, an environmental health sciences professor at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “If the gasoline gets into the soil and to the underlying groundwater, it’s very hard to completely remediate oil-contaminated sites.”

He added that letting nature remediate these spills could take decades.

The locations of Genesis’ gas stations are in low-income communities of color, hence why the environmental justice team at the U.S. Attorney’s Office got involved during litigation. The team was formed in June 2021 with a focus on protecting the rights of citizens who live in areas where there is a disproportionate burden posed by environmental and health hazards.

President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14008, calling for the formation of environmental justice teams, paved the way for the group’s formation within the U.S. Attorney’s office. Its areas of focus are child lead exposure, clean air, and the protection of water and wetlands across New York City and Long Island. The team has filed three cases so far on behalf of disadvantaged communities.