The value of the cleanup work is estimated at $92 million
The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed settlement with several companies to address the Pohatcong Valley Groundwater Contamination Superfund site in Warren County, N.J. The companies are Pechiney Plastic Packaging Inc., Albea Americas Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Citigroup Inc. and Rexam Beverage Can Co. The Pohatcong site is contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), which can have serious health effects.
Under the proposed settlement, Pechiney will have primary responsibility for cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater at the site, connecting some residents to public water to avoid contaminated groundwater, and operating systems to capture vapors that are getting into a manufacturing facility. As a precaution, the company will continue to monitor for vapor intrusion into homes at the site. In addition, the EPA will receive an estimated $29.5 million for certain past costs and be paid for its future oversight costs at the site. Pechiney will also perform current and future cleanup work estimated to cost $62.5 million, and will pay EPA’s future oversight costs.
EPA added the Pohatcong site to the Superfund list in 1989 because of elevated levels of volatile organic contaminants including TCE and PCE in the groundwater. These contaminants, both of which can have serious health impacts (including liver damage and increased risk of cancer), were detected in public supply wells, which are now treated to meet drinking water standards before the water is distributed. The site includes a contaminated groundwater plume that is approximately ten miles long and approximately one and a half miles wide, nearly 9,800 acres.
As part of the settlement, EPA will recover civil penalties from Pechiney to resolve allegations that Pechiney violated a previous EPA order by failing to make satisfactory progress on a portion of the cleanup at the site. Pechiney will pay a cash penalty of $282,000. Pechiney will also restore and preserve approximately 60 acres of land, valued at $1.1 million, in Warren County through a Supplemental Environmental Project. This land will be converted to native grassland and will become part of the Morris Canal Greenway. The land will be managed by Warren County through its existing relationship with the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg, a “second chance” program for young adults that provides opportunities to earn a GED while providing a valuable service to the community.
“This agreement will address a legacy of contaminated groundwater and soil in Warren County that exposed this community to dangerous health risks,” said John C. Cruden, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Div. “The settlement will help ensure residents have access to clean drinking water, require Pechinery to restore and preserve valuable native grasslands, and pay for millions in past cleanup costs.”
“The settlement advances our cleanup and will help protect drinking water as well as safeguard people’s health,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. “The remaining cleanup work at the Pohatcong Valley site will proceed and an area of open space that can be enjoyed by members of the public will be restored and preserved.”
Because of the size and complexity of the site, EPA divided the site into three parts. The settlement covers work in all three portions of the site.
The first part is a large area of groundwater contamination located in Washington Borough. Residents of this area do not drink the groundwater because they receive drinking water from a public water supply that meets drinking water standards. For this part of the site, the EPA finalized a 2006 plan to pump out the contaminated groundwater and treat it using a technology that will strip out the pollutants by blowing air through the contaminated water to separate out the chemicals. The resulting clean water will be pumped back into the ground. An engineering design is underway to carry out this remedy. EPA is also performing a pump and treat remedy for a portion of the groundwater that is primarily contaminated with PCE. Some of the proceeds recovered through the settlement will fund this part of the site cleanup.
The second area of the site includes contaminated ground water in Franklin and Greenwich Townships. There is no public water supply currently available in most of this area and drinking water wells that are impacted by contamination have received individual treatment systems to provide clean drinking water. For this area, the EPA is requiring the construction of water lines to provide potable water. The engineering design for this part of the project in ongoing.
The third part of the site is the contaminated soil and sediment in and around the former American National Can facility in Washington Township. The EPA has determined that the primary source of TCE contamination in this area is the former American National Can facility, which was owned and operated by Pechiney in the 1990s and is currently owned and operated by Albea Americas, Inc. EPA is continuing to investigate this contamination. Pechiney has agreed to perform the cleanup on Albea’s property, and the parties have reserved the issue of who will be responsible for remaining cleanup activities in this area.
In 2013, the EPA’s indoor air sampling of the Albea Americas facility showed unacceptable levels of TCE. The EPA worked with Albea to take actions to protect workers from exposure to potentially cancer-causing gases by reducing the levels of toxic contaminants in the air in the facility to safe levels. These steps included building a system that removes harmful chemicals from soil by extracting them in vapor form with a vacuum and then filtering the vapors through carbon filters to remove contaminants. The EPA will be reimbursed for this work through the settlement.
The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. The EPA searches for parties legally responsible for the contamination at sites, and it seeks to hold those parties accountable for the costs of investigations and cleanups. Under today’s settlement, the parties responsible for the site are paying for or performing the cleanup work.
The proposed settlement will be subject to a 30-day public comment period upon the publication of a notice in the Federal Register.
The settlement requires approval by the United States District Court before becoming final.