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Alcan Aluminum Pays EPA $14 Million in Landmark Superfund Case

Release Date: 03/24/2004
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(#04043) NEW YORK, N.Y. A landmark Superfund case was put to bed this week when Alcan Aluminum Corporation paid the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) almost $14 million to cover past cleanup costs and interest for the Pollution Abatement Services (PAS) site in Oswego, New York and the Fulton Terminals site in Fulton, New York.

"Alcan fought EPA for nearly two decades on this historic case, but we persevered," said EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny. "Other responsible parties settled long ago with EPA to perform work and pay response costs for the PAS and Fulton sites. Now that Alcan, the lone recalcitrant party, has made its court- ordered payment, the Superfund has been repaid for these two sites. This is another example of the polluter pays principle."

In 1987, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit on behalf of EPA against Alcan that was ultimately decided when the Supreme Court denied a petition for review in January of this year. New York State, a co-plaintiff, is also receiving $1.4 million to cover its past costs and interest.

EPA recovered approximately 75 percent of cleanup costs from other companies that contributed to pollution at the PAS site in 1987, but Alcan refused to participate in that settlement. The United States filed suit against Alcan in 1987. The District Court for the Northern District of New York issued a decision in EPA's favor in 1991, holding Alcan liable for the Agency's costs. Alcan appealed the decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1993, the Second Circuit found Alcan liable, but sent the case back to the District Court to allow Alcan the opportunity to show that the harm caused by its oil/water wastes, containing heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), was divisible from the harm caused by other wastes at the site.

Alcan sent similar wastes to the Fulton Terminals site, and the U.S. filed a separate cost recovery case against the company for that site in 1991. The two cases were joined and a trial was held in 1999. The District Court held that Alcan did not prove that the harm caused by its wastes was divisible from the harm caused by others. As a result, Alcan was held to be jointly and severally liable for all of EPA's remaining response costs, including all the interest that had accrued over the years for both sites. Alcan appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. On January 7, 2003, the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision which had found Alcan liable to the United States for $12,201,929.30, and liable to the State of New York for $1,422,155.39. Since the 2000 District Court decision, $1.7 million in additional interest has accrued. Alcan petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case in September 2003. The U.S. Supreme Court ended what had been a 17-year legal battle to recover costs when it denied Alcan's petition on January 12, 2004.

The PAS site is a 15-acre former chemical waste incineration facility that operated from 1970 to 1977, during which period PAS experienced various operational problems. Soil at the site was contaminated with PCBs. Ground water was contaminated with heavy metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Sludge that was contained in lagoons on the site was contaminated with PCBs and heavy metals. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, EPA constructed a dam to prevent contaminated sludge and water in the lagoon from spreading, treated and removed the sludge and water from the lagoons, removed more than 10,000 drums from the site and demolished the buildings. EPA also pumped 500,000 gallons of ground water from the site and sent it off-site to be treated. The Agency placed the site on the National Priorities List in September 1983. EPA and New York State excavated and removed some contaminated soils, removed underground tanks and the remaining drums, capped the site and installed a system to collect contaminated leachate. The cooperating responsible parties conducted studies and assumed responsibility for the long-term operation, maintenance and monitoring of the cleanup activities selected by EPA. The work at the site is almost complete. Leachate is periodically removed from the site and the ground water is being monitored.

The 1.5-acre Fulton Terminals site served as a storage area for large amounts of hazardous waste scheduled for incineration at PAS from 1972 until 1977. The site's ground water and soil were contaminated with VOCs. EPA also listed this site on the National Priorities List in September 1983. The Agency fenced the site, removed four storage tanks and storm drains that conveyed contaminated runoff to the Oswego River, and removed about 300 cubic yards of visibly-contaminated soil. The cooperating responsible parties entered into a consent decree in 1991 to cleanup the site. The contaminated soil was excavated down to the water table and treated on-site to remove the VOCs, and the contaminated ground water at the site was extracted and treated until it met drinking water standards. The cleanup of the site was completed in September 1999. Monitoring of the ground water began the following year and continues to date.