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EPA Orders Responsible Parties to Continue Palmerton Cleanup - 197 Minor Parties Agree to Contribute to Cost

Release Date: 12/20/1999
Contact Information: Ruth Podems (215) 814-5540

Ruth Podems (215) 814-5540

PALMERTON, Pa. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered four companies to continue cleanup of the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund site in Carbon County, a 2,000-acre site contaminated with hazardous waste. The order specifically requires that the companies complete the revegetation of nearby Blue Mountain.

The EPA sued the four companies in April 1998 for contaminating the site with several hazardous substances, including zinc, copper, lead, arsenic and cadmium. Most of the contamination is due to zinc-processing on the site which has taken place since 1898.

In a separate court proceeding, a federal district court has approved and entered a $4.7 million settlement with 197 parties who contributed small amounts of hazardous waste to the Palmerton site.

The Palmerton site was put on the EPA’s Superfund list of most hazardous sites and became eligible for federal cleanup in 1983. The Superfund law requires, however, that those responsible for environmental damage either perform the cleanup or pay for the cleanup performed by the EPA.

This unilateral administrative order requires that the parties responsible for the contamination continue the cleanup -- Horsehead Industries, Inc. and Horsehead Resource Development Company, Inc. (collectively Horsehead, the site’s current owner), Viacom International, Inc. and TCI Pacific Communications, Inc., the site’s prior owners from 1898 until 1981.

The site is comprised of several areas needing cleanup. The first is approximately 2,000 acres of Blue Mountain, where the plants and trees have died as a result of the soil contamination. So far, Zinc Corp. of America (a division of Horsehead) has revegetated approximately 1,000 acres. However, ZCA has refused to revegetate the remaining 1,000 acres. The unilateral order requires that the four companies complete the revegetation project on Blue Mountain to encompass all 2,000 acres.

The recipients of the order have until January 12, 2000, to notify EPA of their intention to comply. If the parties choose not to comply with the order, EPA can have a federal court enforce the order, or the EPA can perform the work and then sue the parties to recover the cost of the work, plus triple the cost as damages for not complying with the order.

The revegetation of Blue Mountain is only part of a comprehensive effort to repair environmental damage in the Palmerton area caused by over 80 years of zinc smelting and other industrial activities. Horsehead has agreed to carry out a plan to reduce pollution from a 2 -mile-long cinder bank composed of more than 30 million tons of smelter residue deposited along the base of Blue Mountain. The plan calls for diverting and treating runoff, to reduce the amount of pollutants entering nearby streams.

In addition, the EPA has completed a valley-wide ecological risk assessment on the Aquashicola Creek, nearby wetlands, aquatic life and wildlife. The risk assessment will serve as the basis for future cleanup plans. Finally, EPA has already cleaned up approximately 200 residential properties, excavating the soil and, in some cases, cleaning the interior of the homes.

Settlement with 197 Parties

The $4.7 million settlement will eliminate the potential legal liability of the 197 parties who sent metal-containing dust for zinc processing to other facilities owned by Horsehead. The material was ultimately sent to the Palmerton facility for additional processing. The dust, a waste product from steel mills containing more than 27 different metals and compounds, is regulated by EPA as a hazardous waste.

The settlement amount reflects EPA’s assessment of the parties’ collective share of cleanup costs at the site, however, the amount that each party must pay is based upon the volume of waste it contributed to the site. To receive a list of the 197 settling parties, call Ruth Podems at (215) 814-5540.