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Court Finds Defendants Liable for Cleanup of Metal Bank Superfund Site in Philadelphia

Release Date: 1/24/2003
Contact Information: David Sternberg, (215) 814-5548

David Sternberg, (215) 814-5548

PHILADELPHIA - The federal court in Philadelphia ruled this week in favor of the United States in the government’s lawsuit over the cleanup of the Metal Bank Superfund Site, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

In an 84-page opinion in United States v. Union Corporation, et al., Civil Action No. 80-1589, U.S. District Judge James T. Giles ruled that the former and current site owners – Union Corporation, Metal Bank of America Inc., and Metal Bank owners and officers Irvin Schorsch and John Schorsch – are liable for the cleanup of the ten-acre site, located at 7301 Milnor Street in Philadelphia.

The Metal Bank site is located along the Delaware River in an industrial section of northeast Philadelphia. From 1968 to 1972, Metal Bank salvaged scrap metal and drained oil from used transformers to reclaim copper parts. These activities resulted in oil spills into the soil, groundwater, and river, and soil and groundwater contamination of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds. In 1983, the Metal Bank site was added to the Superfund “National Priorities List.”

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of EPA, has sued the current and former site owners and operators – Union Corporation, Metal Bank of America, and Metal Bank owners and officers Irvin Schorsch and John Schorsch – under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or “Superfund”) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Superfund and RCRA require parties responsible for contaminated sites to perform or pay for the cleanup.

In 1987, EPA identified additional potentially responsible parties. Ten of these parties, all utility companies, signed a 1991 agreement with EPA to investigate the site and evaluate cleanup options. EPA is currently working with these parties to design and implement the site cleanup.

The defendant site owners declined to participate in the cleanup process. In May 1998, the court lifted the stay on the original lawsuit and later ordered the trial to be conducted in three separate phases: Phase One would determine whether defendants are liable; Phase Two would determine the appropriate cleanup actions and the government’s recoverable costs; and Phase Three would determine the liability, if any, of the utilities and other third-party defendants.

Judge Giles presided over the Phase One trial for 16 days, between August 19 and September 24, 2002, with the government presenting12 witnesses and hundreds of trial exhibits on the site history and defendants’ liability.

In his January 21 opinion (received by the parties on January 23), Judge Giles ruled that the defendants were liable for the cleanup, and that the government incurred response costs in connection with the contamination. The court found that the reclamation operations at the Metal Bank site were “very sloppy...the Site operators did not regard the oil as posing any health risks and were not careful about transformer draining and storage procedures,” resulting in oil spills and soil contamination. In 1972, a leak or rupture from a 4,000 gallon underground storage tank (UST), located about 25 feet from the Delaware River, resulted in the release of a substantial amount of PCB-laden oil into the groundwater and river.

The court credited the government’s “considerable evidence” of actual or threatened releases of hazardous substances from the Metal Bank site, including the 1972 UST oil spill and consistent sampling results showing the presence of PCBs, VOCs, PAHs, dioxins, furans, arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury in the soil and groundwater. The court found that this evidence showed that contaminants are migrating into the Delaware River and nearby mudflats, “a relatively undisturbed and environmentally sensitive area, providing an attractive habitat for a wide variety of aquatic organisms, including plant life, invertebrates, fish and birds.”

The court concluded that site contamination constituted an“imminent and substantial endangerment” to human health and the environment, noting especially the risk to subsistence fisherman and other consumers of PCB contaminated fish and shellfish.

The court will hold a conference on February 19, 2003 to schedule the trial on Phase Two which will determine the appropriate cleanup actions and the+ government’s recoverable costs.