Environmental Protection

Judge Orders Apex Oil to Remediate Refinery Site

Apex Oil Co. Inc. has been ordered to remediate extensive soil and groundwater contamination from its former refinery operations in Hartford, Ill., the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced recently.

In a decision issued on July 28, 2008, Chief Judge David R. Herndon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois ordered Apex Oil Company Inc. to clean up the contamination, at an expected cost of at least $150 million. The court's decision is based on evidence presented at a five-week trial in January and February 2008, in a federal lawsuit filed by the Justice Department and EPA.

The soil and groundwater beneath Hartford has been contaminated with more than one million gallons of leaded gasoline and other petroleum products from refinery and pipeline leaks and spills. For years, Hartford residents have been forced to evacuate when vapors emanating from that contamination have seeped into homes and public buildings.

The court ruled that Apex Oil was responsible for multiple leaks and spills that contributed to the contamination beneath Hartford. The evidence also showed that the pollution amounts to an "imminent and substantial endangerment" to human health and the environment under the federal waste management law, known as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

At the government's request, the judge ordered Apex Oil to begin work promptly on the final soil and groundwater remedy for Hartford, in accordance with a formal cleanup plan that has already been approved by EPA. That cleanup plan will require installation of an extensive liquid and vapor extraction system to remove and treat petroleum hydrocarbon contamination that is smeared into soils and floating atop the groundwater beneath the village.

Preliminary cleanup work in Hartford began under a 2004 agreement that EPA negotiated with four other oil companies Shell Oil, Valero Energy, BP Amoco, and Sinclair Oil.

The Justice Department filed suit against Apex Oil in 2005 after the company refused to assist with that cleanup effort. Apex Oil is the legal successor to Clark Oil and Refining Corp., which owned a refinery next to the Village of Hartford from 1967 to 1988. Apex Oil currently operates as a privately-owned oil trading firm, headquartered in Clayton, Mo.

Although the other oil companies that contributed to the contamination were not named as defendants in the government's lawsuit against Apex Oil, the judge's ruling against Apex Oil makes clear that it does not relieve those other companies of their joint responsibility for all remaining cleanup work, including ongoing work required under their 2004 agreement with EPA.

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