Environmental Protection

Five Companies Pay for Damages from Palmerton Zinc Pile

Five companies have agreed to compensate the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania nearly $21.4 million in cash and valuable property to address natural resource damages resulting from decades of zinc smelting operations at the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund site in northeast Pennsylvania, the Justice Department and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania announced on Aug. 3. The settlement is the largest natural resource damage settlement to date in Pennsylvania.

CBS Operations Inc., TCI Pacific Communications Inc., CBS/Westinghouse of Pa. Inc., HH Liquidating Corp. and HRD Liquidating Corp., agreed to pay $9.875 million and transfer 1,200 acres, known as the Kings Manor property and valued at approximately $8.72 million, to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The companies’ cash payment will be deposited into the U.S. Department of the Interior's Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Trust Fund to be used to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent of natural resources injured as a result of releases of hazardous substances at the Palmerton Zinc site.

In addition, the companies agreed to pay $2.5 million for damage assessment costs and to discharge a mortgage worth $300,000 on the Wildlife Information Center (Lehigh Gap Nature Center), a non-profit conservation and environmental education organization, located at the Lehigh Gap. "The funds and property recovered from this settlement will result in a cleaner, restored environment to counteract the damages that were incurred as a result of the years of harmful emissions from smelter operations," said John C. Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This settlement is a result of a cooperative effort by federal and state trustees."

The settlement will resolve claims under the Comprehensive Environmental Response and Compensation Act, also known as the Superfund law, the Clean Water Act and the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, under which federal and state trustees of natural resources are authorized to seek compensation for damages to resources that are injured by releases of hazardous substances.

The Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site consists of a broad area impacted by emissions of contaminants from historic zinc smelting operations and more recent zinc-recovery operations at a plant site located 25 miles north of Allentown, Pa., in Palmerton, Pa. Over 90 years of smelting operations by the former New Jersey Zinc Co., emitted hazardous materials including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, manganese and zinc into the surrounding environment through air emissions and the release of solid wastes.

Large quantities of the hazardous materials were carried by wind and deposited over surrounding areas resulting in defoliation and contamination of thousands of acres throughout the ridge and valley area of eastern Pennsylvania. The National Park Service owns and maintains approximately 800 acres of land that has been acquired to protect the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in this area, which winds along the Blue Mountain ridge and through the associated gaps. The Pennsylvania Game Commission also owns several thousand acres of State Game Lands on Blue Mountain. Hazardous materials subsequently contaminated several miles of Aquashicola Creek and the Lehigh River as a result of erosion, surface runoff, and shallow groundwater contamination.

CBS/Westinghouse of Pa. Inc., is a current owner of a portion of the site. CBS Operations Inc., TCI Pacific Communications Inc., HH Liquidating Corp. and HRD Liquidating Corp., are successors of the zinc smelting and zinc recovery operators.

The trustees in this case include: the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, is subject to a 60-day comment period and final court approval. The consent decree is available on the Justice Department Web site at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

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