Federal, State Officials Reach Settlement With DuPont, Ciba To Restore Wetlands Habitat in Delaware

The federal government and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control reached an agreement with chemical companies DuPont and Ciba to resolve claims relating to the release of hazardous substances from the DuPont Newport Superfund site (Newport), which contaminated wetlands in and around the Christina River ecosystem.

DuPont and Ciba will pay more than $1.6 million for cleanup costs, natural resource damages and restoration projects to the federal and state trustees, which include the state of Delaware, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under the agreement, lodged on Sept. 29 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, DuPont and Ciba will purchase an "environmental covenant," allowing them to set aside for protection 56 acres of private land, known as the Pike Property, located along the Delaware Bay, for restoration projects identified in the federal and state agencies' Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan (DARP). Dupont and Ciba will pay costs associated with implementation of the restoration projects in the DARP; pay Damage Assessment Costs incurred by the trustees; and pay a damage claim to Delaware for injury caused to groundwater.

"This settlement will result in significant habitat improvements in the Mispillion River ecosystem -- home to many valuable natural resources, such as blue crab, Atlantic herring, spot, and striped bass," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department's (DOJ) Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The Justice Department will continue to work cooperatively with state and federal agencies to ensure our environmental laws are enforced and our resources protected."

"By working cooperatively, the agencies and DuPont quickly reached agreement on an innovative restoration strategy that will ensure protection of natural resources in perpetuity through the use of conservation easements," said John H. Dunnigan, assistant administrator for NOAA's National Ocean Service. "We are satisfied that a cooperative natural resource injury assessment and restoration approach benefits industry, the community, and most importantly, the environment."

"The highlight of this process was the cooperative nature of the negotiations," according to Marvin E. Moriarty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast regional director. "Both the trustees and DuPont worked toward a common restoration goal, and Dupont deserves credit for going beyond the basic requirements to the benefit of our natural resources."

"Ecological restoration is a fundamental goal for our agency," said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary John A. Hughes. "Wetland habitats are particularly vulnerable to degradation by human activity. I'm pleased that in addition to the work already completed at the Newport site and wetlands, this settlement will protect and restore wetland habitat in the Mispillion and improve biodiversity in the entire ecosystem of the river."

For the past 100 years, the DuPont Newport Superfund site has been used in various chemical manufacturing operations. The site is the location of a paint pigment plant and two inactive industrial landfills. In the late 1970s, DuPont built a second facility at the Newport site in order to expand its chromium dioxide production, and in 1984, DuPont sold part of the Newport facility to Ciba, which continues to produce pigment at the Newport facility. As a result of its history of manufacturing operations, the site became heavily contaminated with various hazardous substances, including heavy metals (particularly arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead and zinc) and volatile organic compounds.

For several years starting in the late 1980s, DuPont worked under orders issued by the U.S. EPA to clean up the Newport site by doing such things as excavating contaminated soils; capping landfills; restoring wetlands; recovering and treating groundwater; excavating and consolidating contaminated soils, dredging and monitoring the Christina River; installing a groundwater barrier wall along the north bank of the Christina River; and paving sections within the contaminated plant areas.

Additionally, DuPont evaluated and incorporated additional restoration measures beyond the cleanup to restore wetlands at the Newport site. Restoration of the Newport wetlands has vastly improved the functional capacity of this habitat to support fish communities in the Christina River, officials said. The installation of a water control structure has successfully created a tidal open water habitat that maintains a continuous pool of water within the North Wetland and allows for tidal flushing back into dense and diverse marsh vegetation. The removal of dense stands of Phragmites in the South Wetland, coupled with the restoration of drainage systems, has successfully created a tidally contiguous, open water habitat that regularly inundates the surrounding vegetation. Overall, post-remedial data demonstrates that the North and South Wetlands have been successfully restored to a level where the aquatic habitat now functions as an integral part of fisheries development and recruitment within the Christina River Watershed.

The consent decree will be subject to a 30-day public comment period and subsequent judicial approval. It is available on DOJ's Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.