Settlement Will Lead To Contaminated Industrial Site's Cleanup
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has approved a settlement resolving the government's lawsuit over the cleanup of the Metal Bank Superfund site in Philadelphia -- ending a quarter century of litigation.
Under a consent decree approved by U.S. District Judge James T. Giles, several parties that the government alleged were responsible for the contamination at the former scrap metal and recycling facility are required to implement or fund an $18 million cleanup at the 10-acre site in Philadelphia, EPA announced on March 16.
The Metal Bank site is located along the Delaware River in an industrial section of northeast Philadelphia. From 1968 to1972, 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. Soil and groundwater were contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds. The site was added to the Superfund National Priorities List in 1983.
In litigation beginning in1980, the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of EPA, had sued the Metal Bank site owners and operators (Union Corporation, Metal Bank of America, and Metal Bank owners and officers Irvin Schorsch and John Schorsch - collectively "Metal Bank Defendants") 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.
EPA subsequently identified several other parties who were potentially liable for the cleanup, including 11 utility companies which had sent PCB-contaminated transformers to the site. In 1991, these utility companies signed an agreement with EPA to conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study to investigate site conditions and cleanup options. In 1998, after the remedial investigation documented widespread contamination, EPA ordered the Metal Bank defendants and utility companies to implement an EPA-approved cleanup plan. However, final implementation of this cleanup plan was delayed by continuing litigation over liability and cleanup issues.
In January 2003, after a 16-day trial, the federal court found that the Metal Bank defendants were liable for the site cleanup, crediting the government's "considerable evidence" of actual or threatened releases of hazardous substances from the site. 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."
After the corporate Metal Bank defendants filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in May 2003, EPA reached a settlement with these defendants requiring them to pay up to $13.23 million to fund the site cleanup.
The settlement involving both the individual Metal Bank defendants (Irvin Schorsch and John Schorsch) and the utilities, requires the utilities to implement a comprehensive cleanup of the site, at an estimated cost of $18 million, including:
- The excavation and removal of contaminated soils.
- The removal of an underground storage tank.
- Backfilling and capping of soil excavation areas.
- Installation of a permanent sheet pile wall around the bend of the southwest corner of the site adjacent to the Delaware River.
- Excavation and removal of contaminated sediments within the reach of land-based equipment.
- Isolation of the remaining river sediments under an underwater sediment cap.
- Implementation of a groundwater and sediment monitoring plan to assure continued efficacy of the remedy. As part of the settlement, defendant Irvin Schorsch has agreed to pay up to $9 million of cleanup costs, and to guarantee $2 million of the obligations of the corporate defendants under the bankruptcy settlement. Defendant John Schorsch has also agreed to contribute $600,000 toward the cleanup.
For more information about the Metal Bank Superfund site, go to http://www.epa.gov/reg3hwmd/npl/PAD046557096.htm.
This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.