Company Agrees to $23.4 Million Settlement Related to Texas Superfund Site

EPEC Polymers Inc. agreed to an estimated $23.4 million settlement for cleanup of the Petro-Chemical Systems Inc. Superfund site in Liberty County, Texas, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and EPA announced on March 20.

The company, headquartered in Houston, Texas, will perform investigation and cleanup work estimated to cost $13.4 million at as part of a settlement lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. In addition, EPEC will reimburse EPA for $6.9 million of its past costs and approximately $3.1 million for costs incurred after July 31, 2004. A portion of the payments will be used to fund EPA's oversight of cleanup activity at the site, which is also known as the "Turtle Bayou site." The balance will be paid into the Superfund, a revolving fund established by Congress and used to pay for cleanups at such sites.

DOJ sued EPEC in 2002 to secure cleanup work and recover costs on behalf of EPA under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA -- the Superfund law). EPEC's corporate predecessor, Tenneco Chemicals, disposed of wastes at the site that were generated from its vinyl chloride monomer facility in Pasadena, Texas. The federal government had filed an earlier lawsuit in 1994 in connection with the same site against other parties including Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) and ARCO Chemical Co. (ACC). That earlier suit was resolved in 1998 by a settlement that required those companies to perform substantial cleanup work. The agreement reached on March 20 with EPEC requires the cleanup of virtually all the remaining contamination at the site.

"Vigorous enforcement of the Superfund program should secure the performance of work by responsible parties and reimbursement of cleanup costs expended by the EPA. That is exactly what this settlement accomplishes," said Matthew J. McKeown, acting assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environmental and Natural Resources Division. "This agreement takes an important step towards completing the cleanup of this longstanding Superfund site."

The site is located approximately 15 miles southeast of the city of Liberty and 65 miles northeast of Houston. Land use in the area near the Turtle Bayou site is divided among crop-land, pasture, range, forest and small rural communities. In the late 1960s, the past owners of the Turtle Bayou site, Donald R. Lang and Wallis W. Smith, allowed waste transport companies to use the Turtle Bayou Site for illegal disposal of wastes until about 1979.

EPA and the state's response actions at the site included cleanup of contamination from 1987 until 1988 along the then unpaved Frontier Park Road, which runs through the site. This work included excavation and on-site containment of 5900 cubic yards of highly contaminated soil. In 1998, EPA selected cleanup remedies for the other areas of known contamination at the site. Some of those remedies were performed by ARCO and ACC under the 1998 consent decree. The major components of the remedy for contaminated soil were soil vapor extraction, catalytic thermal destruction of the extracted vapor, and groundwater sparging. When all work is completed and costs fully reimbursed, the total expenditures for the Turtle Bayou site are likely to exceed $59 million.

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

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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