EPA Orders AVX Corp. to Clean Up New Bedford Harbor

EPA has issued an enforcement order to AVX Corp. to implement the ongoing cleanup work at New Bedford Harbor, including dredging PCB-contaminated sediment from the Harbor and disposing the dredged sediment to an appropriately licensed off-site facility, into a confined aquatic disposal cell in the Harbor, and into confined disposal facilities to be built along the shoreline.

The unilateral administrative order requires AVX to take action to remediate contamination in the Upper and Lower Harbor, and will provide more rapid protection of public health and the environment by addressing polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminated sediment at the New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site in New Bedford, Mass.  EPA has consulted with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in connection with the issuance of today’s order.

EPA is issuing the order under authority of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and pursuant to the terms of a prior settlement with AVX.  From the 1940’s to the 1970’s, AVX’s corporate predecessor, Aerovox Corp., owned and operated what is known as the Aerovox mill, an electrical capacitor manufacturing facility located on the western shore of New Bedford Harbor, from which it discharged hazardous substances including PCBs wastes into the Harbor.  EPA has determined that Aerovox Corp.’s facility was the primary source of PCBs released at and to the Harbor. 

Following a lawsuit, the United States (on behalf of EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts entered into a Consent Decree with AVX in 1992, requiring AVX’s payment of past and future response costs and natural resource damages, and reserving the governments’ legal rights against AVX through reopener provisions.

Following EPA’s 1998 issuance of the “Record of Decision” for the remediation of the Upper and Lower Harbor areas of the Superfund site, the Agency has been performing the remedial design and action work using settlement funds received from AVX and other settling defendants to finance this work.  The funds were depleted in 2004.  As of Dec. 31, 2011, approximately $456 million has been spent on all aspects of the cleanup at the New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site, with the vast majority of these funds from the federal government’s Hazardous Substance Superfund.  EPA estimates that the net present value of additional costs required to complete the Upper and Lower Harbor cleanup may be as much as $401 million.

Since 2008, EPA and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have engaged in discussions with AVX concerning the company’s remaining liabilities at the Harbor site and for the Aerovox mill site.  As a result, under a 2010 settlement agreement with EPA, AVX agreed to dismantle and remove building debris relating to the cleanup of the Aerovox mill.  An agreement has not been reached for the Harbor site; however, EPA’s enforcement order includes a delayed effective date of sixty days to provide AVX an opportunity to continue discussions with the governments concerning the extent to which AVX would pay for and/or perform the cleanup of the Harbor site.  EPA will continue to perform the remediation as long as Superfund funds are available until responsibility for the site cleanup passes to AVX under the administrative order or a settlement agreement.

“In keeping with EPA’s long-standing ‘polluter pays’ principle, because Aerovox Corp. was responsible for a significant volume of PCBs that now contaminate New Bedford Harbor, AVX is obligated to play a major role in the cleanup,” said Curt Spalding, the regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “We are hopeful that this step will allow cleanup work to continue much faster than it currently is, and we will more rapidly be able to ensure that both human health and ecological health are being protected from exposure to PCBs in New Bedford Harbor.”

PCBs are mixtures of up to 209 individual synthetic chlorinated compounds that are chemically stable, adsorb onto sediment particles readily and are resistant to biodegradation.  PCBs are characterized as a probable carcinogen in humans.

Fish, lobster, quahog and other seafood from New Bedford Harbor and the Acushnet River contain high levels of PCBs.  In 1979, the Mass. Dept. of Public Health issued restrictions on fishing and lobstering based on health risks from eating fish and lobster from the 18,000-acre New Bedford Harbor and Acushnet River estuary.  EPA has issued additional health advisories regarding seafood consumption from the Harbor that can be found at:  http://www.epa.gov/nbh/seafood.html

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