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EPA Finalizes Settlement with Companies for Cleanup at Mercury Refining Superfund Site in Albany County; Value of Cleanup Work Estimated at $9 million

Release Date: 08/07/2012
Contact Information: Larisa Romanowski, (518) 747-4389, romanowski.larisa@epa.gov

      (New York, N.Y.) Five companies considered responsible for contamination at the Mercury Refining Superfund site have reached a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do work needed to clean up the Mercury Refining Superfund site in the Towns of Colonie and Guilderland, New York. Under the terms of the legal agreement, the Gillette Company, KeySpan Gas East Corp., Energizer Battery Manufacturing, Inc., Union Carbide Corporation and Spectrum Brands, Inc. will address soil, sediment, and ground water contaminated with mercury. Mercury is an extremely toxic metal that can cause health problems, especially in children. Exposure to mercury can harm the heart, kidneys, lungs, immune and nervous systems. In addition, the settlement provides for 19 federal agencies and 46 additional entities also responsible for the contamination to make payments into an escrow account to fund the cleanup work at the site. The current owner of the site is also part of the settlement and will take responsibility for land use restrictions to be put into place at the site.

      “This agreement allows EPA to finish the important work that began several years ago to clean up the site so that people and the environment are protected,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. “The agreement also ensures that the parties responsible for the contamination at the site will also be held accountable for cleaning it up at their own expense, rather than at the expense of taxpayers.”

      From the 1950’s until 1998, mercury from batteries and other materials, such as thermometers, pressure regulators, and electrical devices, was recovered, refined, and marketed by the Mercury Refining Company. Through the reclamation process, mercury contaminated the site, including soil and stormwater draining off the site and into an unnamed tributary to the Patroon Creek. Mercury reclamation activities ended at the site in 1998; however, some precious metal recovery continues today.

      In 1983, the Mercury Refining site was placed on the federal Superfund list. Until 1999, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation oversaw various cleanup actions at the site. The EPA assumed the lead for the cleanup in 1999. After an extensive investigation and evaluation of various options for cleanup of the site, the EPA selected its final cleanup plan for the site in 2008. That plan requires a combination of soil excavation and treatment of the soil and ground water. The design work for that cleanup plan is underway and is expected to be completed by the spring of 2013.

      Under the agreement announced today, the five companies will conduct the cleanup work at the site. Contaminated soil at the surface, which is more easily accessible to people, will be excavated and taken off-site to a secure facility. Contaminated soil that is deeper will be treated using a technology that treats the contaminated soil and ground water by locking the mercury in a mixture of Portland cement and another agent, preventing it from moving into the surrounding soil and ground water. In addition, the cleanup plan calls for the removal of contaminated sediment from a tributary to Patroon Creek, which receives rainwater runoff from the Mercury Refining property. Water will be removed from the excavated creek sediment and disposed of at an off-site landfill. According to the agreement, the owner of the site, 26 Railroad Ave, Inc., will be responsible for taking action to secure legal land use restrictions to ensure that people aren’t exposed to contaminants on-site and to ensure that the treated soil and groundwater is not disturbed. The five primary companies will be ultimately responsible for conducting all the cleanup work called for in EPA’s cleanup plan.

      The value of the cleanup work to be performed under the agreement is estimated at $9.3 million.

      Superfund is the federal cleanup program established in 1980 to investigate and cleanup the country’s most hazardous sites. The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. When sites are placed on the Superfund list, the EPA looks for parties responsible for the pollution and requires them to pay for the cleanups.

      The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period, which will begin shortly, upon the publication of a notice in the Federal Register. Comments should be addressed to the Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division, and either emailed to pubcomment-ees.enrd@usdoj.gov or mailed to P.O. Box 7611, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 20044-7611, and should refer to United States of America v. The Gillette Company, et al., Civil Action No. 1:12-cv-01247-MAD-TWD, D.J. Ref. 90-11-2-07742/7. During the public comment period, the proposed Consent Decree may be examined on the following Department of Justice website, http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html. The settlement requires approval by the United States District Court before becoming final.

      Further information about the Mercury Refining Superfund site can be found at: http://epa.gov/region2/superfund/mercuryrefining/.

      Follow the EPA Region 2 on Twitter at http://twitter.com/eparegion2 and visit our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/eparegion2.

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