USA: DuPont must pay for mercury contamination in Virginia riversPublished by MAC on 2017-01-22
Source: News Leader, Associated Press
Chemical giant DuPont will pay more than $50 million, but admit no fault, under a proposed environmental settlement, following its release of toxic mercury that made its way over decades into the Shenandoah Valley waterways.
The pollution impacted over 100 miles of river and thousands of acres of floodplain and riparian habitat, affecting fish, mussels, migratory birds and amphibians, the Department of Justice said in a statement. It also limited recreational fishing in Waynesboro, a city of about 20,000 in the Shenandoah Valley. The popular waterway had its reputation tarnished in the 1970s when mercury was discovered in the flood plains near the South River by the former DuPont plant.
This is the largest environmental damage settlement in Virginia history and the eighth largest in the nation.
See previous on MAC: 2006-03-08 Mercury Levels Still High in Virginia Rivers
DuPont to pay $50M for mercury contamination in Virginia rivers
The Associated Press - http://www.providencejournal.
Dec. 15, 2016
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Chemical giant DuPont will pay more than $50 million but admit no fault under a proposed environmental settlement after releasing toxic mercury for decades that made its way into Shenandoah Valley waterways, authorities announced Thursday.
The deal would resolve alleged violations of civil environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act, related to the pollution from a company factory in Waynesboro. It would amount to the largest environmental damage settlement in Virginia history and the eighth largest in the nation, officials said. The money would go to projects including wildlife habitat restoration, water quality enhancement and improvements to recreational areas.
"In bringing this settlement to a close, we are finally righting a wrong that has impacted the South River and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River for so many decades," Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at a news conference announcing the settlement.
Wilmington, Delaware-based Dupont Co. used mercury in its process of making synthetic fiber at the plant between 1929 and 1950, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. Strict storage and disposal regulations weren't in place at the time, and some of the mercury seeped into the South River and flowed downstream to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.
DuPont discovered the mercury - which accumulates in fish and is especially dangerous to pregnant or breastfeeding women and young children - in the facility's soil in 1976, officials say.
The pollution impacted over 100 miles of river and thousands of acres of floodplain and riparian habitat, affecting fish, mussels, migratory birds and amphibians, the Department of Justice said in a statement. The pollution also has limited some recreational fishing in Waynesboro, a city of about 20,000 in the Shenandoah Valley.
The terms of the settlement are outlined in a proposed consent decree that was filed in federal court in Harrisonburg on Thursday. It is subject to a 45-day public comment period and must be approved by the court.
The amount of money proposed is "quite impressive," but mercury is very persistent in the environment and very difficult to remove, said Dr. Thomas Benzing, a professor of integrated science and technology at James Madison University who works with a team of researchers monitoring the mercury levels since 2001.
If the settlement goes forward, DuPont would pay slightly more than $42 million toward projects including streamside plantings and erosion control to improve water quality and fish habitat; mussel propagation and restoration; migratory songbird habitat restoration and protection; and recreational fishing access creation or improvement.
The company also will pay for renovations at the Front Royal Fish Hatchery to improve production of warm-water fish such as smallmouth bass, at an estimated cost of up to $10 million.
"Every dollar is going to be used to clean up the land, the source issues and the water, to where it would have been" if not for the pollution, said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden of the Justice Department's Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
No one from DuPont - which is awaiting final regulatory approval for its merger with Dow Chemical in a deal to create DowDuPont, a $130 billion conglomerate - spoke at the announcement.
But Mike Liberati, South River project director for the DuPont Corporate Remediation Group, said in a statement that DuPont "is committed to a long-term presence in the Waynesboro area and to maintaining transparency with its citizens."
The first phase of remediation, involving part of the riverbank in Waynesboro's Constitution Park could be complete in February. Soil there containing the highest concentrations of mercury is being excavated and hauled away and replaced by clean topsoil, Liberati said.
$50 million South River settlement reached with DuPont
Dec. 15, 2016
RICHMOND - An approximately $50 million settlement has been reached between the state and DuPont over the release of mercury into the South River from the company's former facility in Waynesboro, according to an announcement from Gov. Terry McAuliffe Thursday.
This is the largest natural resource damage settlement in Virginia's history and will provide a cash payment of about $42 million to government natural resource trustees "who will oversee the implementation of projects compensating the public for the natural resource injuries and associated losses in ecological and recreational services, such as fishing access," according to the release. The other $10 million or so from the settlement will go toward Front Royal Fish Hatchery renovations.
The city of Waynesboro is included amongst the beneficiaries of these funds, which Vice Mayor Terry Short said he found very exciting, as he was previously worried Waynesboro would be left out of the settlement.
"I think 90 days ago, the word on the street as we were hearing it, we were not even being contemplated as a beneficiary," he said. "That is clearly not the case."
He and fellow Councilman Pete Marks, as well as Waynesboro City Manager Mike Hamp, attended the governor's press conference in Richmond, Short said, expressing appreciation that McAuliffe and Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward were engaged with Waynesboro's stake in this issue.
“We are energized, we are cautiously optimistic about what the settlement means for the community," Short said. "We’re ground zero and it’s important that we’re a prominent beneficiary."
The legacy of the South River
There will be a public meeting at the Waynesboro Public Library on Jan. 10, 2017, in which the trustees of the funds will summarize key components of the draft restoration plan, answer questions and consider public comments before preparing the final restoration plan and environmental assessment, aimed at compensating the public for "the injured natural resources and their uses," according to the release. Short said he implores citizens of Waynesboro to participate in this process and attend the meeting, which will be held in the library's lower level meeting room from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The trustees will work with government partners at the local, state and federal level, as well as landowners and nonprofits to implement projects they've worked since 2005 to assess and identify to "benefit natural resources affected by mercury releases from the DuPont facility," according to the release. Proposed projects include:
- land protection, property acquisition, improvements to recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat restoration
- improvements to water quality and fish habitat through activities such as streamside plantings and erosion control, as well as stormwater pond improvements
- mussel propagation and restoration to improve water quality, stabilize sediment and enhance stream bottom structure
- Front Royal Fish Hatchery renovations to improve production of warm-water fish such as smallmouth bass
- recreational fishing access creation or improvement
- migratory songbird habitat restoration and protection
“Fish, wildlife, land and waters, as well as the city of Waynesboro and other communities affected by decades of mercury release, will benefit from natural resource projects improving water and stream quality, protecting and restoring wildlife habitat and increasing river access for recreation," said Wendi Weber, northeast regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in the release.
The popular fishing and recreational waterway in Waynesboro had its reputation tarnished in the 1970s when mercury was discovered in the flood plains near the South River by the former DuPont plant, which had used mercury as a catalyst in its factory production.
In 1977, DuPont notified the EPA, the Virginia Department of Health and the State Water Control, which in turn put a ban on eating fish in 130 miles of the river and was later dropped to an eating advisory in the 1980s.
In the 1990s, no changes were recorded in the river, but by 2000, the South River Science Team — made up of DuPont, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality — was organized to study the river and take action.
Then this September, Waynesboro City Council approved easements in order for DuPont to begin a rehab of the riverbanks.
South River team to tackle mercury problem
"In keeping with its long history of cooperation with, and participation in, government initiatives, and its ongoing support of the local community, DuPont’s is committed to a long-term presence in the Waynesboro area and to maintaining transparency with its citizens," said Mike Liberati, South River project director for the DuPont Corporate Remediation Group, in a statement on the settlement.
Currently, the South River from the former DuPont plant to Port Republic has a restriction of only eating released trout. Other portions of the South River and the south fork of the Shenandoah River have a restriction of no more than two meals of fish per month out of the river for those who are pregnant, may become pregnant or young children.
“Clean air, water and land are environmental priorities and economic assets that make Virginia a great place to live, work and raise a family,” said Attorney General Mark Herring of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the release. “We have an obligation to protect these assets for future generations and this record-setting settlement shows that we take our responsibilities seriously. This settlement will allow us to protect and enhance lands throughout the Shenandoah Valley and improve the quality of water for wildlife, anglers, paddlers and others who use these waterways for recreation."