MAC: Mines and Communities

Harbor Island Smelter Pays $8.5 Million in Superfund Costs

Published by MAC on 2006-02-02

Harbor Island Smelter Pays $8.5 Million in Superfund Costs

by ENS, SEATTLE, Washington

2nd February 2006

RSR Corporation and its subsidiaries, Quemetco, Inc. and QRI, Inc., (RSR) have agreed to pay $8.5 million to resolve RSR’s liability for cleanup costs relating to the contamination of Harbor Island in Puget Sound, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Tuesday.

The settlement concludes a lawsuit which alleged that RSR was liable for costs incurred by EPA for investigative and cleanup actions in response to hazardous substance contamination of soils and groundwater by a lead smelter owned and operated by RSR from 1972 to 1983.

Harbor Island is a man-made island in the mouth of the Duwamish River near downtown Seattle where industrial enterprises, including the Port of Seattle container terminal, are located.

The lead smelter owned and operated by RSR from the 1970s to the early 1980s released lead into Harbor Island soils, through airborne emissions of lead from the smelter and fugitive lead dust emissions from smelter buildings. At one point, a Washington Department of Ecology investigation revealed that 18 percent of the surface soil at the RSR smelter building was composed of lead.

Under the terms of the consent decree, lodged in district court in Seattle, RSR will pay $8.5 million into the Superfund, the fund used by the EPA to clean up hazardous wastes sites.

Under this and an earlier settlement, parties responsible for the pollution at Harbor Island have contributed a total of approximately $40.5 million in cleanup work and cash reimbursement.

“This settlement is good news for the site and for the Puget Sound,” said Michael Bogert, EPA Region 10 administrator. “By recovering cleanup expenses under the Superfund law, EPA ensures that polluters pay their fair share and taxpayers aren't forced to foot the bill. This cleanup will prevent further pollution of a local resource we all treasure.”

During the 20th century, extensive industrial activity on Harbor Island caused its soil, underlying groundwater, and nearby marine sediments to become contaminated with hazardous substances, including lead and other toxic metals, pesticides, and petroleum hydrocarbons.

The EPA placed Harbor Island on the Superfund list in 1983. In the 1980s, the EPA confirmed the presence of lead from RSR’s operations and also discovered volatile organic compounds from numerous other companies.

In 1993, the EPA selected and proposed a cleanup plan for soil and groundwater contamination on Harbor Island. In 1996, the Justice Department and the EPA entered into a consent decree with 38 Harbor Island businesses, including the Port of Seattle, under which those companies agreed to pay for the implementation of EPA’s selected environmental cleanup plan for Harbor Island soils and groundwater at a cost of $32 million.

As RSR was not a party to the 1996 agreement, the U.S. filed the lawsuit against RSR seeking reimbursement of costs not covered in that agreement.

While the surface cleanup work on Harbor Island is complete, the EPA requires further investigations and cleanup work in subsurface areas and groundwater. In a related matter, the Port of Seattle is working under agreements with EPA to investigate and cleanup contamination in the adjacent East Waterway.

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