Anniston PCB Contamination: One Step Closer To Cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Justice filed a motion with the United States District Court, Northern District of Alabama, in Birmingham, Ala., seeking approval of a comprehensive environmental settlement with Solutia Inc. and Pharmacia Corporation to investigate and address the serious polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) contamination in Anniston, Ala.

The settlement filed by the government revises one lodged with the court on March 25. Revisions to the settlement were made to address concerns expressed by Alabama and community members during a 60-day public comment period.

Solutia (formerly known as Monsanto Co.) and Pharmacia have agreed to continue the emergency cleanups of area residences that are the worst contaminated, but under the revised settlement, the cleanup of residential properties can begin two years earlier than under the decree previously lodged with the court. Also, EPA, rather than the defendants, will perform the human health risk assessment - a thorough, comprehensive study and evaluation of risks to human health caused by PCBs. PCBs are considered a probable carcinogen and are linked to neurological and developmental problems.

"We have listened to the residents of Anniston, the community impacted by the contamination," said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "[This] settlement takes steps to address those concerns and rectify the situation there."

John Peter Suarez, EPA's assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance noted the revised settlement requires Solutia and Pharmacia to immediately address the Anniston site to reduce the risks to human health and the environment. "[The filing of the motion] demonstrates our strong commitment to ensuring that companies responsible for polluting the environment remedy and pay for the harm they have caused."

This settlement mandates Solutia and Pharmacia to hire EPA-approved contractors to conduct a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS). The RI/FS will comprehensively study any areas of contamination, including, but not limited to, PCB contamination and evaluate what risks environmental pollutants that are found may pose to public health and the environment. The RI/FS will determine the cleanup options and suggest a strategy for restoring this community. The cleanup will be strictly reviewed and overseen by EPA, as is the immediate cleanup of residences where high levels of PCBs already have been found.

"Our sleeves are rolled up and we are ready to work with USEPA and ADEM to continue the clean up," said John C. Hunter, Solutia president and CEO. "We believe the Consent Decree is the best, quickest and surest way to accomplish an effective, permanent cleanup. That is what the community says it wants and that is what Solutia is committed to seeing through."

The study will cover all areas where PCBs have been found, including the Solutia facility, the landfills, creeks, rivers, lakes, flood plains and residential, commercial and agricultural properties that surround the facility.

Included in the settlement is an agreement to establish a $3.2 million foundation to assist in funding special education needs for Anniston-area children. In response to public comments, funding has been revised so that monies are paid into the foundation each year of the life of the fund.

Other revisions made to the decree as a result of public comments are that the amount of stipulated penalties has been increased and the defendants have agreed not to challenge listing the site on the National Priorities List in accordance with provisions in the decree. There are provisions in the decree for the state to comment on contractors selected to work at the site.

During the public hearing, many people expressed concerns that the decree did not provide for medical monitoring and health studies in Anniston. EPA does not have the authority to conduct health studies and medical monitoring, therefore, the revised decree does not provide for medical monitoring and health studies. The agency is, however, committed to providing full support to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is the agency that performs medical monitoring and health studies. ATSDR has already performed extensive work in the Anniston community and has committed to continuing its work there.

Solutia Inc.'s Anniston plant encompasses approximately 70 acres of residential and commercial land and is about one mile west of downtown. The facility is one of two in the United States that produced PCBs. PCB production ceased in 1971 in Anniston.

The settlement will not be effective until the court approves it.

For more information, see www.epa.gov/region4/waste/npl/nplal/annpcbal.htm.

Other articles posted to www.occupationalhazards.com include "Jury: Monsanto Polluted Alabama Town" and "Solutia Signs Consent Decree with EPA on Anniston PCB Issues."

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