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Solutia Signs Consent Decree with EPA on Anniston PCB Issues

Solutia Inc. and Pharmacia Corp. sign a comprehensive environmental Consent Decree with EPA and the Department of Justice that will help pave the way for the cleanup of PCBs in and around Anniston, Ala.

Solutia Inc. and Pharmacia Corp. have signed a comprehensive environmental Consent Decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice that will help pave the way for the cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in and around Anniston, Ala., John C. Hunter, president and CEO of Solutia announced Friday. The Consent Decree will be filed in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Ala., by EPA and the Justice Department today and will be subject to a 30-day comment period.

Under the settlement, Solutia (formerly known as Monsanto Co.) and Pharmacia agreed to continue the emergency cleanups of area residences that are the worst contaminated. The companies will also conduct a thorough, comprehensive study and evaluation of risks to human health and the environment caused by PCBs. PCBs are considered a probable carcinogen and are linked to neurological and developmental problems.

"This Consent Decree represents a major step toward an effective, permanent cleanup for the Anniston community and builds on the investigation and cleanup work Solutia has done in Anniston and surrounding areas since the early 1990s," said Hunter. "We hope to begin implementing the Consent Decree as soon as possible."

In February, an Alabama Circuit Court jury determined Monsanto, which spun off its chemical business into Solutia Inc. in 1997 and merged with Pharmacia, a multinational drug company, in 2000, produced PCBs in Anniston for several decades, from 1935 to 1971. Solutia acknowledged that the PCB production caused contamination in the area, but claims it acted fairly in dealing with local residents and regulators about the situation.

In the lawsuit, one of several planned, a total of 3,500 residents of Anniston claimed that Pharmacia, Monsanto and Solutia poisoned the local air, soil and waterways with huge quantities of PCBs, causing many residents to become ill, and then tried to conceal the human health and environmental impact of the contamination. (For further information, see "Jury: Monsanto Polluted Alabama Town.")

That lawsuit is separate from the Consent Decree reached between EPA, the Justice Department and Solutia and Pharmacia. The Consent Decree mandates that Solutia and Pharmacia hire EPA-approved contractors to conduct a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS). For the first time, the RI/FS will comprehensively study and detect any areas of contamination, including, but not limited to, PCB contamination, as well as 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 contaminated sites in the Anniston area. 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.

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

The Remedial Investigation will ensure that all of the needed environmental information is gathered to assess potential risks to human health and the environment.

"Over the last few years, we have gathered much of the sampling data needed for the Remedial Investigation - including more than 5,000 samples of soil, water, sediment and fish," Hunter said. "This should greatly accelerate the process."

The Feasibility Study will explore various ways to permanently address PCBs in Anniston and surrounding areas. Together, these studies will lead to a sound, long-term cleanup solution, he said.

Solutia has spent some $46 million on cleanup and remediation in the Anniston area since the early 1990s. About 300 acres of land and more than a mile of drainage ditches have already been cleaned. Hunter said it is important to note that while the RI/FS are under way, Solutia will continue to take action to clean up PCBs in Anniston. "Our first and foremost goal is to finish cleaning the residential properties identified by the EPA as needing immediate action," he said.

Many of the property owners in Anniston declined to provide access at the urging of their attorneys, he said. The company has completed cleaning the first of the 24 properties, and is working on three more. Within the next month, Solutia expects to begin work on three or four additional properties.

"We understand that Anniston residents have concerns about the impact of PCBs in their community, and we''re committed to doing what''s right to deal properly with the PCBs from Monsanto''s former operations," Hunter said. "This Consent Decree is an important milestone in achieving that goal." 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.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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