Enforcement and Inspection

Record Settlement Will Pump Billions into Cleanup Activities

Record Settlement Will Pump Billions into Cleanup Activities

January 20, 2015, marked the last day for any appeals in the historic settlement with a Woodlands, Texas, energy company to address deadly uranium and other wastes.  However, because no appeals were submitted, the $5.5 billion in payments are now secure. In the announcement, the EPA noted that: “Specifically, the trust’s environmental and tort beneficiaries will receive approximately $4.475 billion and $605 million, respectively.” The settlement is the largest recovery for the cleanup of environmental contamination in history.

According to the EPA, the settlement is the culmination of decades of work by the agency and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to hold the company, which was purchased by the Texas firm in 2006, accountable for pollution and for fraud associated with trying to “evade their liability for contamination at toxic sites around the country.”

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The story began in the late 1940s and continued through the 1980s when more than 7 million tons of uranium ore was mined on or near the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico. The company abandoned the uranium mines, including piles of contaminated rock waste, in the Lukachukai Mountains of Arizona, the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, and in the Ambrosia Lake/Grants Mining District of New Mexico. Approximately 50 mines are included in the settlement.

Also included in the settlement is a former chemical manufacturing plant in Henderson, Nevada, which is home to the largest perchlorate groundwater plume in the nation. The plume has migrated via the Las Vegas Wash into Lake Mead, which feeds into the Colorado River, a primary source of drinking water for people throughout the Southwest. According to the EPA, “Perchlorate, a component in rocket fuel and fireworks, can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones, which are needed for prenatal and postnatal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function in adults.”

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In addition, the settlement also covers a variety of other polluted sites, including federal Superfund sites, some with environmental justice implications, in Manville, New Jersey, Jacksonville, Florida, Columbus, Mississippi, Navassa, North Carolina, West Chicago, Illinois, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Soda Springs, Idaho. All told, more than 2,700 sites in 47 states are involved and include contamination from wood-treating and thorium processing, in addition to ammonium perchlorate manufacturing and uranium mining and processing.

To address the uranium contamination, “more than $985 million is expected to be paid to the U.S. EPA to fund the cleanup of approximately 50 abandoned uranium mines in and around the Navajo Nation, where radioactive waste remains from cold-war era … mining operations.” In addition, the Navajo Nation is expected to receive about $43 million to undertake cleanup of radioactive waste abandoned at the former uranium mill in Shiprock, New Mexico. The EPA is currently meeting with the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico to plan work that is expected to occur there later in 2015.

A trust for the Henderson, Nevada, chemical plant site will also receive an estimated $1.1 billion to clean up the site, which includes 50 to 100 pounds of perchlorate that is “still seeping into Lake Mead every day.” The funds will also enable the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection to clean up the remaining underground contamination sources. A complete breakdown of how much funding each site will receive is available at www2.epa.gov/enforcement/case-summary-settlement-agreement-anadarko-fraud-case-results-billions-environmental#overview.


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