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US: $8.5 million from ex-smelter owner will aid cleanup

by Lisa StiffleSeattle Post Intelligencer
February 1st, 2006

A former smelter owner has agreed to pay the federal government $8.5 million to help pay for the massive cleanup of lead and toxic chemicals on Harbor Island.

RSR Corp. was the last major business to pick up its share of the industrial waste cleanup, a Environmental Protection Agency official said Tuesday.

"This is a good settlement. It's a lot of money," said Cynthia Magnuson of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, which negotiated the deal.

Dallas-based RSR Corp. and two subsidiaries, Quemetco Inc. and Quemetco Realty Inc., were named in the consent decree settling the costs.

Quemetco bought the Harbor Island smelter in 1969 and became a subsidiary of RSR three years later. The two jointly operated the smelter until it closed in the early 1980s. Quemetco Realty had owned the property on which the smelter was located.

The plant had been in operation for roughly a half-century and is thought to be the largest source of lead pollution on the man-made island at the south end of Elliott Bay, said the EPA's Neil Thompson, a Harbor Island cleanup project manager.

"It was pretty dirty," he said. "They spread lead all over the island. It was so bad that they would mine their own parking lot."

RSR and the Dallas law firm named in the consent decree were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

The 400-acre island was declared a Superfund cleanup site in 1983, ranking among the most polluted sites in the nation.

Thirty-seven Harbor Island businesses along with the Port of Seattle joined together and in 1996 agreed to pay for a federal cleanup strategy costing $32 million. The port has spent millions more redeveloping the island, paving over contamination and expanding its shipping and receiving capabilities.

RSR was not among those participating in the agreement. Six years ago, the government sued the corporation for $10 million to pay for cleanup.

Thompson said he didn't know why that sum had been ratcheted back to $8.5 million.

"Is that their fair share?" he asked. "That's a debate I'll let you answer."

Cleanup of the island has largely been finished. The most polluted soil was removed and the land covered in asphalt to keep rainwater from soaking in and washing contaminants out. Some work is still being done to clean hot spots of polluted soil and groundwater contaminated with petroleum products.

Monitoring will continue indefinitely to make sure the pollution was cleaned up sufficiently or trapped so that people and animals are not exposed.

"The cleanup actions from a public health point of view have been done," Thompson said.

Cleanup of the adjacent Duwamish River continues.




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