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Case Summary: $1.1 Million Cost Recovery Settlement for Grasse River Superfund Site with Innovative Financial Assurance Requirements

On September 29, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Alcoa Inc. reached a settlement for reimbursement of approximately $1.1 million for EPA's past cleanup costs associated with the Grasse River Superfund Site in New York. In addition, the settlement provides for Alcoa’s payment of oversight costs for the site remedy, and a requirement that Alcoa post financial assurance (currently estimated at $13.3 million), in the form of a letter of credit, to ensure the perpetual operation and maintenance of the remedy, including repairs to the sediment cap. 

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Information about Alcoa, Inc.

The Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), changed its name to Alcoa Inc., in 1999 and is a leading producer of primary aluminum and fabricated aluminum, as well as a mining company for bauxite and refiner of alumina. Alcoa Inc. has owned and operated an aluminum product manufacturing facility, called the Alcoa West facility, in Massena, N.Y. since 1903.

Information about the Grasse River (a/k/a Alcoa Aggregation) Superfund Site

The Grasse River (a/k/a Alcoa Aggregation) Superfund site is adjacent to the Village of Massena, N.Y. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s territory, called Akwesasne, is located approximately eight miles to the east. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe also recognizes ancestral land on both banks of the lower Grasse River (known as the Indian Meadows) as well as land located along the St. Lawrence River downstream of the Site. The 2,700-acre Alcoa West Facility is an aluminum production and fabrication plant that has been in operation since 1903. The facility is east of the Power Canal and north of the lower Grasse River.

In connection with its past operations at the facility, hazardous substances, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were released onto the facility property as well as into the Grasse River through four industrial outfalls. In the 1950s, coincident with the Power Canal being taken out of service, Alcoa began using and discharging PCBs through outfalls to the Grasse River, the Power Canal, and the Unnamed Tributary. The PCBs accumulated in sediment that became deposited on top of bedrock in the river.

As a result of the discharges by Alcoa, sediments in the river system surrounding the Alcoa West facility and approximately seven miles downstream have been contaminated. Analysis of fish in the Grasse River revealed high levels of PCB contamination and, as a result, in 1990 the New York State Department of Health issued a consumption advisory recommending that no fish be eaten from the Grasse River between the Massena Power Canal and the mouth of the St Lawrence River. The remedy includes capping of certain Grasse River sediments that are contaminated with PCBs.

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Pollutants and Environmental Effects

PCBs belong to a broad family of man-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons. PCBs were domestically manufactured from 1929 until their manufacture was banned in 1979. They have a range of toxicity and vary in consistency from thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black waxy solids. Due to their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point, and electrical insulating properties, PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications including electrical, heat transfer, and hydraulic equipment; as plasticizers in paints, plastics, and rubber products; in pigments, dyes, and carbonless copy paper; and many other industrial applications.

Summary of the Settlement Agreement

The agreement provides that Alcoa, Inc. will reimburse EPA $1.1 million for past costs, pay for EPA’s oversight of the Site remedy, and obtain a unique financial assurance to help fund the perpetual operation and maintenance of the remedy. In this case, the financial assurance is a letter of credit that, if necessary, will provide funding into a standby-trust should Alcoa, Inc. cease to perform the operation and maintenance of the Site remedy. The Trustee would then assume the responsibility for the operation and maintenance portion of the remedy and would be able to invest the trust money itself.

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Contact information

For information contact

Meredith Fishburn
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20460

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