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Case Summary: EPA Settles with Companies for Cleanup at Mercury Refining Superfund Site, New York

Five companies considered responsible for contamination at the Mercury Refining Superfund Site reached a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do the clean up work at the site, located within the Towns of Colonie and Guilderland, N.Y. Under the terms of the agreement, the work will address clean up of soil, sediment, and groundwater contaminated with mercury at an estimated cost of more than $9 million. In addition, the agreement provides for 19 federal agencies and 46 additional entities also responsible for the contamination to make payments into an escrow account to fund the cleanup work at the site. The current owner of the site is also part of the settlement and will take responsibility for land use restrictions to be put into place at the site.

The agreement, a consent decree for remedial action and recovery of response costs between the United States of America and Gillette Company, KeySpan Gas East Corp., Energizer Battery Manufacturing, Inc., Union Carbide Corporation and Spectrum Brands, Inc., among others, was approved by the District Court for the Northern District of New York on September 17, 2012.

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Information about the Mercury Refining Superfund Site

EPA added the Mercury Refining Superfund Site, located on the border of the towns of Colonie and Guilderland, N.Y., to the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) on September 1, 1983 because of mercury in the groundwater, soil and sediments there. From approximately 1956 to 1998, Mercury Refining, Inc., reclaimed mercury from batteries and other mercury-bearing materials at the site, which lies in an industrial and commercial area. Approximately 100,000 people live within a three mile radius. Water near the site is used for drinking water and recreation. More information about the Mercury Refining, Inc. Superfund Site is available on the Region 2 website.

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Pollutants and Environmental Effects

Site testing in the 1980s by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) found high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury, both potentially harmful to human and wildlife health, in soils. The groundwater at the site is contaminated with mercury, though EPA determined that this contamination does not move off the site. Sediments in a tributary of Patroon Creek, which receives run-off from the Mercury Refining property, are also contaminated with mercury. Groundwater at the site is also contaminated with mercury, but EPA studies show that the groundwater contamination did not move off the site.

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Summary of the Consent Decree

Under the agreement, the five companies mentioned above will conduct the cleanup work at the site. Contaminated soil at the surface, which is more easily accessible to people, will be excavated and taken off-site to a secure facility. Contaminated soil that is deeper will be treated using a technology that treats the contaminated soil and ground water by locking the mercury in a mixture of Portland cement and another agent, preventing it from moving into the surrounding soil and ground water.

In addition, the cleanup plan calls for the removal of contaminated sediment from a tributary to Patroon Creek, which receives rainwater runoff from the Mercury Refining property. Water will be removed from the excavated creek sediment and disposed of at an off-site landfill. According to the agreement, the owner of the site, 26 Railroad Ave, Inc., will be responsible for taking action to secure legal land use restrictions to ensure that people aren’t exposed to contaminants on-site and to ensure that the treated soil and groundwater is not disturbed. The five primary companies will be ultimately responsible for conducting all the cleanup work called for in EPA’s cleanup plan. The value of the cleanup work to be performed under the agreement is estimated at $9.3 million.

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Comment Period

The consent decree for remedial action and recovery of response costs was filed with the District Court for the Northern District of New York on August 12, 2012. It was subject to subject to a 30-day public comment period and subsequent approval by the federal court on September 17, 2012.

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Contact Information

For more information contact:

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

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