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Environmental Enforcement Roundup: GM Settlement; Happy Groundwater Investigation; Boise Chemical Fire

Environmental Leader’s daily roundup of key environmental enforcement news:

DOJ and 14 States Reach $641 Million Settlement for Former GM Facilities Remediation

The U.S. Dept. of Justice and Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment announced Thursday that they have entered into a bankruptcy settlement agreement with Motors Liquidation Company (formerly known as General Motors Corporation) as well as two related parties, Remediation and Liability Management Company, Inc. and the Environmental Corporate Remediation Company, Inc.

The nationwide settlement also includes 13 other states where former General Motors owned contamination sites exist. The settlement agreement was lodged Thursday in federal bankruptcy court by the U.S. Department of Justice and will be subject to a 30-day period of public comment before it is considered for final approval by the court as part of Motors Liquidation Company’s Joint Chapter 11 Plan to resolve its bankruptcy. The final date when the court will consider approval of the settlement agreement as part of its Joint Chapter 11 Plan has not been set at this time.

Under the settlement, approximately $641 million will be placed into an Environmental Response Trust Fund to cleanup sites that are currently owned by Motors Liquidation Company. Of this amount, approximately $159 million will be set aside to cleanup 36 sites of environmental contamination located in Michigan. Under the terms of the settlement, all properties currently owned by Motors Liquidation Company will be transferred to the trust. The trust will be administered by an independent trustee appointed by the court.

Approving environmental cleanup plans and budgets and overseeing the environmental cleanup activities performed by the Environmental Trust at individual contamination sites in Michigan will be the responsibility of either the Department of Natural Resources and Environment or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a DNRE press release.

“The DNRE looks forward to working with the trustee to assure that environmental work at these sites meets state requirements and to help facilitate appropriate redevelopment, that protects public health and the environment, while bringing needed jobs and tax base back to the affected communities,” said DNRE Director Rebecca Humphries.

In addition to performing cleanup work at each of the contaminated properties, the Environmental Trust will be responsible to maintain the properties, pay taxes and try to sell or transfer the properties for productive or beneficial uses. When a possible sale is considered, the Environmental Trust must consider several factors including the potential to create jobs; the ability to create tax revenue, reduce blight, and provide a sense of renewal; the impact of the proposed use on the cleanup at the property; the reputation and credibility of the prospective purchaser; and the views of the state and local community.

Groundwater, Soil Investigation to Resume at Happy Superfund Site

Federal and Texas state agencies plan to join soon to further investigate chemicals in the soil and water at a Superfund Site in Happy, TX, The Amarillo Globe-News Reports.

Earlier gas samples from the soil and groundwater samples confirmed initial suspicions of the presence of carbon tetrachloride, chloroform and other chemicals. Investigators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suspect a link to a 1962 explosion and fire at the Attebury grain storage facility. Carbon tetrachloride with fumigants was used to suppress the fire, according to the agency.

However, preliminary tests do not show the volume of the chemicals, many of which have been identified as carcinogens, left at the site.

A process called remedial investigation will begin within the next month, Dave Bary, EPA spokesman for Region 6 told the Amarillo Globe-News. Once a location is on the National Priorities List, it allows the agency to proceed with the investigation to determine the nature and extent of the contamination. The Happy site went on the list May 11, 2009.

“(The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) will take the lead, and water sampling will be part of that,” he said.

The next step after the sampling and testing create a clearer picture of the situation would be identifying the best remedy specifically designed for the site to deal with the contamination.

“When the agency proposes that plan, it does so in the local area and invites public comment,” Bary said. “The whole process usually takes a year to two years.”

The chemicals in the water have resulted in the city shutting down one of its wells and water from a residential well being filtered through charcoal, according to EPA reports.

Contamination is in the Ogallala Aquifer, while the city gets its water from the deeper Santa Rosa Aquifer. However, the Ogallala is a source for drinking water in the area and across the Panhandle.

EPA Aids in Containment of Boise Chemical Fire

Federal responders from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency spent a third day cleaning up the remains of a toxic chemical spill associated with the two alarm fire on Friday in a rural area on the outskirts of Boise, Idaho, EPA said in a press release yesterday.

The state of Idaho requested EPA’s help on Friday afternoon, when a fire on private property engulfed several buildings that reportedly contained potentially hazardous materials. EPA’s initial response was supplemented with a new On-Scene Coordinator and nine cleanup contractors by Saturday evening.

Environmental and health concerns arose after fire suppression water mixed with hazardous wood treating chemicals drained to a small pond between the fire site and the Boise River. Initial air monitoring conducted at the scene by the Boise Fire Haz-Mat team also detected elevated mercury vapors.

Recently reviewed sampling results from both pond water and sediment found no indication of wood treating chemicals but heavy metal sampling results have not yet returned from the lab. Air monitoring continues at the scene, with slightly elevated mercury levels being detected in the immediate vicinity of the spill.

According to Jeffry Rodin, EPA On-Scene Coordinator, his team is focused on cleaning up some key spill areas and preparing to remove contaminated debris and soil.

“We’re concentrating on cleaning up areas where the Mercury and wood treating chemicals were stored,” Rodin said in a press release. “We expect to finish those areas and stage contaminated soil and debris for removal within a week’s time. We’ll also be dealing with a pile of vehicle batteries and assorted household hazardous waste on site, including paint cans and other containers.”

Rodin continues working closely with Boise City Fire & Haz-Mat, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security to secure the site, complete the cleanup and oversee debris removal.

It is suspected that the mercury at the site was used in a crude gold mining operation. Mercury is used extensively in hydraulic mining in order to help the gold sink through the flowing water-gravel mixture.

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