DuPont has agreed to pay about $50 million to resolve claims stemming from the release of mercury from the chemical company’s former facility in Waynesboro, Virginia. It’s the largest natural resource damage settlement in Virginia’s history, the US Justice Department said yesterday.
DuPont will pay just over $42 million in cash and will fund renovations at the Front Royal Fish Hatchery, expected to cost up to $10 million, to settle claims that its factory contaminated more than 100 miles of river and floodplain in the South River and South Fork Shenandoah River watershed.
Since 2005, DuPont and government natural resource trustees trustees have worked to assess and identify potential restoration projects to benefit natural resources affected by mercury releases from the DuPont facility in the 1930s and 1940s.
Monitoring data collected over the last 20 years indicates that mercury levels remain stable, with no clear decreases over time.
Some of the assessed and impacted natural resources include fish, migratory songbirds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Recreational fishing opportunities were also impacted from the mercury.
In an email, Mike Liberati, South River project director for the DuPont corporate remediation group, said DuPont has agreed to pay $42.3 million for restoration projects in the South River and South Fork Shenandoah watersheds. The company has worked with the US and state governments assess the mercury contamination since 2003, he added.
The team conducting the natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) included experts from from DuPont and a group of trustees from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
“Based on the results from NRDA, the trustees believe that some harm has occurred to certain natural resources in the river system, including fish, birds, and amphibians,” he wrote. “They also believe there is some impairment to recreational uses of the rivers.
“In keeping with its long history of cooperation with, and participation in, government initiatives, and its ongoing support of the local community, DuPont’s is committed to a long-term presence in the Waynesboro area and to maintaining transparency with its citizens.
“Prior to the NRDA agreement, the company also invested millions of dollars, partnering with local universities on curriculum-based classroom projects, sponsoring civic and cultural events, funding park enhancements, and conducting educational outreach to local schools and non-English speaking populations. The company funds the South River Science Team, which is run by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and conducts testing and evaluation of the river’s water quality.”
Liberati said DuPont will also collaborate with state officials to upgrade the Front Royal fish hatchery and continue its work in Virginia to remediate past mercury contamination related to its former operations in Waynesboro.
“The first phase of remediation involving a portion of riverbank in Constitution Park is on schedule for a February completion,” he said. “Soil containing the highest concentrations of mercury is being excavated and hauled away and replaced by clean topsoil. Other areas with low levels of mercury are being stabilized and returned to their natural states with effective erosion controls focused on replanting and preserving native vegetation.”