Leader Blues

Friday, July 14, 2006

TOP STORY >>Clock ticks for Hercules on payment

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor

The clock is ticking for Hercules, Inc., which was again held liable this week for the Superfund cleanup at the old Vertac plant in Jacksonville.

Now that an appeals court has upheld U.S. District Judge George Howard’s ruling last year that Hercules must pay $119 million for its share of the cleanup, the company has few options left, according to an attorney familiar with the case.

Hercules could ask the entire nine-judge panel at the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis to reconsider the case after a three-judge panel on the appeals court ruled against the company.

In addition, Hercules could take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is highly selective on what cases it wants to hear, according to the attorney.

Judge Howard and the appeals court also agreed that Uniroyal, a former Vertac customer, is liable for just $2.8 million, a sum far less onerous than the bill Hercules is facing.

Hercules wants Uniroyal to assume a larger share of the verdict.

The U.S. Environmental Protec-tion Agency and the state Depart-ment of Pollution Control and Ecology (now the Arkansas Depart-ment of Environmental Quality) supervised the cleanup, which be-gan late in 1993 and was completed in September 1998. DPC&E had collected $10.4 million from the bankrupt Vertac firm to pay for the cost of burning less dangerous wastes at the site.

The EPA has sued Hercules and Uniroyal for the cost of the cleanup. With continued monitoring, costs could reach $150 million.

A chemical plant had operated at the Marshall Road site for some 40 years, before shutting down in 1987. Herbicides and pesticides were manufactured there, including the defoliant Agent Orange used in Vietnam.

Thousands of barrels of hazardous wastes, such as dioxin, were stored at the site, including 2,700 drums of 2,4,5-T and 28,000 drums of 2,4-D wastes. The 2,4,5-T waste, the most dangerous, was incinerated in Kansas, while the 2,4-D waste was burned on site.

About 6,300 drums of contaminated ash from the incinerator went into a burial mound at the site. Over the decades, thousands of other drums were buried under ground while the plant was operating.

Some 34,000 drums of contaminated salt, a byproduct of incineration, were also moved off site.

Jacksonville saw one of the last major remedial actions in the U.S.

The EPA’s Superfund, which a decade ago had $3.8 billion from taxes collected from chemical companies, has been depleted. The fund has not been renewed.

The EPA used those funds for the Vertac cleanup and has been trying to recover the money since then.