Chemtura to maintain duties at superfund

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NAUGATUCK — It’s a golden rule, really: Don’t start something you don’t plan to finish.

Chemtura Corp., the successor to Uniroyal several entities removed, was compelled to obey this rule when it reached a settlement in U.S. District Court agreeing to pay about $26 million to monitor and clean up 17 contaminated properties across the country. One of those lots is the Laurel Park superfund site in Naugatuck.

Superfund is the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s program aiming to clean up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

The Middlebury-based, international chemical company has been trying to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which it filed for in March 2009.

The gated entrance to Laurel Park on Hunters Mountain Road

Chemtura felt it should have been absolved of its responsibilities at the contaminated sites due to its financial problems and continued attempts to rise from bankruptcy. A U.S. District Court in Manhattan felt otherwise, and the company was ordered to uphold its responsibilities at all sites, including the Naugatuck superfund.

Chemtura is already a permanent fixture at the Laurel Park site, but the location is closed and no cleaning is currently underway. The ground is contaminated and Chemtura, with assistance from other companies, essentially helps to contain the contamination.

“It’s not a cleanup per se,” Naugatuck Mayor Robert Mezzo said. “They do frequent ground monitoring and water testing at the site, but it wouldn’t be called cleaning. It’s a basic monitoring that contamination does not come back to a significant level or spread to surrounding areas.”

The 20-acre capped landfill has, since the late 1940s, served as a dumping spot for several industries disposing of solvents, oils, hydrocarbons, chemical sludge, tires, rubber products and other contaminants. The facility continued to operate as a municipal landfill until 1987. The parcel was deemed a superfund site in 1983 after an initial investigation by the EPA found dioxin in the soil.

It was at this point that the EPA issued a decree to clean the site. One of the stakeholders with a responsibility at the time was Uniroyal, which has since been succeeded by Chemtura.

The current focus is on landfill leachate at the site. Landfill leachate is liquid that moves through or drains from a landfill. This liquid may already exist in a landfill, or it may be created after rainwater mixes with the chemical waste.

“There are wells in place that suck out the leachate,” said Jim Stewart, borough public works director. “The wells collect the leachate and carry the liquid down the sewers.”

According to Stewart, there is no contamination in the groundwater surrounding the Naugatuck site, and all adjacent areas are clean and protected.

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If the ruling were reversed and Chemtura were allowed to opt out of their responsibilities, the site would still be maintained. There is a coalition of approximately ten other companies that share in the cost under a unified decree with certain duties to maintain the parcel, and the extra work left by Chemtura’s absence would have been shouldered by those members.
Chemtura, though, holds the most responsibility in the maintenance of the superfund and it is unclear, had it been absolved of responsibility, what the repercussions might have been.

“Chemtura is the largest player and there’s always the risk when you lose the largest player for interruptions in progress,” borough attorney Ned Fitzpatrick said. “That was our major concern. We wanted to make sure there was no interruption in the continuity and ongoing monitoring and maintenance of this site.”

Officials are glad they don’t need to discover those repercussions, and that Chemtura will have to clean the site.

“We had confidence that the bankruptcy judge would recognize the responsibilities that were imposed by the settlement years ago were of a significant nature and they would not be removed,” Mezzo said. “However, you’re never certain until a judgment is issued, and we’re glad that those responsibilities were not removed.”

Fitzpatrick echoed these remarks.

“We’re very pleased that this seems to be the end result reflected in the settlement agreement,” Fitzpatrick said. “We think it’s quite significant for the borough, because it could have had negative repercussions with it.”