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Former Harbor Island Smelter Operator to Pay $8.5 Million in Superfund Cleanup Costs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – RSR Corporation and its subsidiaries, Quemetco, Inc. and QRI, Inc., (RSR) have agreed to pay $8.5 million to resolve RSR’s liability for cleanup costs relating to the contamination of Harbor Island, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today.

The settlement concludes a lawsuit which alleged that RSR was liable for costs incurred by EPA for investigative and cleanup actions in response to hazardous substance contamination of soils and groundwater by a lead smelter owned and operated by RSR from 1972 to 1983. Under the terms of the consent decree, lodged today in district court in Seattle, RSR will pay a sum of $8.5 million to the federal Hazardous Substances Superfund—the fund used by the EPA to clean up hazardous wastes sites. Under this and an earlier settlement, parties responsible for the pollution at Harbor Island have contributed a total of approximately $40.5 million in cleanup work and cash reimbursement.

“This action demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to ensuring that companies that contribute to the creation of hazardous waste sites take responsibility for their cleanup,” said Assistant Attorney General Sue Ellen Wooldridge, of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s settlement represents an appropriate contribution by this party toward the site cleanup costs.”

“This settlement is good news for the site and for the Puget Sound,” said Michael Bogert, EPA Region 10 Administrator. “By recovering cleanup expenses under the Superfund law, EPA ensures that polluters pay their fair share and taxpayers aren't forced to foot the bill. This cleanup will prevent further pollution of a local resource we all treasure.”

Harbor Island is a man-made island in the mouth of the Duwamish River—near downtown Seattle—that is home to numerous industrial enterprises, including the Port of Seattle container terminal. Over the course of the 20th century, extensive industrial activity on Harbor Island caused its soil, underlying groundwater, and nearby marine sediments to become contaminated with various hazardous substances, including lead and other toxic metals, pesticides, and petroleum hydrocarbons.

The lead smelter owned and operated by RSR from the 1970's to the early 1980's released significant quantities of lead into Harbor Island soils, through airborne emissions of lead from the smelter and fugitive lead dust emissions from smelter buildings. At one point, a Washington Department of Ecology investigation revealed that 18% of the surface soil at the RSR smelter building was composed of lead.

The EPA placed Harbor Island on its list of the nation’s worst Superfund sites—the National Priorities List—in 1983. In the 1980’s, the EPA conducted extensive environmental studies of Harbor Island. Its investigations confirmed the presence of lead from RSR’s operations and also discovered volatile organic compounds from numerous other companies. In 1993, the EPA selected and proposed a cleanup plan for soil and groundwater contamination on Harbor Island.

In 1996, the Justice Department and the EPA entered into a consent decree with 38 Harbor Island businesses—including the Port of Seattle—under which those companies agreed to pay for the implementation of EPA’s selected environmental cleanup plan for Harbor Island soils and groundwater. The estimated cost of that cleanup work was $32 million. As RSR was not a party to the 1996 agreement, the U.S. filed the lawsuit against RSR seeking reimbursement of costs not covered in that agreement.

While the surface cleanup work on Harbor Island is complete, the EPA is continuing to require further investigations and cleanup work in several subsurface areas and groundwater. In a related matter, the Port of Seattle is working under agreements with EPA to investigate and cleanup contamination in the adjacent East Waterway.

Notice of the settlement will be published in the Federal Register, followed by a 30 day public comment period, before the settlement will become final.

A copy of the consent decree lodged today is available on the Department of Justice website at