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U.S. v. Eastman Kodak Co., Inc. (W.D.N.Y.)
The Genesee River at Rochester, NY. Courtesy of NOAA.

Contaminated Groundwater

In 1988, reports began surfacing that contaminated groundwater was leaking into basements in residential areas surrounding Kodak Park, the flagship facility of the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York. Groundwater sampling beneath the facility revealed extraordinarily high concentrations of volatile organic chemicals, with concentrations of up to 64,000 parts per million (ppm) of methylene chloride and 69,000 ppm of methanol.

The Kodak Park facility at the time was over 100 years old, comprising 400 buildings on 2,200 acres, with over 31 miles of sewer lines – ranging from 4 to 64 inches in diameter -- carrying 25-30 million gallons per day of industrial wastes to an adjacent wastewater treatment plant. Constructed over the course of a century, the sewer system included pipes made of cast iron, vitrified tile, masonry brick, and reinforced concrete, with over 44,000 separate joints. In 1990, approximately 60% of the industrial sewer lines were over 40 years old, and approximately 15% were over 80 years old. Predictably, they were leaking.

The leaks and Kodak’s failure to disclose them -- to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation -- violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the nation's primary law regulating hazardous wastes.

Outcome of Justice/EPA Negotiations

In negotiations with the Department of Justice and EPA spanning two years and resulting in a 1993 settlement, Kodak agreed to:

  • implement a state-of-the-art database system to classify and track all hazardous wastes;

  • reduce the discharge of such wastes into the sewer system

  • develop and implement a program to conduct video inspections of its sewers and to repair and upgrade them

  • pay a then-record civil penalty of $5,000,000 and to spend in excess of $12,000,000 in Supplemental Environmental Projects.

The result was an aggregate reduction of 2.3 million pounds of pollutants by the year 2001, and anticipated to have a direct impact on nearby Lake Ontario, less than 10 miles from Kodak Park. This case was the first to employ the nation's primary hazardous waste law to attack ongoing pollution from leaking sewers. In addition, it was one of the first major cases resolved under the 1991 Civil Justice Reform Executive Order, in which the government encourages industry to engage in good faith negotiations to resolve violations of environmental laws prior to litigation.

Touted as a “wake-up call” to the RCRA regulated community and as a model for the environmental overhaul of America's aging industrial infrastructure, the case set the stage for subsequent facility-wide RCRA enforcement cases across the country.

Kodak completed all work required under the Consent Decree in 2009 and remains in compliance with RCRA.


Last Updated: November 2010