WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced the filing of a major lawsuit today against 10 companies and two municipalities to require continued environmental cleanup work at Wisconsin’s Lower Fox River and Green Bay Site. The lawsuit also seeks payment of associated government costs and natural resource damages. The total cleanup costs and damages for the Green Bay Site are expected to exceed $1 billion. The Superfund lawsuit, brought jointly by the United States and the State of Wisconsin, targets risks to humans and wildlife posed by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in bottom sediment, banks, and shoreline areas of the Fox River and Green Bay.
In addition to the complaint, the United States and the state of Wisconsin filed a proposed settlement with one of the newly-named defendants, Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products LP. In the proposed settlement, Georgia-Pacific would agree that it is liable, along with other defendants, for performance of all required cleanup work downstream from a line across the Fox River slightly upstream of its paper mill in the city of Green Bay. The company also would pay $7 million to reimburse a portion of the government’s unpaid past and future costs. The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period.
The lawsuit will proceed against 11 other non-settling defendants, including: NCR Corporation; Appleton Papers Inc.; CBC Coating Inc. (formerly known as Riverside Paper Corp.); City of Appleton; Kimberly-Clark Corp.; Menasha Corp.; Neenah-Menasha Sewerage Commission; NewPage Wisconsin Systems Inc.; P.H. Glatfelter Co.; U.S. Paper Mills Corp.; and WTM I Co. (formerly known as Wisconsin Tissue Mills Inc.).
A large amount of cleanup and natural resource restoration work has already been done in the area under a set of partial settlements and an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrative order. The parties performing the ongoing cleanup work under that order have protested, and they have not agreed to take full responsibility for completing the cleanup or paying all damages for injuries to natural resources, according to the Justice Department.
The complaint by the United States seeks a court order requiring the responsible parties to continue funding and performing the PCB cleanup without delay. It also seeks monetary damages for decades of PCB-related injuries to fish and birds and for lost recreational opportunities. By law, any damages recovery will be used to restore or replace the injured natural resources or acquire equivalent resources.
The defendants in the government’s lawsuit include paper companies that contaminated sediment in the Fox River and Green Bay when they made and recycled a particular type of PCB-containing “carbonless” copy paper. NCR Corporation and its affiliates produced that paper with PCBs from the mid-1950s until 1971. The suit also names two municipal sewer system operators that discharged relatively large amounts of PCBs to the Fox River. In 2009, the United States and Wisconsin reached pre-litigation settlements with several other local sewer system operators and a number of companies that made relatively minor contributions to the PCB contamination at the site.
The cleanup remedy at the site was jointly-selected by the EPA and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The remedy will remove much of the PCB-containing sediment from the Fox River by dredging. In other portions of the river, contaminated sediment will be contained in place with specially-engineered caps. The dredging and capping will reduce PCB exposure and greatly diminish downstream migration of PCBs to Green Bay. More than $300 million in cleanup work has already been done at the site. The remaining dredging and capping work could cost an estimated $550 million more.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state and tribal trustees for natural resources in the area also have prepared a related natural resource damage assessment under the Superfund law. According to that assessment, the additional cost of required natural resource restoration work may approach another $400 million.
Copies of the complaint and the consent decree with Georgia-Pacific are available on the Department of Justice’s website at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html
For more information on cleanup and natural resource restoration activities at the Lower Fox River and Green Bay Superfund site, go to:
The Environmental Protection Agency’s website: www.epa.gov/region5/sites/foxriver/
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website: www.fws.gov/midwest/FoxRiverNRDA/
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ website: dnr.wi.gov/org/water/wm/foxriver/