Rhode Island Utility Repays $5 Million For Clean Up Of Attleboro Dump

Date: May 26, 2006

Source: US States News

The Massachusetts Attorney General issued the following news release:

Attorney General Tom Reilly announced today that a Rhode Island utility, Narragansett Electric Company, will pay $5 million to reimburse the Commonwealth's costs in cleaning up a hazardous waste site in Attleboro.

The agreement, filed in the Federal District Court in Boston, will be held for 120 days for public review and comment. Following court approval, the settlement amount, which includes the original costs plus interest, will be paid to the Commonwealth. The agreement resolves a cost recovery case initially filed on behalf of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

"This was a long, hard fight," AG Reilly said. "I am happy to report, at long last, that we have won full repayment of our cleanup expenses, with interest."

"Before we brought this suit, we demanded that the electric company pay the state's expenses, as the law requires," MassDEP Commissioner Robert W. Golledge Jr., said. "This case demonstrates that when the state spends taxpayer dollars to cleanup hazardous waste left by a polluter, we will do whatever is necessary, for as long as it takes, to recover those cleanup costs."

A century ago, the site on Mendon Road in Attleboro, was an undeveloped area at which waste generated by a coal gasification plant operated by a predecessor of Narragansett Electric had been dumped and buried. The waste buried at the site included many truckloads of "box waste," a bright blue sludge byproduct of processes used to purify the coal gas by removing the lethal cyanide gas it contained. Box waste contains ferric ferrocyanide (FFC), a complex cyanide compound that can dissociate and release free cyanide, which is acutely toxic, in certain environmental conditions.

Years later, the site was sold, and in the 1970s and early 1980s, a portion of it was developed for residential use. Originally, the homeowners were unaware of the large quantities of FFC sludge buried just below the surface of their yards and, in one instance, just below the basement floor. But after one homeowner uncovered the mass of blue sludge when grading his yard, an investigation by state agencies led to the discovery that FFC sludge was buried at numerous locations around the neighborhood.

MassDEP cleaned up the site between 1984 and 1986 and, in 1987, sued the company in federal district court to recover its costs. This case was litigated in the district court, the federal courts of appeals in Boston and Washington, and in proceedings before the Environmental Protection Agency proceedings.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General William L. Pardee of AG Reilly's Environmental Protection Division (EPD) with assistance from numerous past and present staff members at MassDEP, including Kevin Kiernan, Paul Locke, Carol Rowan-West, Mary Ellen Smith, Joe Kowal, Bob Donovan and Anne Heffron.

More information: www.ago.state.ma.us.

Sign up to receive our free Weekly News Bulletin