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State of Wisconsin Files Cleanup Lawsuit Against Fox River Polluters

 

Settlement With Georgia-Pacific Also Announced

 

MADISON – The Wisconsin Department of Justice announced the filing of a major lawsuit today to require continued environmental cleanup work at Wisconsin's Lower Fox River and Green Bay Site (the Site).  The lawsuit also seeks payment of associated government costs and natural resource damages.  The total cleanup costs and damages for the Site are expected to exceed $1 billion.  This 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 all required cleanup work downstream from a line across the 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 eleven other non-settling defendants.  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 EPA administrative order.  The parties that caused the PCB contamination are performing most of the ongoing cleanup work under protest, however, and they have not agreed to take full responsibility for completing the cleanup or paying all damages for injuries for natural resources.

 

The governments' complaint 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 natural resources in the Green Bay area.

 

The defendants in the governments' 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 the State of 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 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.

 

For more information on cleanup and natural resource restoration activities at the Lower Fox River and Green Bay Superfund Site, go to:

 

the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' website:

http://dnr.wi.gov/org/water/wm/foxriver/

 

the Environmental Protection Agency's website:

http://www.epa.gov/region5/sites/foxriver/

 

and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's website:

http://www.fws.gov/midwest/FoxRiverNRDA/