As the latest in a series of partial settlements aimed at cleaning up and restoring the Lower Fox River and Green Bay Superfund Site in northeastern Wisconsin, NCR Corp. (NCR) and Sonoco-U.S. Mills Inc. (Sonoco) have agreed to complete an important initial phase of the cleanup, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced today. The two companies have agreed to spend an estimated $30 million on the expedited dredging and disposal of the most highly-contaminated sediments in the Fox River. This is one of the largest contaminated sediment sites in the United States.
Under the terms of the agreement, NCR and Sonoco will design and implement the cleanup project to dredge, dewater and dispose of the contaminated sediment, removing approximately 100,000 cubic yards of highly contaminated sediment downstream and west of the De Pere Dam. The removal of this substantial volume of contaminated sediments from the river will reduce exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and diminish downstream migration of PCBs to the bay. Dredging is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2007.
"The Fox River is the biggest source of PCBs flowing into Lake Michigan," said EPA Regional Administrator Thomas V. Skinner. "Cleaning up this hot spot is a major step toward eventually removing the Fox and Lower Green Bay from EPA's list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern."
The Lower Fox River and Green Bay Superfund Site encompasses a nearly 40-mile stretch of the Fox River and more than 1,000 square miles of Green Bay. Sediments in both water bodies are contaminated with PCBs that were discharged into the river in connection with past production and re-processing of PCB-containing "carbonless" copy paper at multiple facilities from the 1950s to the early the 1970s.
Substantial cleanup and natural resource restoration work at the site has already begun under a series of partial settlements. Between 1998 and 2000, two major sediment removal demonstration projects were completed in discrete areas of the river under agreements that the paper companies reached with EPA and Wisconsin. Those projects helped demonstrate that contaminated sediments at the site can safely and feasibly be dredged. Full-scale dredging in the uppermost segment of the river began last year under a 2003 settlement with two of the paper companies, P.H. Glatfelter Co. and Wisconsin Tissue Mills. NCR and another paper company, Fort James Operating Co., are currently performing detailed remedial design work for the downstream portions of the river under a separate Administrative Order on Consent, under the direction of the EPA. The paper companies also have paid more than $35 million for natural resource restoration projects under several of the partial settlements. The money from those settlements has been used to acquire wildlife habitat that will be protected as state-managed natural areas, to protect and propagate threatened native fish and bird species, and to preserve native plants and enhance bird habitat in areas such as the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
In 2003, EPA and WDNR issued two Records of Decision (RODs) selecting the cleanup remedy for different portions of the Site. Taken together, the two RODs would require removal of approximately 7.25 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment at an estimated total cost of about $400 million.
PCBs do not break down readily by natural processes. They pose environmental and health threats to wildlife in the area and to people who eat fish from the Fox River and Green Bay. The PCBs at the site have caused adverse health effects and reproductive effects in fish and birds. Fish and waterfowl in the area are subject to human health-based consumption advisories.
The state of Wisconsin was a partner in today's consent decree, which was lodged today in United States District Court in Milwaukee and is subject to a 30-day public comment period. The state of Michigan and the Oneida Tribe and Menominee Tribe are also cooperating with the Untied States and Wisconsin in many aspects of the Fox River/Green Bay restoration program but are not parties to this particular settlement.
A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice Web site at: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html
Additional information on the Lower Fox River cleanup: http://epa.gov/region5/sites/foxriver/