Settlement requires Superfund cleanup of Lower Fox River and Green Bay

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

A settlement reached in mid-January requires a papermaker to complete one of the nation’s largest Superfund projects — a cleanup and restoration of the Lower Fox River and Green Bay.

The U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency — under the Obama administration — announced the settlement involving the NCR Corporation on Jan. 17.

The cleanup work will reduce the risks to humans and wildlife posed by polychlorinated biphenyls in the sediment of the Fox River and Green Bay.

Sediment cleanup began in the uppermost segment of the river in 2004.

In 2010, federal and state agencies took NCR and other parties to court in a Superfund lawsuit to require continued and complete cleanup of the lower river and bay.

The defendants included paper companies that contaminated the sediment when they made and recycled a PCB-containing “carbonless” copy paper. NCR and its affiliates produced the paper with PCBs from the mid-1950s until 1971.

Under the settlement announced earlier this month, NCR agreed to complete the final phase of remediation by the end of 2018.

Cleanup and natural resource restoration work has been done in the area under a set of partial settlements, an EPA administrative cleanup order and court orders in a federal lawsuit brought by the United States and the state of Wisconsin. The final phase of cleanup will cost up to $200 million, which means total costs to clean up the site will exceed $1 billion.

“After years of hard fought litigation, this settlement requires NCR to take full responsibility for completing this important cleanup effort,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Justice Department’s environment and natural resources division. “Lawsuits and settlements like this vindicate the principle that polluters should pay the cost of Superfund cleanups, rather than the taxpayers.”

He added that the co-plaintiff in the case is the state of Wisconsin.

Robert A. Kaplan, the acting administrator for the EPA’s Region 5, called the Fox River a treasure.

“It’s been polluted for too long,” Kaplan said. “People should be able to swim, boat and eat fish from all parts of the river. This cleanup will ensure that PCB levels continue to reduce downstream as they have upstream.”

The proposed settlement is in the form of a consent decree that must be approved by a federal judge.

Edward Gallagher, an attorney for NCR, said in a statement the company is “pleased with the successful resolution of this matter pending the court’s approval, following nine years of complex and protracted litigation involving multiple trials and appeals.”

He continued, “NCR is pleased to put this matter behind us and we are also glad to provide the federal and state governments and the people of Wisconsin confidence that the cleanup, which NCR commenced in 2009, will be completed without interruption or delay.”