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St. Louis Daily Record: EPA Files Consent Decree in Suit Against Shell Oil

By Donna Walter
Friday, 25 August 2006

The federal government and Shell Oil are close to settling a lawsuit related to the cost of cleaning up hazardous materials found at the Great Lakes Container Corp. at 42 Ferry St. in St. Louis.

Under the settlement, Shell would pay $228,630 to the Environmental Protection Agency Hazardous Substance Superfund for past and future costs to clean up lead-related contamination.

The government’s lawsuit against Shell also names Mallinckrodt and Solutia as defendants. The case is pending in U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber’s courtroom.

On Wednesday, the EPA filed a consent decree with the federal court in St. Louis. The government’s next step is to publish the “Notice of Lodging of the Consent Decree” with the Federal Register for public comment. After 30 days, the government will ask the court to enter the consent decree.

Shell has 30 days after entry of the consent decree to pay the EPA. If the company fails to make the full payment in that time period, it must pay interest on the unpaid balance as well as a $2,500 penalty for “each and every day that the full payment owed is late.”

In its consent decree, the government reserved the right to sue Shell for failing to meet a requirement of this consent decree, for criminal liability, for damages to the loss of natural resources, for contamination occurring after the signing of the consent decree and for cleanup costs other than the lead-related cleanup costs. The government may also take administrative or judicial action against Shell for additional lead-related cleanup costs if conditions at the site previously unknown to the EPA are discovered or if information is discovered indicating the cleanup response wasn’t sufficient to protect human health and the environment.

If the government files a suit against Shell, the company will be released from its covenant not to sue to the extent that the company’s claims arise out of the same response action at issue in the government’s suit.

The consent decree provides that Shell and the government each reserve the right to bring claims against, and to defend claims by, anyone that is not a party to the consent decree. In addition, Shell would be entitled to protection from contribution actions for lead- related cleanup costs incurred by the government or any other person.

The cleanup site was used as a drum reclamation business beginning in 1949. In 1975, the facility was bought by Great Lakes Container Corp., which continued the drum reclamation business until 1985, when it abandoned the facility, according to an EPA fact sheet.

In 1995, a fire alerted officials to the potential dangers of the 11-acre site, and environmental investigations turned up buried drums of hazardous materials, asbestos and high levels of lead and polychlorinated biphenyls, according to EPA information.

According to the consent decree, 61,650 tons of soil contaminated with PCBs and lead was removed from the site as were more than 800 buried drums.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District now owns the property adjacent to the cleanup site. In September 2004, Webber granted a consent decree between the government and MSD requiring MSD, as a passive landowner, to pay $230,000 to the EPA. That amounted to 2.5 percent of the $9,127,244 cleanup costs. Defendant Mallinckrodt objected, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the agreement in March.

In November 2004, the government settled with third-party defendant INDOPCO Inc., formerly known as National Starch & Chemical. That company was required to pay $45,713.12 to the EPA.

In response to the lawsuit, Mallinckrodt and Solutia filed numerous counterclaims as well as claims against third-party defendants. The trial is scheduled for Sept. 4.

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