A West Virginia-based steel products company faces a major fine and lawsuit from the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to safely dispose of mercury, an especially dangerous substance when introduced into the environment. The business could pay as much as $7 million in restitution should the EPA win the legal challenge, the Port Chester Daily Voice reported. This is another example of the federal environmental regulator continuing to vigorously pursue businesses that engage in major violations of established rules, despite the many changes in leadership and other areas of focus for the agency.
"Businesses need to recognize the severe consequences of a lack of compliance."
The impetus for the lawsuit was the steel business replacing a number of furnaces at its facilities in the late 1980s. That obsolete equipment, which contained a sizeable amount of mercury in total, was disposed of, with the hazardous material brought to a refinery business in the New York City metropolitan area. Despite presenting itself as a fully operational refinery, that business was a home operation near a neighborhood school. The owner extracted mercury from a variety of sources and repurposed it for use in dental fillings.
The EPA eventually found out about the business and discovered significant mercury contamination in the area around the home in the early 1990s. Initially, the EPA removed about 6,500 tons of tainted soil and demolished the garage and other associated outbuildings, Westfair Online reported. In 2004, more contamination was discovered by EPA staff nearby the home, between a condominium complex and the town high school. Additional mercury was found in a storage area near the home, which necessitated the total demolition of the home, compensation to the then-homeowner and other expensive cleanup tasks. The total price tag was about $7 million.
Now, the EPA, in concert with the regional U.S. Attorney's Office, wants to recoup the costs of that second cleanup from the business that sold the mercury to the home processing plant. Although it's too early to tell how the case will proceed, the events are a reminder that companies have to maintain a steady commitment to environmental compliance as a day-to-day concern and long-term objective. Without effective, complete oversight into operations, companies risk major consequences that range from reputational damage to extremely large fines.