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Release Date: 12/01/1999
Contact Information: Alice Kaufman, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1064

Boston - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a final Consent Decree that settles a case regarding the EPA's cleanup of a warehouse in New Bedford, Massachusetts that contained hazardous wastes. In 1992 and 1993, EPA removed deteriorating and damaged drums and packages containing hazardous substances from the Payne Cutlery Site at 295 Phillips Avenue. In the settlement agreement, Erie Chemical Sales, now defunct, will pay $70,000 to the federal Superfund as reimbursement of the government's costs incurred during the cleanup. EPA's total cleanup costs at the site were over $500,000.

"Cleanups like this one are often costly, and as is the case with Eerie, beyond the financial means of a company to pay for in full," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England administrator. "We will always seek to recover what we can to ensure that the Superfund is not depleted and that it remains available for other cleanups as needed."

EPA found approximately 5,000 55 gallon drums, bags and various containers, in poor condition. Labels and stickers on the drums indicated that the containers held poisons, accelerants, and flammable and corrosive materials. EPA inspectors also observed signs of leakage around the containers. These hazardous materials were stored in a warehouse building which had questionable structural integrity due to severe water damage from a leaking roof. The building was unheated, had no fire protection, and had large sections of flooring which were rotted out. It was determined that the materials, if left on site, posed a fire hazard to the neighborhood that is surrounded by residential properties and an elementary school.

Named as defendants in the case are Cape Chem Corp., d/b/a Erie Chemical Sales, Erie Chemical Distributors, Inc., and M&S Leasing Corp. Both Erie Chemical Distributors, Inc., and M&S Leasing Corp. are successors to Erie Chemical Sales. All defendants agreed to settle this case.

From 1963 to1987, the former factory building was owned by Payne Cutlery Corp. and was used to manufacture shears and manicure products. As part of the manufacturing process, Payne Cutlery engaged in steel cold pressing, chromium and nickel electroplating, metal grinding, and product degreasing using trichloroethylene (TCE). After Payne Cutlery declared bankruptcy, in the spring of 1987, Shawmut Bank of New Bedford foreclosed on the property. Upon foreclosure, Payne Cutlery abandoned wastes which were accumulated in drums. The present owner of the site purchased the property during a bank foreclosure sale in 1989 and began using the former factory building as a storage facility, known as A-1 Storage, Inc. In 1990, as part of its business as a broker-dealer of chemical inventories, Erie Chemical Sales entered into an agreement with A-1 Storage to storage drums and other chemicals in the former factory building. Within the building, there were also a number of other occupants, including a plastic recycling business, a computer support office and repair station, and a truck dispatcher office.

EPA personnel observed that Erie Chemical Sales stored containers of incompatible materials in proximately to each other. Drums located in Erie Chemical Sales' area were deteriorated, damaged, and leaking, and exposed to incoming rain water. The building was unheated so that the stored drums and containers were subject to freezing and thawing conditions. As a result of Erie Chemical Sales' storage of hazardous materials, there existed a threat of fire or explosion at the site.

The cleanup was performed in two phases, with the first phase consisting of the EPA's removal of materials left on the site by bankrupted and insolvent responsible parties. During the second phase of the removal action, Erie Chemical Sales conducted a removal of its own materials from the site under EPA oversight. Erie Chemical Sales sorted materials for sale, for storage at an approved facility, and for appropriate waste disposal. It prepared the materials for shipment and arranged for their transportation. In performing the cleanup, Erie Chemical Sales failed to properly retain and fully utilize a competent site supervisor, lacked familiarity with industry practices for disposal of hazardous waste, and failed to comply on several occasions with a previously-issued administrative order mandating cleanup. Erie Chemical Sales' conduct required closer EPA monitoring, led to delays in the removal schedule, and resulted in increased EPA costs.