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United States Reaches Final Settlement in Keystone Landfill Superfund Case - Agreement Caps Seven Years of Litigation, Recovers $16.5 Million

Release Date: 10/2/2000
Contact Information: Ruth Wuenschel, (215) 814-5540

Ruth Wuenschel, 215-814-5540

UNION TOWNSHIP, Pa. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department today announced the final settlement of the government’s legal claims over the cleanup of the Keystone Sanitation Landfill Superfund site here.

In papers to be filed this week in federal court in Harrisburg, landfill owners Kenneth and Anna Noel, Keystone Sanitation Co., and Keystone’s successor Waste Management of Pennsylvania agreed to perform the portion of the cleanup that will control the source of the contamination. Waste Management and the Noels will fund this work, projected to cost $5.5 million. As part of the overall settlement, Waste Management has also agreed to pay a $250,000 penalty for failing to comply with a September 30, 1996 cleanup order.

If approved by the court, the proposed consent decree will finally resolve the seven-year-old lawsuit over the cleanup of the 40-acre Superfund site, located about 30 miles from Gettysburg, Pa. Estimates of the total cleanup costs range up to $21 million.

The government has previously reached settlements with the eight other defendants it sued for cleanup costs, as well as 578 additional defendants brought into this litigation by other parties. Including the settlement announced today, the U.S. has negotiated settlements of the Keystone Superfund litigation totaling $16.5 million.

“EPA is pleased to conclude this extensive, expensive, contentious litigation. We’re eager to shift more of our attention and resources from the courtroom to the cleanup,” said EPA Regional Administrator Bradley M. Campbell. “But, Congress still needs to address the basic deficiency in the Superfund law which allowed this huge number of defendants to be sued.”

The extraordinary number of parties involved in the Keystone Superfund litigation focused national attention on the case, which was dubbed “The Battle of Gettysburg” in an October 1997 60 Minutes report.

The case began in September 1993, when the United States sued 11 parties, including the Keystone Sanitation Company, the Noels and eight waste generators, seeking reimbursement for the government's cleanup costs. These defendants then sued approximately 130 entities, alleging that these third-party defendants contributed to the contamination and were, thus, also liable for cleanup costs. These third- party defendants, in turn, sued approximately 580 additional fourth parties on the same grounds.

To resolve this unwieldy case, EPA and the Justice Department made full use of the government’s cleanup and cost recovery powers under the Superfund statute, and acted to resolve the liability of third and fourth parties brought into the lawsuit by other defendants. Recognizing that many of these entities are municipalities and small businesses that may have contributed only very small amounts of hazardous waste, the government used its “de micromis” settlement powers to resolve these parties’ potential liability. Through $1 settlements with the government, these de micromis parties were dismissed from the case and shielded from liability.

“Today’s settlement reflects the fundamental Superfund reforms which made it fairer to the ‘little guys’ who never should have been sued by the large polluters in the first place,” said Steve Herman, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By using these reforms, we protected small waste contributors from costly third-party lawsuits and deterred similar litigation in future cases.”

The settlement is the culmination of several steps since the filing of the complaint to clean up the landfill and wrap up the lawsuit.

*In 1996 and 1998, the U.S. negotiated three sets of “de micromis” $1.00 settlements, involving a total of 202 third and fourth party defendants that contributed very small amounts of hazardous substances to the site.

*In October 1997, the U.S. filed a $4.25 million settlement with 376 third and fourth party defendants, which got these parties out of the litigation and protected them from claims by other parties.

*In June 1998, the government filed a consent decree with eight of the companies it originally sued in September 1993 for generating the industrial waste contaminating the Keystone site. These eight companies agreed to finance and perform the cleanup of groundwater at the former landfill. The original defendants have already completed construction of the groundwater treatment plant. They also agreed to provide water filters to nearby residences. The estimated cost for these cleanup measures is $6.5 million.

This proposed settlement of U.S. v. Keystone Sanitation Co. Inc., Civil Action No. 1:CV-93-1482, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.