By SARAH RANKIN, AP
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Chemical giant DuPont will pay more than $50 million but admit no fault under a proposed environmental settlement after releasing toxic mercury for decades into the Shenandoah Valley waterways, authorities announced Thursday.
The deal would resolve state and federal litigation over pollution from a company factory in Waynesboro. It amounts to the largest environmental damage settlement in Virginia history and the eighth largest in the nation, officials said. The money would go to wildlife habitat restoration, water quality enhancement and improvements to recreational areas.
“In bringing this settlement to a close, we are finally righting a wrong that has impacted the South River and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River for so many decades,” Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at a news conference announcing the settlement.
Wilmington, Delaware-based Dupont Co. used mercury in its process of making synthetic fiber at the plant between 1929 and 1950, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. Strict storage and disposal regulations weren’t in place at the time, and some of the mercury seeped into the South River and flowed downstream to the Shenandoah.
DuPont discovered the mercury — which accumulates in fish and is especially dangerous to pregnant or breastfeeding women and young children — in the facility’s soil in 1976, officials say.
The pollution impacted over 100 miles of river and thousands of acres of floodplain and riparian habitat, affecting fish, mussels, migratory birds and amphibians, the Department of Justice said in a statement. The pollution also has limited some recreational fishing in Waynesboro, a city of about 20,000 in the Shenandoah Valley.
The terms of the settlement are outlined in a proposed consent decree that was filed in federal court in Harrisonburg on Thursday.
DuPont will pay slightly more than $42 million toward projects including streamside plantings and erosion control to improve water quality and fish habitat; mussel propagation and restoration; migratory songbird habitat restoration and protection; and recreational fishing access creation or improvement.
The company also will pay for renovations at the Front Royal Fish Hatchery to improve production of warm-water fish such as smallmouth bass, at an estimated cost of up to $10 million.
“Every dollar is going to be used to clean up the land, the source issues and the water, to where it would have been” if not for the pollution, said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
Mike Liberati, South River project director for the DuPont Corporate Remediation Group, said in a statement that DuPont “is committed to a long-term presence in the Waynesboro area and to maintaining transparency with its citizens.”
The first phase of remediation involving a portion of riverbank in Waynesboro’s Constitution Park is on schedule for a February completion, he said.
The settlement is subject to a 45-day public comment period and must be approved by the court.
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