MANHATTAN (CN) - Eight metal companies owe more than $7 million for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's cleanup of mercury contamination in a residential community in Westchester, federal prosecutors say.
The companies or their predecessors sold scrap mercury to Port Refinery. The EPA stepped in 1991 to clean up a spill and settled with the metal companies and refinery in 1996 for $2.4 million.
"In the settlement agreements signed by defendants or their predecessors, the United States specifically reserved its right to seek additional clean-up costs incurred at the site subsequent to those settlements," according to the complaint.
After residents near the original contamination site reported mercury alongside a walkway, the EPA took "emergency action." It seeks more than $7 million to cover the cost of testing and removing 9,300 tons of mercury-contaminated soil. The EPA also installed air and water filtration systems, cleaned up underground pipes and demolished a residence that had significant mercury contamination.
The defendants are Jacob Goldberg & Son, Kearny Scrap Metal Co., Leonard Sherman dba L&B Metals, L&B Metals, Levin & Sons, Vincent A. Pace Scrap Metals, PSC Metals and PSC Metals-New York.
While metallic mercury used in thermostats and other products does not usually pose a direct health hazard, the National Resources Defense Council warns against industrial mercury pollution, which occurs when power plants or chemical manufacturers release the toxin into the air and it settles into waterways, where it can contaminate fish.
"Once mercury enters a waterway, naturally occurring bacteria absorb it and convert it to a form called methyl mercury," according to the NRDC. "This transition is particularly significant for humans, who absorb methyl mercury easily and are especially vulnerable to its effects."
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