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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Raytheon on the Hook for Airport Contamination

(CN) - Government defense contractor Raytheon must pay nearly $3.2 million to clean up a Kansas airport contaminated with the degreasing agent trichloroethylene, the 10th Circuit ruled.

Raytheon had argued that the U.S. Army was also guilty of contaminating the airfield and should share in clean-up costs. But the Denver-based appeals court said Raytheon failed to show that the Army had actually used the toxic solvent at the former Herington Army Airfield in Morris County, Kan.

The contamination was discovered in the mid-1990s, after which Raytheon admitted that Beech Aircraft Corp., now part of Raytheon, had used trichloroethylene (TCE) in two vapor degreasers at the airport and stored the compound onsite while it operated the airport during the 1950s.

The Army operated the airfield from 1942 to 1945, processing B-29 bombers during World War II, but the Army Corps of Engineers denied ever using TCE there. Raytheon pointed out that the solvent was the Army's preferred method for removing oil and grease from metal parts during the war, but the federal appeals court said this did not prove liability.

"While this circumstantial evidence could certainly support an inference that the Army did use TCE at the site, it does not compel such a finding," Judge Michael Murphy wrote.

Though the airfield may have been permitted to use the chemical during the war, Raytheon "was unable to produce any credible direct evidence of actual authorization," Murphy wrote.

The Army argued that TCE was carefully rationed during the war, and 90 percent of the government's supply went to defense contractors to build airplanes tanks and guns. The airfield was just a "third-echelon subdepot" for performing plane maintenance, the ruling states.

Raytheon also lost its bid to avoid reimbursing the U.S. government $1.4 million for a site inspection to get the airfield on the National Priorities List. Raytheon argued that the government had abandoned its efforts to list the site.

But the government only gave up because Kansas refused to cooperate, Murphy noted. He said the Environmental Protection Agency didn't know that it would be unable to get the listing when it ordered the inspection.

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