The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sued ExxonMobil Corp. and 95 other companies and cities to recover cleanup costs from a Superfund site in Plaistow, New Hampshire. The EPA said Beede Waste Oil illegally dumped oil and toxic chemicals at the 41-acre site before it was shut down in 1994. A brook that feeds into the Merrimack River is near the property. One of the companies, Beede Waste Oil, filed for bankruptcy and did not contribute to the cleanup costs. The federal Superfund law allows the EPA to pass the cleanup costs on to Beede’s customers. Since then, the EPA has gone after small businesses, schools, and churches who used Beede to haul away used chemicals. But its largest polluters so far haven’t been willing to settle, which led to the lawsuit being filed. The EPA estimates cleanup costs at $48 million or more.
Officials have said the site contained large piles of contaminated soil, pools of petroleum products contaminated with solvents, metals, and hundreds of drums of hazardous waste. Beede’s owner, Mark Henry, was convicted in 2002 in U.S. District Court on several counts of fraud and conspiracy to transport hazardous waste. According to officials at EPA, Henry falsely told customers he was converting contaminated soil into asphalt, but instead dumped it on the property. ExxonMobil tops the list of offenders at the site. Cities and towns named in the suit include Boston, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island. When the EPA started cleanup operations in 1996, it found 6 feet of petrochemical muck floating on the water table. Since then, workers have been pumping out waste, and EPA is slowly reaching out-of-court settlements with hundreds of smaller contributors to the pollution. The “polluter pays” principle was one of the cornerstones of the 1980 Superfund law, regardless of blame. Advocates believe the law has helped protect the environment and saved taxpayers billions of dollars.
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