Federal judge rules NCR alone is responsible for costs of cleaning up Fox River in Northeastern Wisconsin, says harm caused by toxic PCBs can't reasonably be divided among all paper companies likely responsible for discharging them
GREEN BAY, Wisconsin
April 30, 2012
– A federal judge's ruling has opened the door to full-scale cleanup of a Wisconsin river polluted by toxins from a bygone papermaking era.
Judge William Griesbach ruled Friday that NCR Corp. alone is responsible for the costs of cleaning up the Fox River in Northeastern Wisconsin. He said the harm caused by toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the river can't reasonably be divided among all of the paper companies likely responsible for discharging them.
The judge ordered NCR to begin running at least three dredges 24 hours a day, five days a week, through Nov. 12.
Dredging work ended last season and was to have resumed this month. But NCR and Appleton Papers Inc., which held the majority share of the company doing the actual work, stopped paying for cleanup, arguing that other parties should be helping with the cost.
State and federal regulators had asked the judge to order NCR to keep paying for the cleanup. The overall project is expected to cost more than $1 billion.
"We're pleased with the decision," said Beth J. Olson, a water-program leader with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "We're looking forward to the project moving forward again."
NCR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
NCR had dumped PCBs into the river between 1954 and 1971 as a byproduct of making carbonless paper. Production of PCBs was banned in 1979 after they were shown to cause cancer in wildlife and were likely carcinogenic to humans.
NCR had argued that other parties also are responsible for cleaning up the river. Its expert had concluded that NCR was responsible for only 9 percent of the PCBs in this season's cleanup area.
The judge said he pinned the costs on NCR in part because of the potential harm to the public should the cleanup be halted or slowed. If it's later determined that NCR paid too much, the company would be free to ask other parties to contribute to the cost, Griesbach added.
Earlier this month, Griesbach relieved Appleton Papers of its responsibility to pay, saying it had no direct liability for dumping PCBs. However, it is still responsible for certain indirect costs of remediation. Appleton Papers has spent more than $200 million in three years toward cleanup efforts.
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