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Fines, Government Action and Legal Rulings Prove Futile

How after 14 years and $17 million, cancerous chemicals will continue to plague an active manufacturing site.

So, I honestly believe manufacturing success and environmental preservation can be simultaneously realized. However, I’m equally confident that five years of conversations between lawyers and government agencies is not the way to get there. 

Helping to prove my point is the case of Madison-Kipp, a manufacturer of machined and molded aluminum parts. The company has been around since 1898 and operates three facilities in Madison, WI. 

In 2012 an EPA investigation found high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs in very high concentrations up to 30 feet below one of their plants. Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) emanating from industrial grease cutters was also found at the site. Exposure to PCBs and PCEs has been linked to cancer.

The state of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit against Madison-Kipp, which led the company to remove more than 50 tons of tainted soil around the plant and surrounding homes, agree to perform on-going treatment of contaminated groundwater, and pay $7.2 million to residents in the surrounding neighborhood.

These clean-up costs ran an estimated $8 million.

More recently, and a mere five years after the problem was brought to light, the company has agreed to pay $350,000 in penalties – by 2026. And the first payment isn’t due until 2021.

By the time the total amount is paid, it will be 14 years since the initial suit was filed, and only $119,000 of that total is an actual fine. The rest is to compensate the state for legal fees.

The agreement also allows the company to indefinitely postpone removal of high concentrations of PCBs, but it has to establish a $1.65 million bond for future cleanup costs.

The settlement also postpones cleanup for as long as any company is performing die-casting operations at the site, unless groundwater monitoring shows carcinogen levels are increasing.

Fines and legal wranglings aside, the real issue here is that many of those cancer-causing toxins are still there.

The city of Madison had to budget $100,000 for an early warning system to protect the drinking water and the homes around the plant have begun installing air filtration devices over fears that the plant’s emissions could cause lung and heart issues.

Is it just me, or does it feel like the only winners here are the lawyers.

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