Company to pay $50.8M to clean up Ocoee River contamination

News release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
ATLANTA — The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that OXY USA Inc., a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Company, has agreed to clean up contaminated water and sediments in the Ocoee River and one of its watersheds at the Copper Basin Mining District Superfund Site in Polk County, Tennessee.

The settlement requires the company to spend an estimated $40 million to maintain and operate a water treatment system, prevent access by the public to contaminated water, and monitor contamination in the Ocoee River.

In addition, OXY USA Inc. will reimburse EPA approximately $10.8 million toward costs incurred in its past cleanup actions at the site. The company will also reimburse EPA and the State of Tennessee for costs incurred by those agencies in overseeing the work required by the settlement.

“This settlement is the product of excellent cooperation between private parties, and the state and federal government to find a long term solution to cleaning up the contamination at the Copper Basin site,” said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This agreement will yield lasting benefits for water quality in this Ocoee River watershed.”

“This settlement marks a significant turning point in the remediation and restoration of an area that has borne the brunt of contamination from industrialized operations for over a century,” said EPA Southeast Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney. The provisions incorporated by these consent decrees exemplifies the hard work by multiple federal agencies, the state of Tennessee, Tennessee Valley Authority, and OXY USA to ensure the remediation and recovery of the Ocoee River and the North Potato Creek and Davis Mill Creek Watersheds continues well into the future.”

“The settlement formalizes the cooperation and commitments exhibited between the company and regulators over the past two decades,” said Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau. “This major project follows a shared goal of compliance, and achievement of long-term water quality performance in the Copper Basin that benefits our natural resources and the citizens of Tennessee.”

Pursuant to earlier agreements with EPA and the State of Tennessee, OXY constructed and installed a system to collect and treat contaminated water and sediments from the Davis Mill Creek watershed prior to discharge in the Ocoee River. Under the settlement lodged today, OXY will continue to operate and maintain the system, including any necessary refurbishments of the plant. In addition, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) agreed to implement measures at its dams along a 38-mile stretch of the Ocoee River in order to prevent contaminants from becoming airborne. EPA will oversee the work, which will implement the cleanup remedy required by the Agency’s 2011 and 2014 Records of Decision for the Ocoee River and the Davis Mill Creek watershed respectively.

From the mid-1800s until 1989, the Copper Basin Mining District Superfund Site was the location of extensive copper, iron, and sulfur mining operations, mineral processing, and sulfuric acid production. Throughout that time, wastes generated through those operations, which included sulfuric acid, lead, mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants, were disposed of in, on, and around Davis Mill Creek and North Potato Creek, both of which discharge to the Ocoee River. These contaminants can still be found in the sediments and surface water at the Site.

EPA, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and OXY began response work at the Copper Basin Mining District Superfund Site in 1990. Over the last 25 years, EPA has overseen extensive work at the Site, including the construction of two water treatment plants (WTP). The first WTP went on-line in 2002 and the second one in 2005. To-date, 535,231 kilograms of hazardous waste, oil, equipment and soil contaminated with lead and polychlorinated biphenyls have been removed from the Site and properly disposed. The volume of water treated to-date is 8,266,257,000 gallons at the London Mill Wastewater Treatment Plant, 9,761,564,000 gallons at the Cantrell Flats Wastewater Treatment Plant, and 49,362,271,000 gallons at the North Potato Creek Water Treatment Plant, totaling 67,390,092,000 gallons.

Also under the Consent Decree, the United States, on behalf of the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce, agreed to pay Oxy approximately $12.6 million to settle claims for OXY’s past and future cleanup costs, based primarily on the United States’ ownership and operation of a portion of the site between 1941 and 1946.

Taking into account the settlement being lodged today and the work previously performed at the Site, over $217 million is being devoted to cleaning up the contamination at this Site.
The settlement, lodged in the Eastern District of Tennessee on April 22, 2016 as two consent decrees, will be posted in the Federal Register and available for public comment for a period of 30 days.

The consent decree can be viewed on the Justice Department website: The Justice Department also concurrently filed a complaint initiating the case that the consent decrees resolve.