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Hercules asks judge to allow EPA to address city's complaints

HATTIESBURG — Hercules Inc. and its parent company have asked a federal judge to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to address complaints raised by the city of Hattiesburg in its lawsuit that alleges improper disposal of harmful chemicals in its facility.

The city sued for damages from what it has called decades of pollution from the Hercules plant site, which dates back to 1923. It cited violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The RCRA program ensures facilities managing hazardous waste comply with EPA waste management standards.

“The EPA is in a unique position to utilize its expertise to complete its ongoing investigation of the environmental impacts related to the Hercules site, to consider the results of that investigation in conjunction with questions of technical feasibility and potential risks, and to fashion an appropriate response to protect both human health and the environment,” attorneys for Hercules and its parent Ashland said in a motion filed this past week.

“Under the circumstances, the court should abstain from addressing the city’s RCRA claims and allow the EPA to address and resolve those issues.”

The city has until Dec. 2 to respond to the motion.

John Mann Johnson, attorney for the city, told the Hattiesburg American that the city intends to aggressively oppose the motion.

“We think our complaint is well-grounded in the law, and we will respond to the motion to dismiss,” he said.

Ashland Inc. of Covington, Ky., purchased Hercules in 2008. Opening in 1923, Hercules manufactured myriad products including modified resins, synthetic rubber and agricultural pesticide. It had about 1,400 employees at peak production in the 1970s. It closed in December 2009.

The city argues in its lawsuit that Hercules and Ashland that the surrounding area of the plant, including property the city owns and maintains for the public benefit has been and continues to be exposed to contamination.

The city argues the contamination continues to be released into the air, groundwater and soil around the facility.

The companies argue that Hercules has only discovered one significant migration of contaminants off-site — a groundwater plume under a street that the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality deemed not to be a health risk to the community.

“The EPA is well down the road toward completion of a thorough investigation of on-site and off-site contamination and remediation, and has the authority to order the very relief sought by the city,” the companies argue in the motion.

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