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With judge's ruling, cleanup of old Kerr-McGee site can begin

gavel_rgbCOLUMBUS — A judge has cleared the way for the Environmental Protection Agency to get started on the cleanup of the old Kerr-McGee Chemical Plant in Columbus.

The EPA is putting $68 million into cleaning up the 90-acre site that was shut down in 2003, as well as other places where creosote is located.

In December, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York found Kerr-McGee liable for environmental contamination worth anywhere from $5.2 billion to $14.2 billion. The Justice Department of Justice and EPA, which filed the suit, settled for $5.15 billion from Anadarko Petroleum, which bought Kerr-McGee’s major assets in 2006.

The settlement was upheld Monday.

EPA has handed off the cleanup to Multistate Environmental Response Trust. Multistate was created in 2011 when the EPA designated the Columbus location as a Superfund site.

“If there are no appeals, then the decision becomes final and the funds will be distributed to hazardous waste sites throughout the country that were part of the Kerr-McGee legacy companies and we will have the funding that we need to begin the site investigations that will be critical to characterizing the nature and contamination from that site,” Multistate President Cynthia Brooks said in a statement.

“We’re very much looking forward to getting that started as soon as the funds come in. I think everybody’s eager to get this done efficiently and cost-effectively,” she said.

Opponents had argued the cleanup was underfunded. They said for the damage Kerr-McGee did across the nation, the federal government let the company off easy.

While operational in Columbus, Kerr-McGee manufactured pressure-treated railroad products such as wooden cross ties, switch ties, and timbers. The production processes at the site utilized creosote and creosote coal tar solutions to produce pressure-treated wood products. The facility also used pentachlorophenol for wood-treating from the 1950s until the mid-1970s.

Brooks has said the details of the cleanup plan take 18-24 months to develop through an investigation of the extent and range of the contamination and another six months of EPA review before the process can take place.

Regular exposure to creosote, a wood preservative used extensively at the plant while it was in operation, was determined to be carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.


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