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October 22, 2014

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Officials announce $1.1 billion for cleanup of contaminated Henderson industrial site

CARSON CITY — More than $1 billion will be paid to a trust responsible for cleaning up a former chemical manufacturing site in Henderson that has led to contamination in Lake Mead, federal and state officials said today.

The $1.1 billion is part of a $5.15 billion settlement involving the Kerr-McGee Corp., its affiliates and their parent company, Anadarko Petroleum Corp.

The multibillion-dollar award is the largest ever in a bankruptcy-related settlement for environmental cleanup, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

Kerr-McGee, which was purchased in 2006 by Anadarko Petroleum, operated an industrial site in Henderson that produced jet fuel, which is the source of perchlorate contamination flowing into Lake Mead via the Las Vegas Wash.

According to the EPA, perchlorate can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones, which are needed for prenatal and postnatal growth and development, as well as for normal metabolism and mental function in adults.

A U.S. bankruptcy judge in New York determined in December that Kerr-McGee had unloaded its environmental liabilities into Tronox, a spinoff chemical company it created in 2005, before the Anadarko takeover. Tronox filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and, joined by the federal government, sued Kerr-McGee over the environmental debt.

“The company tried to keep its rewards and shed its responsibilities by playing a corporate shell game, putting its profitable oil-and-gas business in a new entity and leaving behind a bankrupt shell holding the environmental liabilities of the defunct, polluting lines of business,” Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for Southern New York, said in a statement. “The company tried to cleanse its valuable business from its toxic legacy liabilities. Now the defendants will pay to cleanse the land and water.”

“This historic $1.1 billion settlement will result in cleaning up the nation’s largest perchlorate plume and ensuring that 15 million people throughout the West will have access to safe drinking water,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest.

The Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resource’s Division of Environmental Protect, in a statement, said the $1.1 billion would support the continued remediation and eradication of perchlorate contamination, along with ongoing groundwater treatment.

JoAnn Kittrell, a spokeswoman with the department, said the state had been carrying on remediation efforts since 1997.

In 1998, “the perchlorate levels in groundwater near the Las Vegas Wash were more than 5,000 times higher than the provisional drinking water standard for perchlorate in Nevada,” the federal government said. “As of 2010, concentrations of perchlorate in groundwater still exceeded the provisional standard in some areas at the site, and in some cases by several orders of magnitude.”

Leo Drozdoff, the state conservation department’s director, said so far 4,000 tons of perchlorate had been removed from both soil and groundwater.

The state said Anadarko initially offered a $25 million for the cleanup. Instead of accepting, the state pursued additional funds, resulting in an $81 million bankruptcy payment in 2010.

Gov. Brian Sandoval called today’s settlement announcement “a monumental development for Nevada,”

“The hard work of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection to not only direct the very successful perchlorate removal project, but also to pursue this significant settlement, is a huge win for southern Nevada and the more than 30 million people that rely on the Colorado River as their source of drinking water.”

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