LANSING, Mich. -- The producer of toxic PBB that contaminated Michigan's meat and dairy products will pay the state a record $38.5 million for cleanup of one of the nation's worst chemical disasters, it was announced Thursday.
Valdus Adamkus, head of the Environmental Protection Agency's Midwest office, hailed the negotiated 100-page settlement with Velsicol Chemical Corp. as a major breakthrough in resolving hazardous waste cases without lawsuits.
'We hope this case will be the forerunner of others around the country,' Adamkus said of the first state-federal task force ever to address an environmental problem. 'I assure you Michigan is definitely not going to have another Love Canal.'
Velsicol manufactured PBB at the St. Louis plant during the early 1970s under the name Michigan Chemical Co. In 1973, the chemical was mistaken for a feed additive and mixed with grain at a Farm Bureau Services facility.
The suspected carcinogen spread through Michigan's food chain, forcing the destruction of 30,000 head of cattle, 14,000 sheep, 5,000 swine and 1.5 million chickens. Health studies show 97 percent of the state's population bears some trace of the chemical.
In exchange for the Chicago-based firm's agreement to fund cleanup of its now-defunct St. Louis, Mich., plant site and an area landfill, Michigan will drop its $120 million lawsuit against Velsicol. Work will begin next spring.
Included in the $38.5 million is $13.5 million to reimburse the state its costs of dealing with the problem, $500,000 for federal costs, $10 million for the cleanup of the plant site and materials and services worth $14.5 million for containing hazardous waste at the municipal landfill.
Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley said the settlement with the company, reached after more than two years of negotiation, is the largest financial hazardous waste cleanup agreement in U.S. history.
Long-term studies are under way to determine effects of the contamination. None have been proven, although it is suspected to reduce the power of the body's immune systems.
The agreement was filed in U.S. District Court in Bay City, Mich., and probably will be approved in 30 days by Judge James Harvey. It calls for all cleanup to be completed by Nov. 15, 1984.
Velsicol Vice President John Rademacher said the settlement will help the firm put the disaster behind it, although a number of farmer lawsuits are still pending.
Rademacher characterized the company's efforts to deal with plant site contamination before the agreement as 'heroic.' But he acknowledged Velsicol may never lose the PBB stigma, asking, 'Do you ever get rid of that kind of scar or mark?'