ConAgra Grocery Products Company LLC has settled with the US Environmental Protection Agency to reimburse $5.7 million in cleanup costs for removing tannery sludge from a series of lagoons in southwestern Maine.
US officials allege that the South Paris sludge was the result of dumping by the A.C. Lawrence Leather Company from 1955 to 1975. The EPA describes ConAgra as being the successor company to the tannery, which occurred “through a series of complex corporate transactions.”
By 2000, locals noticed “green ooze” forming around the seven-acre site of lagoons, now covered over with asphalt. EPA and state investigations determined that the surrounding soil had been contaminated by the tannery sludge.
“Sampling showed a widespread layer of chromium sludge, present in the soil from approximately two-and-a-half feet below ground surface to a depth of as much as 14 feet below ground surface. The primary contaminants were chromium, lead and VOCs,” the EPA stated in an announcement on July 30, 2014.
Despite original clean up efforts in 1973—1974, the EPA discovered chromium concentrations in one of the Superfund site's ground layers from 78,000 to 130,000 ppm. The contamination was found 2.5 feet deep.
During 2006 and 2007, the EPA cleaned up the South Paris site, excavating and disposing of contaminated soils from the lagoons and the riverbank. An estimated 6,200 cubic yards of contaminated sludge were found. The cost of the cleanup was approximately $5 million.
The EPA says the settlement was the result of years of discovery and negotiations with ConAgra.