The state Department of Environmental Conservation is suing General Electric Co. to try to recover $30 million the state has spent on a Warren County PCB cleanup.
The case was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Albany, seeking compensation for the cleanup costs through the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.
In the lawsuit, DEC says it has spent more than $30 million on investigations and cleanup at a site at 51-53 Luzerne Road in Queensbury where GE waste capacitors were disposed of decades ago. Those capacitors contained — polychlorinated biphenyls, a suspected carcinogen — and came from GE capacitor plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, the same plants that produced the PCBs now being dredged from the Hudson River in a multi-year, $1 billion cleanup project being paid for by GE.
In a statement late Friday, GE said it looks forward to responding to the new case in court and defended its record of cooperation.
“GE has worked in good faith with New York state for more than 30 years to investigate and clean up PCBs and has fully complied with all of its agreements with New York state to address PCBs,” said company spokesman Mark Behan.
According to the lawsuit, the property was operated by Richard Alkes as a scrapyard and hazardous substance disposal facility from 1951 to 1976. Starting in 1956, GE hired Alkes to dispose of the waste capacitors, which he did at the Luzerne Road site, the lawsuit states. The waste capacitors were those that failed testing or were returned by GE customers.
The company denies responsibility for what the contractor did.
“At the Luzerne Road sites, GE responded to New York state’s request for help by providing $320,000 in funding 34 years ago, even though GE never owned, operated or leased these sites and never disposed of PCBs there or authorized others to do so,” Behan said.
The lawsuit says more than 200 tons of PCB-containing waste were disposed of at the site.
According to the lawsuit, GE had been told in 1972 by the manufacturer of the PCBs, Monsanto, that PCBs were not biodegradable and should not be disposed of in the ground. Alkes, meanwhile, was allegedly breaking the capacitors apart, allowing PCBs to flow onto the ground.
“Upon information and belief, GE knowingly and recklessly failed to properly dispose of its scrap capacitors containing PCBs and, further, failed to warn Alkes of those PCB hazards,” lawsuit states. “Specifically, GE failed to provide Alkes with safe handling and proper disposal procedures regarding GE’s scrap capacitors containing PCBs and other hazardous substances.”
DEC was contacted in 1979 by neighbors concerned about the site, according to the lawsuit, and state investigators found hundreds of old capacitors stored on the site and evidence that PCBs had leaked. Cleanup and encapsulation of some soil was done.
In 1980, GE paid the state $320,000 as cost reimbursement. After that, GE maintained the site and removed accumulated runoff until 1985, according to the lawsuit. In 1986, the state acquired the portion of the site that included the containment cell.
In 1995, it was learned the containment cell was leaking. The state said GE rebuffed its efforts to get the company to pay for another cleanup.
After years of study, the state in 2008 decided that on-site soil containing more than 50 parts per million of PCBs would be excavated and disposed of off-site, and soil below that contamination level would be heat-treated on-site. The cost was estimated at more than $30.5 million, and it was then paid for out of the state’s Superfund.
The lawsuit seeks compensation from GE for the state’s spending on the cleanup.
“GE is liable to the state for the payment of costs and expenses incurred in addressing the hazardous substance contamination at and near the site, including, but not limited to, all costs of investigation, remediation, oversight, operation, maintenance and management,” the lawsuit concludes.
DEC is being represented by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.