Baby food maker Beech-Nut is defying a federal order requiring them to pay for asbestos removal work at their former facility in Canajoharie.
The facility sits on a 27-acre parcel off Exit 29 on the Thruway, and several structures on the site have fallen into major disrepair since it was vacated by Beech-Nut seven years ago. The company operated a canning facility at the site from 1891 to 2010, when because of flooding it moved operations to the nearby town of Florida.
Beech-Nut sold the property in 2013 to Ohio-based developer Todd Clifford, who owns a company called TD Development LLC. The original purchase price of $1 million was driven down to $200,000 after it was learned how much asbestos abatement work would be required at the site.
After initially promising to redevelop the site, Clifford reportedly stripped the site for scrap metal and left hazardous debris piles scattered throughout the property. Earlier this year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began spraying a containment substance over the piles to prevent the asbestos from spreading into the air.
The agency on April 13 also ordered Beech-Nut to remove materials contaminated with asbestos from the site. The EPA said the company knew that the site was contaminated in 2012, before they sold the property to Clifford. The agency claims Beech-Nut commissioned a survey in 2012 that estimated asbestos abatement work would cost $1.7 million to clean just half of the site.
Clifford claimed to have sold the site to an associate named Jeffrey Wendel in 2014. Neither Clifford nor Wendel could be reached for comment on this story. It’s unclear if the EPA is seeking to hold either individual responsible for cleaning up the site.
Montgomery County officials claim neither Clifford nor Wendel have paid taxes on the site since 2013, and that the county is owed nearly $2 million in back taxes.
Meanwhile, Beech-Nut said hey’re refusing to comply with the federal order to clean up the site and has requested that the agency withdraw the order.
“We should not be held responsible for asbestos-related issues caused by improper disposal procedures that occurred after selling the property in 2013,” said Beech-Nut spokeswoman Kirsten Whipple.
She added that the property has changed hands twice since 2013, and that Beech-Nut has complied with all environmental requirements while the company was in control of the site.
“At the time Beech-Nut sold the property, we had complied with the environmental standards regarding asbestos-containing materials without creating health risks for employees or the community,” said Whipple.
Asbestos was a common building material up until the 1980s and most structures built before then contain the known carcinogen, which has been linked to several types of cancer, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Whipple said the company will wait to hear back from the EPA on their response to their refusal.
“We agree the asbestos issue in Canajoharie should be resolved, however Beech-Nut shouldn’t be ordered by the EPA to clean up an issue we didn’t create,” said Whipple.
EPA spokesman Dave Kluesner said the agency will be deciding on how to proceed in the coming days and weeks.
“EPA has received Beech-Nut’s official response declining to conduct the work pursuant to the [order],” said Kluesner. “Friable asbestos at the site remains a concern.”
He added that the agency is continuing to evaluate its options with regard to cleanup at the site, but declined to specify what those options are as they relate to Beech-Nut.
“Because this is an ongoing enforcement matter, the EPA is not commenting on the next steps that the Agency might take,” said Kluesner.
Over the past year Montgomery County officials have been working with the EPA and state Department of Environmental Conservation on a site rehabilitation plan. County officials recently secured nearly $1 million in state and federal grants for demolition work on the eastern portion of the site, with an eye toward eventually turning it into a shovel-ready business or industrial park.
Officials are working with the EPA on an agreement to release the county from any liability for asbestos or other contamination. Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said the county is looking to foreclose on the property, which will possibly be completed in June. The contamination liability release is crucial to that foreclosure process, he said.