The U.S. Justice Department says two companies and the city of St. Maries have agreed to clean up creosote-soaked soil at the site of a former wooden utility pole treatment plant along the St. Joe River and Coeur d’Alene Tribe reservation.
The Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced the deal with St. Maries, Carney Products Co. and B.J. Carney & Co. on Tuesday. It was filed in Boise’s U.S. District Court late Monday. The tribe joined with the federal government in signing the settlement.
The cleanup plan calls for removal and treatment of more than 70,000 cubic yards of soil and river sediment. Soils and sediments will be heated to remove the contaminants.
Cleaning up the Superfund site is expected to cost more than $12 million.
“Today’s settlement demonstrates our commitment to make sure that parties responsible for Superfund sites foot the bill for cleaning the pollution,” John Cruden, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a news release.
The federal agencies said B.J. Carney & Co. owned the plant from 1960 through the early 1980s. Until 1964, log poles were dipped in creosote stored in large vats at the 4-acre site. Carney demolished buildings on the site and regraded creosote-contaminated soil.
The company then sold its interests to Carney Products, which peeled, sorted and stored poles at the facility from 1982 until 2003.
The same traits that made creosote appealing for preventing rot in logs also makes the chemical a formidable contaminant. Creosote is a wood preservative derived from coal tar. Its cancer-causing constituents are polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.
The St. Maries creosote operation and demolition at that site polluted the land, riverbank and river sediments, the EPA said. The contamination came to light in 1998 when an oily sheen was found floating on the St. Joe River in front of the site.
Although 200 tons of creosote-soaked soil were removed in 1999, creosote-steeped soil remains and continues to threaten the nearby river, according to EPA documents.
Apart from the risk to humans and to drinking water, the pollution could threaten the health of federally protected bull trout, which migrate upstream past the site.
The EPA considered a range of options to respond to the pollution, from leaving the site alone to a full-scale cleanup estimated to cost $67 million.