WASHINGTON (AP) -- Before negotiating a long-term cleanup plan, two chemical companies will study damage to health and the environment that four decades of PCB contamination caused in Alabama.
The Justice Department said Friday it will ask the U.S. District Court in Birmingham to approve a first-stage settlement ordering the study by the companies found liable for the contamination by the former Monsanto Co. plant in Anniston, Ala. The public has 30 days to comment before a court decision.
Solutia Inc., which assumed Monsanto's chemical operations that were spun off in 1997, and Pharmacia Corp. said they will conduct the studies under the agreement with Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The now-banned industrial coolants were discharged into a creek and dumped into open-pit landfills. EPA classifies PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, as a probable carcinogen linked to neurological and other health problems.
Under the settlement, emergency cleanups of the worst contaminated homes are to continue during the study. About two dozen homes among the 1,000 residences sampled for potential PCB contamination are having their yards dug up and replaced with fresh soil, said EPA officials in Atlanta.
"It's likely that many more yards will need to be cleaned up or have some other remedy applied to them," said EPA attorney Richard Leahy.
The government will seek another settlement for a long-term cleanup plan after the study of "widespread contamination" is completed, EPA spokesman Carl Terry said.
He said "there would be no need to list it" as a Superfund site as long as the companies follow the settlement. A Superfund listing requires those responsible for toxic waste contamination to clean up a site, even if they no longer operate or own it.
EPA will oversee investigation into the contaminated area.
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