MILWAUKEE (AP) - Efforts to dredge toxic industrial chemicals from the Fox River should continue, a federal judge has ruled.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Natural Resources filed a federal lawsuit against NCR Corp. and 11 others in 2010, after the companies said they were dredging the river under protest and that they had not agreed to take full responsibility for completing the cleanup plan.
U.S. District Judge William Griesbach ruled Wednesday the regulators acted properly in imposing the dredging and capping of the river bottom for remediating environmental damage caused by paper company chemicals.
Griesbach wrote there was no evidence of a "nefarious government plot" favoring the more expensive dredging rather than capping alone, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The companies, by protesting the use of dredging, "were demanding poisonous chemicals be allowed to stay in the river," Griesbach wrote.
The lower Fox River is the site of the largest cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, from a waterway in the United States.
Cost of the project is estimated at more than $1 billion. From 2009 through 2011, the Lower Fox River Remediation LLC, a special-purpose company set up by NCR and Appleton Papers Inc. for the cleanup, had spent $315 million.
A message left for a spokesman for the remediation company wasn't immediately returned Friday.
Capping the river bottom with sand and gravel was to take place where contaminated muck had been covered by clean sediment in recent years, under terms of the remediation plan. But the required caps can be eroded in flooding and add costs, Griesbach wrote.
The primary benefit of dredging is the permanent removal of the toxic chemicals from the riverbed, he wrote. Regulators acknowledged small amounts of PCBs could be suspended again in the river and flow downstream during dredging.
"Removal of PCBs is inherently better than trying to contain them, even if the dredging solution is not perfect," Griesbach wrote.
Paper makers discharged large amounts of PCBs from carbonless copy paper production into the waters in the late 1960s. PCBs can cause health problems in fish and birds and can cause immune system problems, low birth weights and learning disabilities in humans, the lawsuit contends.
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