A Pfizer subsidiary is facing a nine-figure fine to clean up a superfund site in South Jersey. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice have ordered Wyeth Holdings, LLC to pay $194 million to clean up six disposal areas at the American Cyanamid Superfund Site in Bridgewater Township. Prior owners manufactured chemicals on the site for over 100 years and used impoundments for waste storage and disposal, leaving the surrounding area susceptible to contamination. The company must also pay one million dollars to cover the EPA’s past oversight costs associated with the clean-up.

Under the agreement, Wyeth pay an estimated $194 million in clean-ups costs to address contaminated soil and groundwater on the site, as well as cleaning up the six disposal areas. This amount also includes the cost to closure two additional disposal areas whose contents were previously removed and shipped off-site. Wyeth will be responsible for ongoing treatment of contaminated groundwater underneath the site that is at risk of seeping into nearby bodies of water, such as the Raritan River, Cuckel’s Brook and Middle Brook. The EPA is still investigating another two waste disposal sites, which may require additional clean-up.

Pfizer Paying for Prior Owner and Operators’ Environmental Damage

Since 1915, the American Cyanamid Superfund Site has been used to manufacture and store chemicals that eventually contaminated the surrounding soil and groundwater. In 1983, after the soil and groundwater were found to contain volatile and non-volatile organic compounds, as well as heavy metals, the site was classified by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA a/k/a “Superfund”) [42 U.S.C. §9601 et seq. (1980)] program, which identifies contaminated areas that threaten the environment as a hazardous site, and makes funds available for clean-up. The groundwater in particular is highly polluted with benzene and other carcinogenic contaminants. The EPA is hopeful that the work will reduce the problems associated with the present soil and groundwater contamination and prevent the contamination of additional waterways.  Manufacturing on the site ceased on 1999 and most buildings were demolished by 2000.

Despite its recent acquisition of the site, Pfizer is paying for nearly 100 years of pollution. In 2009, Pfizer purchased Wyeth Holding, which has owned the American Cyanamid Superfund Site since 1994, and assumed responsibility for the cleanup as part of the purchase.  Under the EPA’s Superfund program, any owner or operator of a contaminated site is liable for cleaning up the site and saddled with the hefty price tag, unless it can meet very strict innocent landowners defenses.  Companies must do their due diligence when thinking of acquiring or merging with other entities in order to avoid unintended financial consequences. An experienced environmental lawyer can help uncover potential environmental liabilities before the papers are signed and structure sales to protect the buyer’s interests.

New Jersey Superfund Lawyers at Michelman & Bricker, P.C. Protect Your Interests When Handling Environmental Impact Investigations for the Purchase of Commercial and Industries Property

At Michelman & Bricker, we have assisted buyers in performing due diligence them structure purchase agreements, and work with state and federal agencies, when necessary, to limit their liability.  For example, we previously conducted a due diligence investigation for the purchase of a commercial property located next to an oil refinery, and directed our environmental consultant’s Phase II Site Assessment Investigation which discovered massive petroleum contamination in the groundwater (despite the seller’s 1400-page Phase I Site Assessment which showed no existing contamination at all). We structured the purchase and sale agreement so that it allowed the prospective buyer to walk away from the transaction without liability, when the seller refused to take responsibility for the cleanup, and to release and indemnify the buyer from potential claims.

New Jersey environmental compliance lawyers at Michelman & Bricker, P.C. have a comprehensive understanding of Superfund litigation and the steps required to limit liability when purchasing former Superfund or brownfield sitesOur knowledgeable, professional legal team has years of experience handling EPA and DEP negotiations and can help identify and address any areas of concern when entering into a merger or acquisition, or purchasing a former industrial or commercial property. With offices conveniently located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and the Philadelphia area. Call us today at 215-557-9440 or contact us online to review your case with a qualified environmental lawyer.