Apex Oil Ordered to Clean Soil, Water Under Illinois Village
EAST ST. LOUIS, Illinois, July 29, 2008 (ENS) - Vapors from an underground plume of millions of gallons of leaked and spilled petroleum products have migrated into homes in the village of Hartford, Illinois, causing years of fires, explosions, and evacuations.

Now, one of the responsible parties, Apex Oil Company Inc., has been ordered to remediate the soil and groundwater contamination from its former refinery operations in Hartford.

In a decision issued Monday, Chief Judge David Herndon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois ordered Apex to clean up the contamination, at an expected cost of at least $150 million.

The court's decision is based on evidence presented at a five week trial in January and February 2008 in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The soil and groundwater beneath the Village of Hartford has been contaminated with more than four million gallons of leaded gasoline and other petroleum products.
Gazebo surrounded by homes in Hartford, Illinois (Photo courtesy CAHS)

The community of about 1,500 residents is located 15 miles north of downtown St. Louis, Missouri on the Mississippi River. The confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers is just south of the village limits.

During the period 1967 through 1988, Apex Oil's legal predecessor, Clark Oil and Refining Corp., released gasoline that commingled with other responsible parties' releases and resulted in the large plume of refined petroleum substances beneath Hartford.

The evidence showed that the pollution amounts to an "imminent and substantial endangerment" to human health and the environment under the federal waste management law, known as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, RCRA.

At the government's request, Judge Herndon ordered Apex to begin work promptly on the final soil and groundwater remedy for Hartford, in accordance with a formal cleanup plan that has already been approved by the EPA.

The cleanup plan will require installation of an extensive liquid and vapor extraction system to remove and treat petroleum hydrocarbon contamination that the EPA says "is smeared into soils and floating atop the groundwater beneath the village."

Preliminary cleanup work in Hartford began under a 2004 agreement that EPA negotiated with four other oil companies Shell Oil, Valero Energy, BP Amoco and Sinclair Oil.

The Justice Department filed suit against Apex Oil in 2005 after the company refused to assist with that cleanup effort.

Apex Oil refused to enter into the agreement, arguing that its 1988 bankruptcy discharged any liability it may have had related to the site.

Earlier in the litigation, the United States won a ruling that injunctive relief under Section 7003 of RCRA is not a “claim” within the bankruptcy meaning of that term.

Apex Oil currently operates as a privately-owned oil trading firm, headquartered in Clayton, Missouri.

Although the other oil companies that contributed to the contamination were not named as defendants in the government's lawsuit against Apex Oil, the judge's ruling against Apex makes clear that it does not relieve those other companies of their joint responsibility for all remaining cleanup work, including ongoing work required under their 2004 agreement with the EPA.

"This court ruling represents a victory for the environment and for the people of Hartford," said Ronald Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "It requires a major polluter to clean up the mess it made, and dedicated professionals from EPA will oversee the project."

On July 21, the Village of Hartford filed suit against numerous parties concerning the underground plume. Filed in Madison County Circuit Court, the lawsuit claims the contamination has diminished property values and raised the costs of providing clean water and other services.

The suit claims the plume has damaged the sanitary sewers and increased the expense of water treatment.

The Village also claims that the leaks that created the plume have soaked into the soil and continue to leak into the groundwater.

The suit claims a vapor recovery system installed by refiner Premcor in the 1990s has not functioned as intended. Premcor was acquired by Valero in April 2005.

The Hartford Village lawsuit follows a settlement agreement in which two of the refiners agreed to pay a total of $16 million to various plaintiffs in a class action case that has been ongoing for five years.

The plaintiff residents sought damages for loss of property value, loss of enjoyment and use of their property and for possible medical expenses.

Only two of the defendants, Equilon and Premcor, now Valero, have agreed to settle. Cases against several other refiners and cases of individuals against various defendants are pending.

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