Sunday, March 13, 2011

Now Confirmed: Dichloromethane Contamination -- At Merck's Albany Demolition Site

I am genuinely saddened to report that my pure conjecture of last Wednesday has now been confirmed.

Even so, it is not terribly surprising that what I feared turned out to be true.

Why? Well, because the to-be-demolished Flint River plant site is actually more than 60 years old. Back in the '50s and early '60s, preventative EPA Superfund style regulatory monitoring was non-existent. In fact, the EPA wasn't chartered until 1970 -- and plant-by-plant monitoring didn't begin until 1974 -- even then, it was in scant supply, nationwide. The Superfund provisions weren't created until 1980. So, Merck can't be faulted too much here -- but it will be responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of clean-up and remediation, though -- as New Merck moves to return the site to its prior green-field state.

This most-recent confirmation (by EPA), also likely explains why, after three years on the market, Merck could find no buyers for the site. The small bit of good news is that thus far, it appears the DCM contamination hasn't reached well-water off-property. But that is a very weak silver lining to these dark thunderclouds. In any event, here is a bit from the Albany (GA) Herald, on the contamination problem -- do go read it all:

. . . .[S]tate and federal officials say that Merck’s challenge to restore the land [to] where it was before it started production in 1952 will continue long after the walls come down, as investigations and environmental cleanup efforts continue on the 1,000-acre site in southern Dougherty County.

Following inquiries by The Albany Herald, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state’s Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources (EPD) have released information relating to the Merck facility site at 3517 Radium Springs Road.

According to those two agencies and Merck officials, the former chemical manufacturer is currently remediating contaminated soil and groundwater on the Merck site that was exposed to various chemicals over the company’s history.

“During its many years of operation, Merck has had releases to the environment that have impacted soils and groundwater (the main constituents are toluene and methylene chloride). The investigation and some remediation that was required by the permit was ongoing prior to the facility’s decision to close, and will continue after demolition,” EPD Communications Director Kevin Chambers wrote in an e-mail to the Herald.

Toluene and methylene chloride — which is more commonly referred to as Dichloromethane or DCM — are both widely used as chemical solvents.

Chambers said Friday that a series of monitoring wells located around the facility suggest that no significant contamination exists outside of the Merck facility itself. The wells are checked annually.

Connie Wickersham, who works for Merck & Co.’s Global Communication’s office, said Friday that Merck is committed to following current remediation plans even after the demolition is complete. . . .

So it goes. . . we'll keep you posted, if Merck lists Flint River/Albany (and an all-in cost estimate), in a future SEC-filed Form 10-Q, for full-on Superfund-style remediation.

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