In the largest environmental damages settlement in Virginia history, state and federal officials reached a $50 million agreement with the DuPont chemical company in December over DuPont’s long-term mercury contamination of the Shenandoah River system.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch
reported that the settlement includes a $42 million cash payment, to be made this year, to support ten years of federal and state restoration projects in the watershed. The Virginia-owned Front Royal Regional Fish Hatchery will receive an additional $8 million to boost smallmouth bass production. The specific projects will focus on habitat restoration, land protection and recreational access. The U.S. Department of the Interior and the state will serve as joint trustees over the money.
“Every dollar is going to be used to clean up the land, the source issues and the water, to where it would have been but for the event,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
A DuPont synthetic fiber production plant in Waynesboro released the toxic metal mercury into the river from 1929 to 1950. Mercury can pose health hazards to wildlife and humans. Decades of monitoring, corrective measures and warnings about potentially unsafe, mercury-tainted fish began in the 1970s. Officials reported that the mercury affected more than 100 miles of river, and levels have not decreased over the years.
The proposed $50 settlement is the eighth largest nationally, ranking with the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez oil spills. It represents a victory for Virginia, and officials thanked DuPont for its willingness to rectify the pollution caused by its manufacturing plant. The agreement requires final approval by a federal court in Virginia.
“In bringing this settlement to a close, we are finally righting a wrong that has impacted the South River and the South Fork Shenandoah River for so many decades,” said Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe at a news conference. Added Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, “We have a responsibility to protect those assets for our children, our grandchildren and future generations, and this historic settlement shows our commitment to take that responsibility very seriously.”
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