E-scrap processors snared in Illinois Superfund site cleanup

E-scrap processors snared in Illinois Superfund site cleanup

By Jerry Powell, E-Scrap News

Feb. 28, 2014

Federal environmental officials have told executives at about 475 corporations and local governments they will need to help fund work designed to clean up the Chemetco Superfund site in southern Illinois. The list of firms is a who’s who of the U.S. non-ferrous processing and waste management industries, and it includes a number of prominent e-scrap recycling companies.

Chemetco operated a secondary copper smelter on a 41-acre site near Hartford, Illinois for 31 years. In 1996, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spotted a partially hidden 10-inch pipe during an inspection and found that the pipe illegally discharged zinc oxide to a drainage ditch outside of the site.

The company eventually shut down in 2001 and filed for Chapter 7 federal bankruptcy court protection. After classifying the facility and land as a Superfund site, the U.S. EPA, as required by law, sought financial support for cleanup actions from the firms that had supplied scrap metal to the smelter. EPA is now forcing about 475 suppliers to pay for a remedial investigation study, though those suppliers have not been formally accused of knowingly partnering with a polluting company.

Among the affected parties are many scrap electronics processors, including Beacon Management, Computer Asset Management, Computer Scraper, Creative Recycling Systems, Dlubak Glass, Eagle Electronics & Metals Recycling, Global Electronic Recycling, Great Lakes Electronic Recycling, Hi-Tech Recycling, Interco Trading, Intercon Solutions, Midwest Computer Brokers, MRP Co., Wesbell Asset Recovery and Westech Recyclers.

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Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I am writing regarding the article that appeared in the February 28, 2014 issue of E-Scrap News, “E-Scrap Processors Snared in Illinois Superfund Site Cleanup.” While the information you include in your article is factually correct, the inflammatory title of the article and very important information you omit provide a highly skewed and inaccurate picture of the situation.

A company on the EPA list is simply a Potentially Responsible Party – there has been no liability attached to anyone at this juncture and indeed, every scrap processor named, e-scrap or otherwise, has certain defenses available to it if they are ever sued for cleanup costs.  The Superfund Recycling Equity Act (SREA) that was enacted in 1999 clarifies that those who send recyclables to a consuming facility have not sent a waste, and therefore could not have sent a hazardous waste that would make them strictly liable at the site.  There has not even been an opportunity thus far to address this at the Chemetco site.  Additionally, prior to enactment of SREA, the courts developed the "useful product" defense which holds the same premise, if you did not send a waste to a site you cannot be liable for a Superfund cleanup.  Recyclable materials are useful product that have significant value and therefore cannot be deemed to be a waste.

The Superfund law, which was enacted for very good reasons, and the regulations and EPA Guidance that has been promulgated since, give EPA the incredibly huge ability to legally extort funds from people who have not been sued or tried in a court of law.  Simply stated, if the EPA can find enough people to pay an amount that collectively would fund the remedial investigation and feasibility study of the Superfund site or the later cleanup of that site, those people, knowing full well that they are not guilty, may simply cave to EPA's pressure to pay because the end result will be significantly less expensive than litigating the matter.  Sometimes, especially in Superfund cases, people are unfairly compelled to give up their principles rather than bankrupt themselves in litigation.

One should not unfairly indict those who are being unfairly abused.  If, and when, they are proven guilty then it is fair to write an article as you've run.


Scott J. Horne
General Counsel & VP Government Affairs
Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI)