Cleanup for Molycorp costs firm $475,000

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A Colorado company will pay a $250,000 fine for contaminating groundwater and $225,000 in state oversight costs as Phase III of its low-level radiation cleanup project resumes on its Canton, Washington County, property.

The state Department of Environmental Protection yesterday announced the fine and fee against Molycorp Inc. on the same day the Englewood, Colo., company announced it would resume cleanup later this month.

Under a consent order and agreement, Molycorp has agreed to pump and treat contaminated groundwater and storm water, then discharge it into Chartiers Creek, where three water-sampling stations will confirm that remediation is working.

Molycorp will be required to ship any recovered radioactive material to a licensed out-of-state disposal facility, DEP officials said.

"By taking strong actions in this case, we are telling corporations that they must take responsibility for past practices that harm the environment," DEP Southwest Regional Director Kenneth Bowman said in a news release.

Molycorp produced metallurgical products, including molybdenum used to harden steel, from 1923 to 1991, with limited production from 1996 until 2001 when production ceased for good. Under a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission permit, the company produced some products by extracting metals from ore containing radioactive thorium and uranium.

During years of production, slag containing low-level radioactive contaminants was buried on site and wastewater containing high levels of soluble molybdenum contaminated groundwater. Molycorp also has agreed to remove coal tar on the site -- the by-product of early 19th century gas plant operations before the company acquired the property.

The cleanup project will take 21/2 years.

Molycorp has been negotiating a cleanup plan with state and federal officials for years, so the $475,000 fine and fee assessment came as no surprise, Molycorp's project manager Jack Wright said.

"We agreed upon a figure to cover past sins, but in the meantime, the DEP passed new discharge standards for molybdenum," he said, noting that the company can no longer comply with the stricter regulations. "There is no effective way to remove molybdenum from water" at lower levels of contamination.

The next phase of cleanup will focus on low-level radiological contamination of thorium and uranium on 12 of the site's 72 acres. Coal tar will be removed from another eight acres.

A sewer main must be relocated and an on-site wastewater treatment system must be built. Crews also must install sheet piling along areas of Chartiers Creek to protect the creek and prevent water from entering excavated areas.

One block of Caldwell Avenue between Green Street and Weirich Avenue will be closed for two years, beginning June 12, while crews excavate contaminated soil as deep as 12 feet.

The first phase of the cleanup project was completed in 2001 with the removal and off-site disposal of 10,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the property. During the second phase completed in 2002, buildings on the property were demolished and further testing was completed.

DEP officials said Molycorp's goal is to decontaminate the property so its NRC license can be terminated. The state will deposit the $475,000 into the Clean Water Fund for use in improving water quality.

Mr. Wright said Molycorp has not disclosed the cost of the project, except to say it is very costly. The company is a subsidiary of the Pittsburg and Midway Coal Mining Co., which is a subsidiary of Chevron.


David Templeton can be reached at dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 724-746-8652.


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