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Breaking: Ash Grove Cement Sues Lone Star Industries–the First of Likely Many Contribution Claims Related to the Duwamish River Superfund Site

Posted in Cleanup & Superfund, Water Quality

Ash Grove Cement, the owners of a cement manufacturing facility located at the mouth of the Duwamish River immediately south of the West Seattle Bridge, filed suit against Lone Star Industries on Friday in the Western District of Washington, seeking cost recovery and contribution under CERCLA, MTCA and also asserting various related common law claims. This suit is significant because it is the first to be brought after EPA issuing general notice letters to various parties over the past year or so–including Ash Grove, but not including Lone Star–and likely represents the first in a multitude of contribution claims that will be filed for the Duwamish River Superfund Site. According to the complaint, Lone Star is the successor-in-interest to Superior Portland Cement, which first began operating at the Ash Grove facility in 1931, and continued to do so until 1957, when the property was deeded to its successor entity, Lone Star. Ash Grove purchased the property in 1984 from Lone Star and has operated at the property since then.

Some information on Ash Grove’s facility can be found in Ecology’s source control investigation files. According to those files, the sediments adjacent to the Ash Grove facility are contaminated with a suite of metals, and the typical suite of organics including PCBs, phthalates, PAHs and Semivolatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs). Ash Grove alleges in its complaint that Lone Star may be responsible for PCB releases through the use of PCB containing transformers and equipment, PAH releases from creosote pilings at the site, and unspecified hazardous substances that may have been released from an unlined settling pond allegedly operated by Lone Star and Superior Portland Cement. More information regarding the history of the Ash Grove facility is available in Ecology’s Data Gaps Report for this source control area.

I am a bit surprised by the timing of this lawsuit–it seems a bit early given that a Record of Decision for the Duwamish is probably a year away, but the flip side is that we’ve already seen a draft of the Proposed Plan and there is a decent consensus regarding the likely remedy for the Site. That said, given that litigating these types of claims can take years, I can understand why Ash Grove wants to get started now. I’d expect other parties to be brought into this case as the facts are developed, particularly given the complex nature of this site in particular and sediment sites in general.